Notes from Mass: the Pharisee and the tax collector

By Will Angley
22 Oct 2016

I went to Sunday service a day early this week, a vigil Mass celebrated by Father Bill at St. Francis Xavier. Here’s what stands out in my mind afterwards:1

In today’s Bible readings, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in temple.

Fr. Bill then opened his homily by asking us “What’s wrong with this picture?” This is both a literal question, and the title of a children’s puzzle book2 he enjoyed growing up, where you had to spot the differences between two pictures.

You can see today’s Gospel this way, too:

  • The first “picture” is the Pharisee, focusing on himself and what he’s done; he says “I” four times. You could almost imagine him showing home videos of his life in the temple.
  • The second picture is the tax collector, who confesses he is a sinner, asks for God’s mercy, and never mentions himself.

The tax collector, who made God the focus of his prayer, understood correctly; he went home justified before God.

All of the good in our life, and all of the success growing as a person, comes from God rather than our own efforts. And we must place God, rather than ourselves, at the center of our life.

Today’s Gospel warns us against puffing ourselves up for God’s work, but it is not an instruction to put ourselves down. We should be thankful for and proud of what God has done in our life. Fr. Bill called out The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser, as speaking to this very well.

And he called out Mother Teresa, especially among many saints, as living today’s Gospel in her own life3. We should strive to do the same.

  1. As with any lecture notes, and especially those prepared from memory: good ideas are the Father’s, mistakes are purely my own. 

  2. Which doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. What’s Different is close to how he described it. 

  3. And Mother Teresa expressed this beautifully: “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”