Reflections - October 23, 2016

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Lk. 18:14.
The Lord’s message in this Gospel seems a little “strong”.  We live in an environment where what is valued many times is the economic and intellectual superiority and even a certain religious style of life to achieve happiness.  Those models and styles of life are placed as examples to follow and at times become judges of the men and women who for various reasons cannot reach those “standards of economic, intellectual, and spiritual lives”.
Jesus if giving us a lesson on humility and hypocrisy when presenting us with how the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the religious culture of the time that He lived through and that sometimes resembles the world today as well.  Hypocrisy is the product of sin, but humility is a grace from God that we see acting in many Christian men and women that give us a testimony of life.
I invite you to reflect on who were those men that the Gospel narrates about.
The Pharisees were a minority among the people of Israel, but had a powerful religious influence within the community context.
For the Pharisees the compliance of the law was mandatory in addition to other rules of interpretation of the commandments reaching more than 600 of both positive and negative things that could not be done.
These “paranoia” of the law brought as a result that religion be reduced to “ethical standards” forgetting to relate to God in love, mercy, and forgiveness.  The attitude of the Pharisees brought consequences of difficult confrontations with Jesus which led Him to exclaim using these words from Isaiah:  “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”
Two human beings that came out of God’s hands and two attitudes:  The Pharisee who considered himself to be saved by fulfilling the law:  “O God, I thank you that I am not life the rest of humanity…..or even like this tax collector”.  “He believed himself to be saved by his merits”.  He believed he was so good…!  He was dominated by his ego that led him to hypocrisy, self-glorification, and scorning others.  That is why he was not heard by God.
The tax collector’s prayer is different:  He stayed off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner”.  Here we find a gesture of humility, repentance, recognizing that everything is a grace of God and that we cannot buy God’s forgiveness.  The tax collector recognizes his miseries in front of the Lord and experiences the warm and tender love of forgiveness.  He left justified and reconciled with God.  As the First Reading says:  “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal.”  Sir. 35:18.
The Lord gives us a tremendous teaching.  We should ask ourselves as we examine our conscience before going to the Sacrament of Confession:  How do I act and think in my life?  Do I rely on the unconditional love of God recognizing, as the tax collector, my egos and miseries and humbly repenting saying:  “Lord, have mercy on me.  I am a sinner”?