With Whom Do We Compare Ourselves?

Saturday of Week 3 in Lent

Hosea 5:15-6:6 & Lk, 18:9-14

Two men went into the Temple to pray. Their prayers were quite different. One was a Pharisee, a religious and respected man in the community. At the back of the Temple was a tax collector, a man who was despised by most people.

The first came before God proud and arrogant. "I thank you, God, that I am not like the rest of mankind." He was not grasping, adulterous or unjust, fasted twice a week and paid tithes. He thought he could feel very satisfied with himself because he was avoiding the most obvious sins and observing all the religious rules. After all, he was living a far better life than most of the people around him, including the tax collector. But the mistake the Pharisee made was to compare himself with other people. If only he had compared himself with God he would have realised how far short of perfection he really was.

The prayer of the tax collector was so different. He was not trying to impress anyone, nor did he want to judge others. He was there because he felt the need. He saw the holiness and goodness of God, and he recognised his own failures and unworthiness. In comparison with God he found he was wanting, and so his prayer was just one simple sentence, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." This was a prayer of which Jesus approved for He said, "This man went home at rights with God."

Jesus told this parable to teach us something about examining our conscience. I hope none of us has such an exaggerated opinion of ourselves as the Pharisee in the story but perhaps we are sometimes a little complacent. We go to Mass, we say our prayers, and we do no-one any harm. Surely God must be pleased with us? God through Hosea pleads with His people to return to Him, “Take all iniquity away so that we may have happiness again and offer You our words of praise.” The tax collector acknowledged his sins, and so he was able to put himself at rights with God.

Our heavenly Father loves us infinitely and He is waiting to bandage our wounds and heal us. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we have never done enough. We could have tried harder to love God, and to love our brothers and sisters. All we need to do is turn to him humbly, telling Him how we have failed. Then we too can experience His mercy and His peace.

Lord Jesus, may we be like the tax collector, acknowledging our sinfulness and always is need of your