Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, each and every one of us are reminded to be meek and humble, and seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness for our many sins, for all the faults and mistakes we have committed in life against God and against our fellow brothers and sisters. All of us have deserved punishment and even annihilation because of those sins that we have committed, and yet God still wants to forgive us our sins and be reconciled with us because He truly loves us very, very much.
In our first reading today, we listened to the words of the prophet Hosea reminding the people of God to turn away from their sins and to embrace once again God’s love and grace, to change their ways for the better and reject their old ways of sin and disobedience. The Lord has always been kind and patient with us, and He has always provided us in our time of need. He calls us all to return to Him so that we may find our way and be saved through Him. Yet it was often our pride, ego and hubris, our inability to resist the temptations to sin which became great obstacles in our journey back towards the Lord.
In our Gospel passage today, this was clearly highlighted by the Lord Himself in the parable which He used to bring across this fact to the people who were listening to Him. The Lord used the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to highlight how our attitudes can be a very significant factor in either leading us towards or away from God’s grace and salvation. In that occasion, the Pharisee and the tax collector both were in the Temple praying before the Lord, but how they prayed reflect the differences in attitudes that were generally correct for that time.
The Pharisee prayed looking up to Heaven and praising himself and all his deeds before God and anyone who could hear him, saying all that he had done in accordance with the Law and everything that he was superior in as compared to the tax collector who was a great sinner in the eyes of the people and especially for the Pharisee himself. Meanwhile, the tax collector did not even dare to look up and abashing himself, he humbly sought forgiveness from God for his many sins, all the faults he had committed and perhaps all the unlawful and selfish profiteering and other misdeeds he had committed.
Contextually, we must understand that the Pharisees at that time were the group of educated and intellectual elite in the community who make up one major portion of the Council of the Sanhedrin or the Jewish High Council. The Pharisees together with the scribes or the teachers of the Law were very particular and strict in their interpretation of the Law of God as revealed through Moses. They were unbending in their very rigid and literal understanding of the Law, and they would not allow anyone to challenge them in this manner.
Over the many centuries, through the long period of time, the Law went through many additions, modifications, changes, reinterpretations and many other things that made it excessive and even punitive and difficult for the people to follow and observe. And worst of it all was the way the Pharisees used the Law as means for them to gain more power and favour for themselves. They prayed aloud and made great show of their piety in public places like marketplaces.
That is why the Lord used this example to highlight how it was difficult for many of us to be forgiven and to seek God’s path and righteousness, as our pride and ego often makes us feeling self-righteous and self-justified, and failing to recognise our own sins and faults, as what happened to the Pharisee clearly showed us. The Pharisee was so focused on his self-righteousness, pride and hubris that he failed to realise that he himself was also a sinner. And in condemning the tax collector instead of reaching out to him, in his part in making it difficult and tough for many to follow the Law, he and the other Pharisees had committed sins before God and man alike.
And unlike the tax collector, because of his pride in not recognising such sins, the sin of the Pharisee remained, and as long as those sins remained unforgiven, then he shall be judged by those same sins, and if found wanting, may end up in eternal damnation, while the tax collector, the supposedly greater sinner, having been forgiven from his sins because of his honesty, humility and the desire to be reconciled with God, may end up in Heaven.
Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are therefore reminded that during this Lent, all of us are called to deepen our relationship with God and be more attuned with ourselves and we are all called to live our lives with greater fidelity to God, and to humble ourselves more before Him, as sinners all coming to seek His mercy and forgiveness, depending on His ever generous love and compassion. May the Lord be with us in our Lenten journey, and may He help us that we may draw ever closer to Him and find righteousness through following His path, and be fully reconciled with Him. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.