SATURDAY OF LENT 3
GOSPEL READING – LUKE 18,9-14
Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.”
The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.’
• In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in order to teach us to pray, tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus has a different way of seeing things. He saw something positive in the tax collector, of whom everybody said: “He does not know how to pray!” Jesus, through prayer, lived so united to the Father that everything became an expression of prayer for him.
• The way of presenting the parable is very didactic. Luke gives a brief introduction which serves as the key for reading. Then Jesus tells the parable and at the end Jesus himself applies the parable to life.
• Luke 18, 9: The introduction. The parable is presented by the following phrase: “He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else!” This phrase is Luke’s. It refers to the time of Jesus. But it also refers to our own time. There are always persons and groups of persons who consider themselves upright and faithful and who despise others, considering them ignorant and unfaithful.
• Luke 18, 10-13: The Parable. Two men went up to the Temple to pray: one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. According to the opinion of people at that time, the tax collectors were not considered at all, and they could not address themselves to God because they were impure persons. In the parable, the Pharisee thanks God because he is better than others. His prayer is nothing other than a praise of himself, an exaltation of his good qualities and contempt for others and for the tax collector. The tax collector does not even raise his eyes, but he beats his breast and says: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He places himself in his own place, that which belongs to him before God.
• Luke 18, 14: The application. If Jesus would have allowed people to express their opinion and say which of the two went home justified, all would have answered: “the Pharisee!” Because at that time, this was the common opinion. Jesus thinks in a different way. For him, the one who returns home justified, in a good relationship with God, is not the Pharisee, but rather the tax collector. Jesus turns all things upside down. It is certain that the religious authority of that time was not pleased with the application which he makes of the parable.
• Jesus prays. Luke informs us, especially, about the life of prayer of Jesus. He presents Jesus in constant prayer. The following is a list of texts of Luke’s Gospel, in which Jesus appears in prayer: Lk 2, 46-50; 3. 21; 4, 1-12; 4, 16; 5, 16; 6, 12; 9, 16.18.28; 10, 21; 11, 1; 22, 32; 22, 7-14; 22, 40-46; 23, 34; 23, 46; 24, 30). In reading Luke’s Gospel you can find other texts which speak about the prayer of Jesus. Jesus lived in contact with the Father. To do the will of the Father was the breathing of his life (Jn 5, 19). Jesus prayed very much and, insisted so that people and his disciples would do the same, because from the union with God springs truth and the person is able to discover and find self, in all reality and humility . In Jesus prayer was intimately bound to concrete facts of life and to the decisions which he had to take. In order to be faithful to the Father’s project, he sought to remain alone with Him in order to listen to Him. Jesus prayed the Psalms. He did it like any other pious Jew and he knew them by heart. Jesus even succeeded in composing his own Psalm. It is the Our Father. His whole life was permanent prayer: “By himself the Son can do nothing; he can do only what he sees the Father doing!” (Jn 5, 19.30). To him can be applied what the Psalm says: “All I can do is pray!” (Ps 109, 4).
• Looking into the mirror of this parable, am I like the Pharisee or like the tax collector?
• There are persons who say that they do not know how to pray, but they speak with God all the time. Do you know any persons like this?
Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,
in your great tenderness wipe away my offences;
wash me clean from my guilt,
purify me from my sin. (Ps 51,1-2)