Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
The pharisee and the publican
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income’. But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’. I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”. Lk 18,9-14
This scene of the pharisee and the publican, who climbed the temple to pray, shows us the difference between the pagan and christian prayer. The first is self-centered, the second is
theocentric. In the prayer of the pharisee, as it was the case and it is still the case in the pagan prayers, the center is himself: he feels right, better than others, he fasts as many as two times a week, even if the law would have required to fast once and he is in good standing with the payment of the tithes. His thanks to God are for what he is, not for what God is for him and his prayer is by standing, he does not need to kneel to ask forgiveness. In fact, he almost expects that God is pleased with him, because he is better than others. The publican, however, who perhaps was not even addressing a prayer every day, he kneels, he puts the emphasis on the prayer to the Lord and he feels in need of his mercy, because he knows not to be in compliance with the law and with the men, as the pharisee thinks. He will be, however, the one to be justified and to become a friend of God, not the pharisee. This publican reminds me Epifani, a soldier of my platoon when, many years ago, I was serving in the army as an officer. In the evening, while the others soldiers were used to get out to walk in Vicenza, being off duty, Epifani remained almost always alone, in the barracks, because he was not very easy and his companionship was not welcomed by his comrades. One evening I said ” Epifani, come with me, I invite you out for a dinner”. We went to the same restaurant patronized by the soldiers of the platoon and we sat on the sidelines, the two of us, eating and talking together during the entire evening. Since that day the other soldiers, intrigued by the fact that I found interesting the Epifani companionship, always invited him on off duty with them. But, when, being my military service over, I was discharged, only Epifani came to see me to the train station.