FR. MIKE’S HOMILY FOR SATURDAY OF THE 3RD WEEK OF LENT
THEME: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
HOMILY: Lk 18:9‐14
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The Pharisee went to the Temple to pray. But definitely, it was no prayer at all. He was simply boasting to God. And worse, he was already judging and condemning the tax collector.
He has, after all, the reasons to justify such behavior. By all human standards, he was a good man, taking his religious obligations as a Jew and a Pharisee very seriously; he fasts, gives tithes and prays regularly.
On the other hand, the tax collector is despised by the entire Jewish community. His job makes him a traitor to his own people and consistently dishonest in his dealings with them. In short, he is regarded as public enemy number one.
Yet the latter went home justified. His prayer was pleasing to God. The prayer of the former, although he was a good man compared to the publican, did not please God; he went home not justified.
Why was this so? The answer is the heart. The Pharisee followed God’s commandments to the letter. He tried his best to be a good and faithful Jew. But his heart is far from God. Through the prophet Isaiah, God expressed His displeasure towards such people: “This people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me” (Is 29:13).
He went to the Temple, not really to pray, but just to fulfill his obligation of praying regularly. What he uttered before God was not really a prayer but an ‘accomplishment report’ of how good and faithful he has been all these times.
His heart, therefore, does not belong to God. He was simply so full of himself that he did not bother to examine himself and ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. A quote from an American Methodist pastor, Charles L. Allen, says, “The hardest people to reach with the love of God are not the bad people. They know they are bad. They have no defense. The hardest ones to win for God are the self-righteous people.”
The tax collector, on the other hand, was fully aware of the presence of God in the Temple. Acknowledging the gravity of all his sins and his unworthiness, he could not even go nearer. He just “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven.”
God is the Eternal Light. He is infinitely brighter than the sun. In His presence, any man cannot manage to look straight into that brightness that penetrates into his innermost being, exposing clearly the filth of his sins.
This must have been the experience of the tax collector. Coming into God’s presence, he just bowed his head in utter shame and sorrow, beat his breast and said, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In the presence of God, that is who we are: sinners. Nothing more. We have absolutely nothing to brag about.
Every time the Mass is celebrated, we come into the presence of God. That is why, it always begins with the Penitential Rite. The priest invites the people to have the same spirit and disposition displayed by the tax collector: “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” Then, we collectively recite the Confiteor to express our humble admission of our sins, and ask God for mercy and pardon.
Only then are we properly disposed for this sacred celebration. Only then can our prayers become truly pleasing to God. “A humble contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches
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