The Pharisee in today’s Gospel
account was unaware of his own sinfulness. In reality, he didn’t think he had any sins at all. He declared that he wasn’t a sinner “like the rest of humanity.” Instead of examining his own conscience and confessing his sins, he examined the conscience of others and confessed their sins: greed, injustice, adultery, and so on.
Yet he had sins and the first among them was pride. This led him to being vain and self-righteous, and he despised others. It’s not so much that his sins were bad
deeds as it was bad attitudes.
The tax collector could have confessed the sins of the
Pharisee but chose not to. Rather, he concentrated on himself, and left the sins of others between them and God. With radical honesty he laid bare his soul before God, making no attempt to conceal anything. With all humility he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As a result he went home in right relationship with God.
We can learn a lesson from both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In truth, there is some Pharisee lurking within each one of us. We can be very conscious of the sins of others but blind to our own. We are able to confess the sins of others and fail to see our own.
We learn from the Tax Collector how to confess our sins. It first begins with an acknowledgement of the truth, “I am a sinner!” Like the Tax Collector, we too must be prepared to stand naked before God as sinners in need of his mercy. We are a sinful, fallen people. Sin is not just an act or series of acts, but a condition in which we live as a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve.
The Pharisee was full of himself, the center of his own world. He had exalted himself before God. From that position he looked down on others. The Tax Collector humbled himself before the Lord. He placed his faith and hope in God’s mercy. God prefers the broken and contrite heart that knows its failures over the complacent and arrogant heart that claims never to have sinned.
When Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, he was asked, “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” And the pope simply responded, “I am a sinner.” And this has been a central theme of his papacy, helping us to acknowledge who we truly are; sinners in need of God’s mercy.
It would do us well to keep in mind the words of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living!” Also, when was the last time you made a good confession? The sacrament does wonders for the soul who is willing to stand before God and be honest.
- Fr. Dennis, October 27, 2019