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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

by Sam Joutras, O.S.A.

Imagine going to a doctor appointment and telling the doctor other people’s diseases.  Then, as you’re giving the doctor a survey of others’ diseases, you mention that you don’t have those same conditions.  Throughout the appointment, you never talk about your own health concerns.  Isn’t this what we do when we gossip or puff ourselves up?  

Lent is a special time to come before the Divine Physician, Jesus Christ, and share with him our health concerns – our sinfulness – things that we would like changed. When we come before him, the Doctor, he gently heals our faults and gives us the medicine of mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

In Luke 18:9-14, we see this healing of God unfolded in the prayer of the tax collector, who humbly came before God, recognized himself as a sinner, and hoped in God as the Divine Healer. He went home justified – forgiven – restored again to God’s friendship.  

In Sermon 351, St. Augustine preached that “it is not surprising that the tax collector went away cured, since he had not been ashamed of showing where he felt pain.” It is often much easier to give God a report of other people’s sins – it is much harder to take responsibility for our own sins. While recognizing our own sin, there might be a temptation to be ashamed or to think that there is no remedy. Who could love us like this?

Maybe the Pharisee was afraid to look at his wounds because he did not believe in God’s love for him. Maybe I too should not just pay attention to my own sins without taking an honest look at myself and God’s love for me!  

The challenge for Christians is to recognize that God is the healer of all healers, the one who sent His Son so that we might not perish, but might have eternal life. The challenge is to see ourselves – wounds, resentments, and sins included – and to still recognize that God is merciful and longs to bring us back to his friendship. The prayer of the tax collector is courageous: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. It is a prayer that takes responsibility for the wounds and sin of our lives. It does not deflect those wounds. It does not give a report of others’ wounds in order to avoid looking at our own. Rather, it presents our whole selves to God, with no secrets hidden. This merciful God is calling out to each of us, to present ourselves to Him, humbly recognizing ourselves as sinners – but, even more importantly, REDEEMED sinners.  

God, be merciful to me, a sinner. When are you going to the doctor?

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