Daily Reflection
March 13th, 1999
James J. O'leary, S.J.
Medical School Chaplain
Hosea 6:1-6
Luke 18:9-14

So often in St. Luke's gospel two people are juxtaposed to teach us some truth.  The two men who built their house on different foundations, the two sisters Martha and Mary, the rich man and Lazarus, two criminals at the crucifixion and in today's gospel the Pharisee and the tax-collector.

Today's Gospel is one of my favorites because it highlights the religious person and the spiritual one.  Two men go up to pray in the temple.  The Pharisee kept all the rules and in fact went beyond the law since he fasted twice a week.  The law required only once.  He was a good man, but religion for him was a series of do's and don't's and he was almost displaying the results of his labor.  But there was no intimacy with God.

The tax collector, on the other hand, gave no indication he would give up this despicable life, could or had the strength of character to do so.  He prayed out of his weakness, powerlessness, his slavery to sin.  He focused on his need - God's love, when he prayed "God be merciful to me, a sinner."  What a beautiful prayer because sometimes all we can pray is: "God help me.  God be with me.  God strengthen me."

The Pharisee began his prayers with an "I."  The subject of the tax collector's prayer was "God."  The tax collector had that perpendicular pronoun in the objective case.  It seems to me much more happens in my prayer when I make God the subject and myself the object as the tax collector did when he prayed "God be merciful to me, a sinner."

Another lesson this pericope teaches me is not to judge people as the Pharisee did the tax collector.  The Greek word used here is Krinen which means criticize, find fault with, condemn.  The Lord is calling us not to find fault with people or condemn them.  We can judge their actions but not them.  What I find helpful in my struggle to live this lesson is to pray for people and not to allow myself to think critically or to find fault with people.  Lent is a time for fasting and this is the fasting I find helpful - to fast from thinking critically or from finding fault with people.

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