Publicans at Prayer

Scripture     Luke 18:9-14


                           Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous

                                and regarded others with contempt.

                     “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

                              The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus:

                              “God, I thank you that I am not like other people:

                                  thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 

                                I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

                                            But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven

                                         but was beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”

                                  I tell you this man went down to his home justified

                           rather than the other;

                        for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,

                            but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” 



Luke’s Gospel is about focusing us on what “the kingdom of God” is all about. One way we might reflect upon this parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is to open our eyes and hearts to acknowledge how within each one of us, there is ‘a Pharisee’ and ‘a Publican’. The story illustrates what often happens within our own minds when we pause in silence to pray. Some days, we are feeling an attitude of trust and dependence upon God for everything. This ‘publican’ self knows who we really are in all honesty and humility. The ‘publican’ self has no illusions, can speak straightforwardly, pours out one’s heart with ease and finds consolation in being a dearly loved child of God. Other days, the ‘pharisee’ mind rambles on in speeches that arrogantly praise and justify our own worth and goodness. When we find ourselves rather haughtily rhyming off litanies of self-congratulations for all the religious practices we have faithfully observed, we have to admit that there is no restful peace and there is no encountering the living God in the temple of our soul.


What does it mean to enter the temple? The TEMPLE is the place of communion between God and the person. The TEMPLE is the dwelling place of the divinity on earth. The Spirit of God abides within the humanity of each person. To enter the temple symbolizes the return to our Center, to God-within. Here we will encounter also our true self - the person God created us to be and to become in nature, grace and glory. Many persons experience a great difficulty in connecting with the TEMPLE within themselves at the very core of their own beings. Through prayer we dispose ourselves to discover God-within. Why, then, does it not happen for so many, especially in the beginning of a serious prayer life?  Could it be that there is a “Pharisee-in-me” that is an obstacle to my encountering God-within my TEMPLE?


A closed door. Who is this Pharisee in me?  The Pharisee is that part of me that is an inflated ego: it likes everything its own way, is full of its own self-importance. The Pharisee-in-me does not see its own failings and limitations because I am so preoccupied with my own sense of goodness and self-righteousness.  When this Pharisee-in-me goes to pray in my Temple…I meet only my own ego-self.  The prayer is pompous, grandiose, filled with a litany of all the good and holy things “I” have done for God; I have prayed, fasted, given to charities, and spent hours helping my family. All the time, the Pharisee-in-me is unmindful of any interior darkness, sin, weakness, shadow. This “hubris” is a spiritual pride that keeps one going around in circles…and the Temple door remains closed!


An open door. Who is this Publican in me? The Publican-in-me is that part of me that faces my own inner unconscious darkness. The Publican-in-me is willing to express with honesty and wholeness the truth of one’s reality: “I am a sinner. I am struggling. I need help.”  The Publican-in-me is the poor, unworthy part of me that is rejected and neglected by the Pharisee-in-me. This ego-self keeps shoving back into the unconscious any awareness of this innate poverty of spirit. This Publican-in-me however longs for an acceptance from the consciousness that is busy denying it. (So, the publican stays at the back of the church). However, when this Publican prays, he/she is so humble, so honest, so surrendered that … the door opens to the Temple-within and God is encountered. “You are loved, justified, favored, elevated.”


Jesus is inviting us to maintain a spiritual equilibrium. In this parable Jesus teaches us that secret pride -“hubris”  - is to be watched out for in the spiritual life of all of us. All great spiritual masters have taught that “height stands upon depth.”  Growth upwards must be succeeded by growth downwards and vice-versa, so the equilibrium may be maintained. Spiritual growth leads to increased self-awareness, freedom and self-determination but at the same time … it also leads to the realization that we are utterly dependent upon God. With the removal of the “hubris” of the ego and the inclusion of the inferior, hitherto unconscious parts of our personality, then our connection to the soul has been made possible. We are now in a position to receive, as gift, the kingdom of God.


Our “going home” today can mean for us that finally we can be reconciled with God and reconciled with ourselves - with our own human limitations, our creatureliness, our inadequacy, our vulnerabilities, our neediness, our mistakes, our frustrations, our resistances and fears, our unfulfilments, our disappointments, our failures and our sinfulness. God’s act of reconciliation frees us from guilt and failure and the suffocation of repressed secrets. No longer to be ‘going about beating our breasts’ Jesus has us standing straight and tall and living on the gracious mercy and goodness of God who affirms us and loves us, each one of us uniquely. What a new freedom is discovered – we no longer need to try to save ourselves or make ourselves acceptable. Now, this really ‘good news’  starts to increase and multiply across humanity at large. Once a person has experienced the truth and freedom of this Divine Mercy overflowing, they no longer have any need to compete, to compare or to complain about others. Imagine a family, a workplace where these three “C’s are no longer the pattern of our communication.


Hopefully, we will all bring our ‘publican-self’ to prayer this week and experience the freedom and exaltation of God’s grace-full life flowing through us to all we meet. What a wonderful world in this ‘kingdom of God!

Carrying Grace         I am loved and accepted by God - unconditionally.                                                                                                         



#1 arletteh 2010-10-26 14:54
I am so taken in by Luke's showing Jesus, who so loves the little ones:children,t hose aware of carrying the little mustard seed always,the voiceless women and widows, the lost ones, the lepers, and Lazaruses ,the last ones and the sinners!The publican: was he suddenly overcome by the holiness of God in the Temple and recognized his sin?What encouragement for us all to "go up by going down""Be not afraid, I am with you through it all!" says Jesus.---Let the little ones come to Me!

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