Little Kevin and his family were having Sunday dinner at his Grandmother's house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served. When Little Kevin received his plate, he started eating right away. "Kevin! Please wait until we say our prayer," said his mother. "I don't have to," The boy replied. "Of course, you do," his mother insisted. "We always say a prayer before eating at our house." "That's our house," Kevin explained. "But this is Grandma's house and she knows how to cook!"
Two persons went to the Temple to pray, according to Jesus. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector. Both lacked something that was essential to what they really wanted.
Love was lacking in the heart of the Pharisee. He was too proud of himself for he thought he was doing what was obliged. He was just like little Jack Horner reciting to God what he did. Little Jack Horner sat in the corner eating a Christmas pie. He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and said, What a good boy am I!
It is natural that sometimes we have to be affirmed for our actions. That at times we seek approval and appreciation for whatever we had done. That we need that pat in the back sometimes for a good word we said or a nice thing we did.
The marketing agents of our generation used this need for self-seeking recognition and possession with the names they used for our technological toys. The apple, which somehow caused the break up of Adam and Eve, has the same brand name with the company that is also breaking up our family connections. The letter “I” has become the status symbol of these present times. The invention of the Internet became the introduction of idiotic individualism. And so we have iPods, iTunes and iPhones.
No wonder we all need an I check up, not with the optician, optometrist or ophthalmologist. Like the Pharisee, we need to check the I in ourselves, the Egos of our beings.
If ever the Pharisee was not greedy, dishonest or adulterous, if ever the Pharisee fasted twice a week, if ever the Pharisee tithed on his whole income, were these reasons not enough to convince Jesus that he was doing good? Nope. Jesus pointed out that the Pharisee missed on praying for what was really necessary. He prayed with his heart full of himself that there was no room for God to speak.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that it is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes. We make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions - especially selfish ones.
There is another person in the parable. It was the tax collector. Jesus praised him for his actions. The tax collector did not compare himself with the person next to him. He did not boast about he did or did not do. He did not pass judgment on those around him.
But something is still missing in the tax collector. It is not enough that we just bow our heads and beat our breasts and say, “I am sorry.” We need to do more than that. Remember the sin of the Pharisee? He did only what was required. We have to do what is necessary.
Love was lacking in the heart of the tax collector, the sinner. Love is lacking in the heart of every sinner. It is true that he would not even raise his eyes to heaven because of his sins. But it is also true that he was not able to look out and see the Pharisee beside him. Both the tax collector and the Pharisee have something we all need: a need to love and be loved, a need to be affirmed that we can also love and be loved in return.
Love cannot be by itself, because it is not meant for one. Love cannot be individualistic, but should be selfless. Love cannot be contained in oneself because it should be open and welcoming.
Neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector is the hero in this story. Jesus is. He told us what we need to do. He praised the tax collector not for the sins he committed, but for his lack of pride. The sinner in each one of us should realize who we are before God. Before God no one can boast of any claim. Before God no one can gloat of any achievement. Before God no one can be proud of any accomplishment.
We have a God of the sinners. We have a God of love. Allow the good Lord then to purify the imperfections of our lives, because most often there is a little of the Pharisee and the tax collector in us and in this parable we call life.
24 October 2010