Humble Before God
Jesus targets the self-righteous in the Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 18:9-14) as he tells the parable of a tax collector and a Pharisee.
The Tale of Two Men
The setting for this parable is public temple worship and not private prayer. Jesus points out the difference between the two men who are there to pray. In a self-righteous way, the Pharisee, a devout Jewish leader, prayed about himself and his accomplishments. His religious practices were more than what was required of the Jews in his day but his boosting and lifting himself up before others and to God is not the practice that God asks for. As he raises himself up, he looks down on the sinful nature of the tax collector. It is important to understand the role of a tax collector in first century Galilee.
A Tale of Unacceptance
Tax collectors were Jews who collected taxes from fellow Jews for the Roman Empire. Jews hated Roman rule and in their eyes, the tax collectors were traitors. To make it worse, most of the tax collectors charged more than what was expected and became very wealthy. The Romans did not accept the tax collectors and neither did fellow Jews. When you study the prayer of these two men, you can see where the danger is. The Pharisee places great importance on his outward behavior but his interior behavior is not an attitude of humility before God. The tax collector however displays the outward behavior of a cheater and thief, but in his prayer, he is humble before God.
Bringing the Message Home
True humility is honesty about who we are before God and others. Let us bring our failures humbly before God and place our trust in the God of mercy who loves us in all our brokenness. He will lift us up and makes us whole.