WHO AM I TO JUDGE?
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican usually awakens in many Christians a big rejection of the Pharisee who comes before God as someone arrogant and self-assured, along with a spontaneous sympathy for the Publican who humbly recognizes his sin. Paradoxically, the story could awaken in us this sentiment: «I give you thanks, my God, that I’m not like this Pharisee».
In order to listen correctly to the message of the parable, we need to keep in mind that Jesus doesn’t tell it to criticize the Pharisee group, but to shake the conscience of «some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else». Among such we certainly find ourselves and more than a few Catholics in our day.
The Pharisee’s prayer reveals his inner attitude: «I thank you, God, that I am not like everyone else». What kind of prayer is this that believes oneself better than everyone else? Even a Pharisee, a faithful keeper of the Law, can live in a corrupted attitude. This person feels himself justified before God, and precisely for that reason, he becomes a judge who despises and condemns those who aren’t like him.
The Publican, in contrast, only happens to say: «God, be merciful to me, a sinner». This man humbly recognizes his sin. He can’t pride himself on his life. He gives himself over to God’s compassion. He doesn’t compare himself with anyone else. He doesn’t judge everyone else. He lives in the truth of himself before God.
The parable is a penetrating criticism that unmasks a false religious attitude that lets us live sure of our own innocence before God, while condemning from our supposed moral superiority anyone who doesn’t think or act like us.
Historical circumstances and triumphalistic tendencies that are far from the Gospel have made us Catholics especially prone to that temptation. That’s why each one of us has to read the parable in a self-critical manner: Why do we believe ourselves to be better than the agnostics? Why do we feel closer to God than those who don’t practice their faith? What is at the base of certain prayers for the conversion of sinners? What does it mean to notice the sins of others without living out our own conversion to God?
Recently, when asked a question by a journalist, Pope Francis made this affirmation: «Who am I to judge someone who is gay?». His words have surprised just about everyone. It seems that no one expected so simple and so evangelical a response from a Catholic Pope. However, that is the attitude of one who lives in truth before God.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf