Gospel Reading February 5th (Luke 18:10-14)
Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee
The Lenten Triodion, marking the period of ten weeks leading up to Pascha, begins with the Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. During this time, the Church calls us to focus on our personal repentance and relationship with Christ. In this parable, the Pharisee had kept correctly all the external rules of uprightness.
For example, he was not an adulterer, he fasted twice a week, and he regularly gave away one tenth of all he possessed. Outwardly he did all the right things, and he thought these external actions would justify him before God. In contrast, the tax collector had broken all the Commandments of God. In fact, tax collectors at the time of Christ were held up as a template of what it was to be a sinner – they were Jews who betrayed their own people by working for the Romans, collecting excess taxes than they needed to, keeping the extra money for themselves. So this tax collector really was a sinner.
He failed to keep the Commandments, stealing money from the poor and needful. However when this man came into the Temple to pray, he did not dare stand in front like the Pharisee: he did not dare thank God that he was not like other people. At that moment, the tax collector knew who he was and what he was, because he had had a real encounter with the living God. In that moment, he knew his sin, humbled himself and said: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Unlike the Pharisee, he left the Temple justified before God because he recognised his faults, humbled himself and asked for mercy from the all-merciful Christ. The lesson for us is that the narrow path, the royal path, is to be like that Pharisee and to keep the rules our Church has gifted us, but to keep those rules with humility and gratitude. Fasting-prayer-almsgiving, when done with humility and gratitude, should open to us the grace of God. And then, when we keep those rules with a humble heart, the strange thing is, no matter how righteous we are externally, we will still pray the Publican’s prayer: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” the eternal song of the Saints!
Source: Lychnos February / March 2017