The Pharisee's piety was admirable. He tithed ten percent of his gross income. He fasted two days a week, probably a very severe fast. How many of us tithe and fast to that extent? However, St. Luke points out specifically that his "prayer" was directed to himself, not to God (Lk 18:11, JB, RSV-CE). He compared his virtue to the standards of other people, not to the standards of God.
The tax collector's piety was not admirable. The tax collectors of Jesus' time were Jews who worked for the Romans. They routinely extorted their own people to get a better commission. Perhaps this was the only time this man had even been to the Temple. But the tax collector possessed the vision to see his own lowliness before God. He also avoided comparing himself to other people. Instead, He compared his own sinful life to the holiness of God, and took the only sane option available — he cast himself upon the mercy of God (Lk 18:13).
In today's second reading, St. Paul seems to resemble the Pharisee more than the tax collector. He "boasts" about how he, too, has been faithful to God (2 Tm 4:7). However, St. Paul's comments were a testimony to the Lord's faithfulness rather than a litany of self-praise meant for God to overhear. Paul gives credit to God for any good he has done. The Pharisee gives credit to himself, which is a rejection of God's goodness in his life.
Any good thing in our lives is God's doing (Phil 2:13). "Name something you have that you have not received," particularly a spiritual talent or gift. "If, then, you have received it, why are you boasting as if it were your own?" (1 Cor 4:7)
|Rescript: In accord with the Code of Canon Law, I hereby grant the Nihil Obstat ("Permission to Publish") for One Bread, One Body covering the period from October 1, 2010 through November 30, 2010.
†Reverend Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, April 6, 2010.