With Whom Do You Identify?
Often over the years, as I have taught faith formation classes and students preparing for Confirmation I would choose one of the parables given to us by Jesus and I would ask students to listen carefully as I read it. Then I would ask them which character in the story they could most identify with; which one was most like them in their actions and/or their words. Great conversations, even debates were had by using this teaching technique and this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke would be a great one to use in this way.
Two characters in this parable; the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee would be the one who was all about following laws and rules and very proud of himself for doing so. Then you have the tax collector who people would shun for his devious ways of taking money from people and he was so ashamed he could not raise his eyes to heaven. This parable is interesting in that it includes the prayers of these characters: The Pharisee, who took up his position and prayed: O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, and adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I pay tithe on my whole income.
The tax collector, who stood on the side beating his
breast and praying:
O God, be merciful to me a sinner!
Can you see it? Do you recognize the arrogance and pride of the Pharisee as he lifts himself up for being such a good person? He obviously thinks himself better than others. Then, in comparison, do you see the humility of the tax collector that owns his being a sinner and asks for mercy? Would you be comfortable sharing who you most identify with? Why or why not? What Jesus is teaching here is our need to be humble, to not raise ourselves above another. We, all of humanity, are sinners like the tax collector and I might add, like the Pharisee. The problem is, the Pharisee does not see it in himself. Are we ever like that? Are we honest about how and where we fail to realize our sinfulness? We could with little effort point out people who commit horrific sins and in comparison we might think ourselves better because we have never done that. What this parable is meant to teach is that we must humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for mercy, for we are all in need of it. We want to be the humble, for by that we will be raised up; exulted. We ought not want to exult ourselves, lest we be put in our place for our arrogant ways. Sacred Scripture provides us much food for thought and that food feeds and nourishes our souls. By this we become disciples of the Lord. Praise be to God!