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God versus human beings
In our spiritual journey, it happens that the way other people look at us creates a major obstacle to our personal conversion. Sometimes we must be very courageous to confront their judgment. This confrontation is often more complex than our fear of God’s judgment or our doubt of his mercy. The tax collector in today’s Gospel helps us to overcome the fear of others by trusting God. It is the merciful God and he alone who forgives us and justifies us.
From the impurity of work to the purity of the Temple
A tax collector went up to the Temple to pray. He made a double move. Physically, he went up to the Temple which was the highest place in the city. Spiritually, he moved from the sinfulness of his daily work to the purity of the Temple. Luke does not say anything about the tax collector’s attitude when he went up to the Temple. But with what we see later in the story, we can imagine that he was very discreet, even embarrassed when he took such a step.
Judgment from God and from others
The tax collector had the courage to go up to the Temple. He did not dare, however, to stand in the middle of this sacred space. He stood off at a distance. From whom was he standing off at a distance? Probably, from the Pharisee who considered himself to be just and pious. The tax collector had just overcome the fear of God’s judgment. Now, he confronted man’s judgment. He saw no further than the shadow of his condition. Moreover, he did not dare to raise his eyes to heaven. Space before him was limited because he did not want to be caught by the Pharisee’s eye. Space above him was also limited because he did not raise up his eyes.
God’s mercy and human sins
Vertical and horizontal spacing was restricted for the tax collector. At this critical moment, however, he accomplished what was essentially an act of contrition. Exterior fear gave way to interior confidence. He beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He acknowledged his sins, not the sins of others. And in acknowledging his sins, he implored God’s mercy. Because he considered himself to be a sinner, he counted entirely on God’s mercy. His prayer was a call for help. Going up to the Temple as a sinner, the tax collector was forgiven and justified by God when he came down to his house.
Like the tax collector, we are invited to have an absolute confidence in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Beyond our restricted spacing, geographical or spiritual, horizontal or vertical, we are called to maintain our personal relationship with God. It is at the heart of this living relationship that we are justified. In God, justice is relational and its realization comes to us through mercy.
Prayer: God of mercy, help us gaze at you in order to find the courage to get up when we stumble.
Resolution: Pay attention to every kind of spacing when I pray.