Once again, Jesus lands another challenging parable in the lap of the Pharisees, who are stricken with self-righteousness. The contrast between the self-assured Pharisee and the repentant tax-collector quickly turns the world of the “elite” on its head.
In many ways, this parable encourages us to evaluate how we find our identity. We can build ourselves up by collecting material goods or like the Pharisees, spiritual accomplishments. Then we measure what we have or have done against what others have or have done. By comparing himself to the tax collector, the Pharisee exalts himself and makes the other guy to be the scum of the earth. This was not hard to do since tax collectors were commonly considered to be traitors to their own people.
Identity in the Kingdom God is not achieved, accumulated, nor is it a winning prize. Our identity as Christians is received through our relationship with Jesus, who offers us his grace and salvation. The Pharisee’s hands were full of all the things he had done. The tax-collector received what self-righteous virtue could not achieve.
This is not a story promoting false humility nor comparing ourselves so we feel spiritually inferior to others. We offer up our prayers of thanksgiving because of our Father’s love for us, shown perfectly in his Son, Jesus Christ. We do not beat our breasts nor do we beat ourselves up. Jesus exalts us, because we have humbly accepted who we are and who He is!
Peace, Fr. Steve