Gospel Reflections » International

The Pharisee And The Publican

March 9, 2013

This parable, found only in Luke, displays all the themes that Luke is so fond of: salvation is given to all; the Jewish Law alone does not make a person righteous; and divine mercy is there for all who ask.

The prayer of the Pharisee is the prayer of the smug and self-righteous man. There is a touch of arrogance in him, as he compares himself with ‘that other fellow, over there.’

The Pharisee lists his good works – proper prayer, fasting, tithes given – and his obedience to the Law. He is so good that he is ‘too good’ for God. Really, he doesn’t need God. He’s been praying to himself.

The publican knows his need of God. Like the ‘poor’ in the Bible, he is ‘in need’. He admits that he is a sinner. He asks for mercy – and receives it.

The purpose of prayer, as Jesus indicates in this little story, is to express our need of God.

Most of us don’t want to show how vulnerable we are. The greater our need of God, the more God raises us. This doesn’t mean that we should give up on self-confidence. It does mean that our confidence is based on our relationship with God – or as St Paul would say, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”