(Image from www.slideserve.com )
In our house, we used to have a poster of different people doing different things. The caption read: “Thank you, Father, for making me”. I often thank God for making me the person I am, with my gifts, my way of life, and my relationships but I also thank Him for helping me as I try to overcome my faults. Today’s Gospel reminds me of this poster. It is a picture of two men praying, but their attitudes are very different. One, the Pharisee, is pleased with himself and just thanks God for making him who he is, while the other, the publican, is obviously not pleased with himself: he sees his faults and prays for mercy.
In praying, our relationship with God should be primary. We think of our relationships with people only when we intercede for them or think about how we can help them. The Pharisee – standing at the front – does not think of people in this way, but thanks God for his ability to keep the rules of the Law as to tithes and fasting, unlike others, namely, the publican. Meanwhile, the publican, who loves God, and knows himself to be a sinner, stands at the back and humbly pleads for mercy. This is a correct way to relate to God. The Pharisee does not seem to realise he needs mercy – he seems to think he has earned it by keeping the rules. He does not realise that the important thing is to love others, not despise them.
The Pharisee will feel nothing after praying, for he put nothing of his real self into his prayer, while the publican poured his repentance into his. This is why he goes home feeling “at rights” with God. Note that Jesus spends time with publicans and sinners, while he accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites. As He says today through Hosea: “What I want is love, not sacrifice”. It is the inner attitude that is important, not the outward ritual.