I’m a Publican. But I’m also a Pharisee. And you are too.
Here’s a quick refresher of the parable that Orthodox Christians commemorate on February 20:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You can make an argument that pride is at the heart of all sin. Pride is absolutely the sin I struggle with the most. I’m vain, cocksure and sometimes arrogant. Even my awareness of that vanity is a form of pride.
I struggle to be humble, but my pride calls to attention my genuine acts of humility and causes me to swell with pride at my own selflessness. I behave like the Publican by praying in solitude, making sure no one can see or hear me. I’m like the Pharisee because I just bragged about that to you.
What do we do to keep from constantly falling into this trap?
Turn around and walk in the other direction.
To repent signifies far more than self-pity or futile regret over things done in the past. The Greek term metanoia means “change of mind.” To repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God and with others. The fault of the Pharisee is that he has no desire to change his outlook; he is complacent, self-satisfied, and so he allows no place for God to act within him. The Gospel depicts him as a man that is pleased only with himself who thinks that he has complied with all of the requirements of religion. But in his pride, he has falsified the meaning of true religion and faith. He has reduced these to external observations, measuring his piety by the amount of money he gives.
The Publican, on the other hand, truly longs for a “change of mind.” He humbles himself, and his humility justifies him before God. He becomes, in the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3), “poor in spirit.” He acknowledges that he is a sinner, and he knows that salvation is only found in the mercy of God. Here we find an example of true humility, an essential aspect of repentance. A “change of mind” and the transformation of our lives can only happen when we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our willingness to turn from sin, and receive His grace into our lives.
I know I will find myself walking in pride again, possibly before lunchtime today. Pray for me, that I will again turn around and walk in the other direction.
Kontakion of The Publican And Pharisee
Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee!
And learn humility from the Publican’s tears!
Let us cry to our Savior,
Have mercy on us,
Only merciful One!
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