In the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14) the Pharisee was an honest man and very religious. Note that he fasted twice a week. According to Jewish law only one day in the year was an obligatory fast day. He paid tithes on his income, i.e. gave away 10%. He was probably much more religious than any of us. However he was proud, he was using religion to box God in. He was using his religious practices to keep God at a distance. It is easier to give donations than to love. When we give a donation it is over quickly but there is no end to loving others. God is asking us to love, it would be easier to give an offering. Being better than others is not what matters but becoming more like God. The prayer of the tax collector reminds me of the prayer of the Mass “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. The parable calls us to be humble, let God be God and not pretend we are God.

“The proud cannot bring themselves to hold out empty hands to God, they insist on offering virtues, good works, self denials, anything in order not to have nothing. They want to be beautiful for him from their own resources, whereas we are beautiful only because God looks on us and makes us beautiful. God cannot give himself to us unless our hands are empty to receive him. The deepest reason why so few of us are saints is because we will not let God love us. To be loved means a naked, defenseless surrender to all God is. It means a glad acceptance of our nothingness, a look fixed only on the God who gives, taking no account of the nothing to whom the gift is made. To lose ourselves like this is the most radical of despoliations because the last shred of self-importance is discarded. The very words and acts of humility can be a barricade of well-nigh infinite subtlety. Jesus came to us precisely to break down the bars, something we could never have done of ourselves. Yet we cannot live the life of Jesus unless we consent to leave our own pitiful lives, and this is what pride finds unendurable. Striving for ‘perfection’ is the most disastrous of the mistakes good people fall into. It feeds the very vice it intends to destroy. Most fervent souls are prepared to give God any mortal thing, work themselves to death, anything except the one thing he wants, total trust: anything but surrender into his loving hands. ‘You must become as little children’, whose one virtue is that they know they are unimportant.”

(above paragraph taken from Guidelines for Mystical Prayer 83-84 by Ruth Burrows, published and copyright 1976 by Sheed and Ward and used by permission of the publishers.)


QuestionCan you see some of the Pharisee’s attitude in yourself? Can you see some of the tax collector’s attitude in yourself?

If you found the above helpful I have more items on the same theme on this site:
quotations from contemporary writers in my commentary on the Parable of the Prodigal Son
My final talk in the Life in the Spirit Seminars on Transformation
Also my homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter Year B Trust, Surrender, Believe, Receive