Jesus addressed the parable in today’s gospel to those who were convinced of their own righteousness. We know who those people were since Jesus often addressed or dressed down the Pharisees. His main point in today’s parable was that they adhered to a form of religion that was totally legalistic in its approach. The fact they went beyond the legal requirement made them consider themselves superior to others in their righteousness. You know the many times Jesus warns them about appearances versus the state of their heart.
Today’s parable is another warning from Jesus to us about our heart versus our blind obedience to the law. The Pharisee in the parable describes himself as not dishonest, greedy or adulterous. He in truth is a self-righteous man whose image of what pleases God is how well he follows the law while at the same time he is not honest about his heart. His religious pride hides from him the truth that he has prostituted himself for the esteem of others.
Do we hear this parable and quickly dismiss it because it does not pertain to us? What do we see when we look at those who gather with us to worship? I invite you to take a good look at those around us, if you take the time you will see what the Pharisee saw.
We will see people we know who are adulterous, greedy, dishonest, liars, gossips, dependent on alcohol, abusive and so much more. We can look around and without any doubt we will know we are standing among sinners. We will also see that we are prideful about our city, prideful about the schools we attended or our children attend, we are prideful about our parish and our Catholic Church. You know this is true but at the same time we cannot believe that those things we take pride in are “big enough sins” to worry about.
Here is something that will shock you; all sin separates us from God. You will tell me that is not true. I will tell you that what I said about sin separating us from God is not a thought of mine but something God said to us. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is. 59:2).
The problem is our definition of sin does not line up with God’s definition of sin. Jesus made the distinction clear for you and me when he said “it is what comes out of your hearts that defiles you for out of our hearts come deceit, envy, slander, arrogance, sensuality, pride and foolishness” (Mk. 7:20-22). . These are things we do every day willingly but we are not concerned about them because they are not serious enough to be condemn us.” Oh I forgot, that list also included murder, fornication, theft, adultery and evil thoughts.
Notice how Jesus lumps all these sins together. Small sins and big sins defile us according to Jesus. So the sins of fornication, theft, murder, adultery and evil thoughts are not any different than foolishness, arrogance or pride. You should read the 7th chapter of Mark’s gospel to gain the full impact of these words of Jesus. Guess who Jesus is talking to – yep you got it the Pharisees. Thank God we are not like those Pharisees.
I am going to shock you by emphatically telling you that each of us is a Pharisee because we are guilty of pride, envy, arrogance, foolishness and deceit. Those are only a few of the things we do without believing they are bad enough sins to separate us from God.
Speaking to us through that parable, he is telling us that all our religious actions can be a cover up for those things that are within our hearts. The problem is, we like the Pharisees, do not see the problem with our legalistic approach to holiness. We have been taught from infancy that rewards come as a result of following the rules and punishment comes when we do not.
That concept of a reward for good behavior and bad behavior is punished is ingrained in our society and in us. It will take more than the words of Jesus comparing a Pharisee’s righteousness to a tax collectors remorse to see our own “righteous pride.” Each time we perform religious acts we place ourselves in the presence of God; how can that be sinful? Yet, those same acts can and do cause us to be focused on the doing instead of being.
What do I mean when I say we are doing rather than being? God has been very clear about what he most desires from us – he wants our hearts. The tax collector was seeking the embrace of God while the Pharisee was seeking the approval of God.
When we are active in presenting our hearts to God each time we come before him then we move from doing to being. It is in presenting our hearts to God that we will feel his embrace. When we do not present our hearts to God we will hunger for his approval and it will not come for we have become the Pharisee of today’s gospel.
Examine yourself this week and every time you are doing then ask God to enter your heart and teach you to be. Each time you are being invite the Holy Spirit into your heart and ask him to pour the love of God into your heart.