Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Man in the Mirror: Publican OR Pharisee

This past Sunday and every year, the Gospel lesson of the Publican & the Pharisee is presented to Orthodox Christians as means of preparation for the season of Great Lent. This parable can be found in the Gospel according to St Luke 18:9-14; the lesson ending with the words of of Jesus: "...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

"Let us not pray, brethen, like the Pharisee; for he who exalteth himself shall be abased. Wherefore, let us humble ourselves before God, crying by means of fasting, with the voice of the publican, saying: God forgive us, sinners."
            -Sticherion of Vespers for the Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee

Two men went up to pray, One was a Pharisee, a respected member of his religious community; one who did all the right things - externally. And yet, when he stands before God, he stands before a mirror. Because, if you noticed, the Gospel says to us "and he prayed to himself thus." So he wasn't praying to God - he was justifying himself. He was justifying his own existence. He was trying to make himself look good, He was trying to convince himself that he was superior to others, and why did he do that? Simply out of pride. Often we try to convince ourselves that we are something beyond what we are, not only because of pride, but often because we don't have what is good and fruitful self-esteem.

Publican & Pharisee
 Image Source

The other man in the parable is a tax collector. He was an outcast, the Jewish community considered him a traitor. Now, this tax collector goes up and prays; and he doesn't stand at all close to the altar, He stands far away. Then he beats his breast and he wouldn't even look toward the heavens. He doesn't have to convince himself of anything because he knows who he is; and so he talks to God. And he asks God, out of the sincerity of his heart, a simple request that is intimately related to how he sees himself. He says, "Lord God, have mercy upon me a sinner."

So, to stand like the tax collector before God (but not to stand there trying to convince ourselves we're something we're not) is the hardest thing to do in life - it's easy to say, but it's the hardest thing to do. And what should you say when you stand before God? Say what the prophets of the Old Testament always said to God who called them by name, "Here I am, Lord!"

Reading courtesy of Fr. Dimitri Tsakas, parish of St. George, Greek Archdiocese of Australia

Hopefully, we can use this Gospel lesson in our daily struggles to keep remembrances of our own sinful nature and offer prayers to our loving and forgiving God, instead of hearts and eyes filled with judgment towards others. This Gospel lesson always makes me think of the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror." The late Michael Jackson may not be your favorite, but if his song reminds me of the gospel, I'm all for it!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

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