My Dear Sisters and Brothers! The Pharisee from the Gospel we have just heard and the woman from the story could have a great conversation as they share similar qualities: egoism and pride. However I doubt they could have a conversation, as a conversation involves listening to the other person.
When we evaluate the prayer of the Pharisee it is a beautiful prayer in itself. He starts by saying: “I thank you Lord.” In Greek it sounds even better: eucharistô soi. That’s the word we use for our Sunday gatherings: Eucharist. The Pharisee acknowledges that everything he has comes from God. He thanks God for preserving him from sins. It is not a bad prayer. On the contrary it is a prayer which was prayed by Jews at that time and still they pray it in their synagogues. It is a beautiful prayer, though the attitude of the praying man spoilt it. He was not praying to God. He “said this prayer to himself.” He was like the Queen from the Snow White fairy tale saying: “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” That’s why there was a distance between him and the tax collector. How different it was to what Jesus exhibited in his ministry. Jesus went to Mathew and Zacchaeus, who were tax collectors too. Jesus dined with sinners. Jesus even spoke to an adulteress woman and he allowed a prostitute to touch his feat. Why? Because without a helping hand no one can become a saint. That’s what Saint John Paul II reminded all Catholics in his document on Mercy published 36 years ago: “The Church must consider it one of her principal duties, to proclaim and to introduce into life the mystery of mercy, supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Not only for the Church herself as the community of believers but also for all humanity. This mystery is the source of life.” The obvious goodness of the Pharisee unfortunately didn’t flow into others. He was like the Dead Sea. In the Holy Land there are two big water reservoirs: The Sea of Galilea and the Dead Sea. Both of them are enriched by the same water of the Jordan River. The difference that makes the Sea of Galilee full of life and that makes the Dead Sea … dead, is that only the Sea of Galilee allows the water to flow out. The Dead Sea doesn’t allow its water to flow out. It keeps accumulating it. The only way the water can get out is by evaporating. That’s why over millennia it has become so salty and dead. If our goodness, if the grace we receive from the Lord ends with us, if it doesn’t flow out to others we become like the Dead Sea, like the Pharisee and like that woman: spiritually and humanly dead. We don’t extend a helping hand to other to raise them from their sins.
My Dear Friends! The grace and mercy we receive from the Lord are like the Jordan River which gives life. As believers of Christ we have a great contribution to make to each other and to the wider society. Especially now as our society instead of mercy which leads to conversion and change of life, says to sinners: “You are OK. The majority of us have agreed that your conduct is from now acceptable.” It doesn’t give the same joy, freedom and peace which we can see in the contrite tax collector from today’s Gospel.
I would like to highlight a couple of insights in his attitude. Firstly, let’s turn to the original Greek language again. There we read that the tax collector was defining himself as the sinner, not a sinner. He didn’t look at the other people’s sins to feel better himself. On the contrary, in the honesty of his conscience he turned to God and he acknowledged himself as the sinner because he was overwhelmed by God’s goodness and love for him. Secondly he asked for mercy. That’s a dangerous request because God will attend to it, like in Gospel passage of the Good Samaritan. God will be moved to the depth of his being, that’s what compassion means, and he will come to our aid. The question however is this: Do we really want to be changed? Do we have the desire of the tax collector from today’s Gospel to be raised out of our sins? Or maybe we are just expecting God to say that sin is from now on OK?
That woman from the story who proudly approached the piano of the great Beethoven is a reminder for us to approach our own life, which was created by the greatest genius: the merciful and loving God, with humility and openness to his Holy Spirit.