THE CORRECT POSTURE
According to Luke, Jesus directs the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican to some who think themselves just before God, and despise everyone else. The two protagonists who go up to the temple to pray represent two contradictory and irreconcilable religious attitudes. But, what is the correct posture, the one suitable before God? This is the root question.
The Pharisee is a scrupulous observer of the law and a faithful practitioner of his religion. He feels at home in the temple. He prays standing up and with his head raised. His prayer is one of the best: a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. But he doesn’t give God thanks for God’s greatness, goodness or mercy, but for what’s good and great in himself.
Right away there’s something wrong about this prayer. Instead of praying, this man is looking at himself. He’s telling his own story, full of what’s noteworthy about it. He needs to feel himself right with God and present himself superior to everyone else.
This man doesn’t know what prayer is. He doesn’t recognize the mysterious greatness of God or confess his own smallness. It’s crazy to seek God in order to list our good works before God and put everyone else down. Behind his apparent piety is hidden an «atheistic» prayer. This man doesn’t need God. He asks nothing of God. He’s full of himself.
The publican’s prayer is very different. He knows that his presence in the temple is looked down upon by all. His office of collecting taxes is hated and despised. He doesn’t excuse himself. He knows that he’s a sinner. His beating of breast and the few words he murmurs say it all: «God, be merciful to me, a sinner».
This man knows that he can’t boast. He has nothing to offer God, but has much to receive from God: forgiveness and mercy. There’s authenticity in his prayer. This man is a sinner, but is on the path of the truth.
The Pharisee hasn’t met up with God. This tax-collector, on the other hand, right away finds the correct posture before God: the attitude of one who has nothing and needs everything. He doesn’t even take the time to confess his faults in detail. He knows himself as a sinner. From that conscience wells up his prayer: «Be merciful to me, a sinner».
The two of them go up to the temple to pray, but each one carries in his heart his image of God and his way of relating to God. The Pharisee is caught up in a legalistic religion: for him what’s important is to be right before God and be more righteous than anyone else. The tax-collector, on the other hand, opens himself to the God of Love that Jesus preaches: he has learned to live based on forgiveness, without boasting of anything and without condemning anyone.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf