Our Gospel today begins with some challenging words, “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”
There’s an old joke about a psychiatrist who is seeing a new patient for the first time. The psychiatrist says, “I’m not aware of your issue, so maybe you should start at the beginning.”
The patient rolls his eyes and sighs, “Alright. In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth.”
The great monastic teacher Dorotheos of Gaza, used this Gospel text to preach to men in his community who apparently were making everybody miserable by inflicting a lot of self-righteousness and judgmentalism upon each other.
Surprisingly, he did not use this Gospel to make his monks stop bragging or ignore their own good deeds and acknowledge that they were sinners. Dorotheos said that the Pharisee was doing the right thing when he thanked God for giving him the ability to do good—as should they (the monks) themselves. The Pharisee only did one thing wrong: he passed judgment on the tax collector.
Source: Sin of scorn: Luke 18:9-14m by Roberta Bondi October 19, 2004.
He moved from the generic idea of sinners to one specific individual in the person of the tax collector whose motivation, attitude, and repentance he cannot know. In other words, he judged another person by taking his moral inventory which is wrong.
On the positive side, the Pharisee wanted to be “set apart,” which is what the word Pharisee, means.
He said, “I fast twice a week.” This verse is the earliest attestation of the custom of the Jews fasting twice week, which historically was on Mondays and Thursdays. Christian tradition of about 100 AD was that Catholic Christians fasted Wednesday and Fridays.
The Pharisee said, “I pay tithes on my whole income.” Here the emphasis is on “all.” Deuteronomy 14:22 prescribes a tithe of all the produce one’s seed, grain, wine, oil, firstlings of the herd and flock—it was to be offered annually at the harvest festival. If the person lived far from the Temple, the produce could be converted to money, and that could be offered instead.
This offers us an example of supporting our parish financially.
The tax-collector, whom Jesus sided with, sees God, acting in “mercy” with Abraham and David, to elect and unlikely people to receive blessings and promises by grace; which is more inclusive.
He went home justified- made upright by God. The decisive thing is not the past record, whether good or bad, but the present attitude toward God, towards Jesus, who saves us from sin.
The tax collector knew that he was not able to cover for his own restitution, so he asked God to atone for him—he wished that God would help to remove the distance that separated them, which is what Jesus does as the Good News of the Gospel by his saving death and resurrection.
Source: The case of the Pharisee and the tax collector: justification and social location in Luke’s Gospel, Harrison, Stephanie, Currents in Theology and Mission, 32 no 2 Apr 2005, p 99-111
The truth is that being righteous usually involves a long path which involves mistakes.
The biblical saying proves true, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5).