Gospel Luke 18:9-14
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
In a recent interview, the now emeritus pope Benedict XVI observed that, in our present world man today does not feel the need to be justified before God, ‘but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify Himself [to man] because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him.’ People of today are almost like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, as he stands before God listing a litany of good works. In the face of the tremendous suffering that exists in the world today, which we often pin on God, we feel self-justified, ‘if He is all good and all powerful, why can’t He or won’t He do anything about all this suffering?’
This habit of mind makes us to look to the tax collector in today’s story with a sense of baffled wonder. We envy his ability to hope so radically in God’s mercy, but we are afraid to let go of everything and surrender ourselves to His care. We fear God’s justice, and do not trust His mercy.
In the same interview, Benedict spoke of how, like John Paul II, Pope Francis’ “pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy.” He points out that “under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God. He is waiting [perhaps unknowingly] for mercy.” Pope Francis, when asked about this explains that ‘humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds, or it believes it’s not possible to cure them.’
The tax collector in this story serves for us as a model, of one who knows himself deeply, and of his need for mercy – but also one who knows also the mystery of God’s unfathomable Mercy and trusts in God’s goodness to give it to him. He hopes in the gift of mercy, and opens himself to receive it.
Point to Ponder
“If we—all of us—accept the grace of Jesus Christ, he changes our heart and from sinners makes us saints. To become holy we do not need to turn our eyes away and look somewhere else, or have as it were the face on a holy card! No, no, that is not necessary. To become saints only one thing is necessary: to accept the grace that the Father gives us in Jesus Christ. There, this grace changes our heart. We continue to be sinners for we are weak, but with this grace which makes us feel that the Lord is good, that the Lord is merciful, that the Lord waits for us, that the Lord pardons us—this immense grace that changes our heart.”
― Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy