In this Sunday’s Gospel we are once again invited to reflect upon where is our focus? In this regard we see a stark contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee begins his prayer by saying “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.’ There are a lot of “I’s” in his statement. The focus is completely on himself. In comparison the Tax Collector raises his eyes to heaven and prays “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In his case the focus is completely on God.
Because his focus is on himself there was no room for growth in the life of the Pharisee while that attitude remained. Making a fearless confession before God opened the way for growth in the life of the tax collector.
So, it comes back to the question ‘where is our focus?’ None of us would like to think that our attitudes bear any resemblance to that of the Pharisee. However, the moment we start thinking about someone and say to ourselves ‘Thank God, I am not like them,’ then that is exactly what we are doing. That even holds true even if our perceptions about another are correct. We will never be at ‘rights with God’ when we look down upon others.
Tax collectors were one of the most despised groups of people in the time of Jesus. To even suggest that they could be exalted by God would have been shocking to the ears of Jesus’ listeners. The point of the story is that God is more interested that our focus is outward towards God and others than our background or anything we might have done wrong in the past. Coming before him openly and honestly will ensure that our prayers are heard and paves the way for growth in our own lives as well.