It is so easy for men to justify what is evil and vice and pervert these into what is good and virtuous. People know pride is bad but somehow it is made acceptable and even desirable when it is called a healthy self-image or assertiveness. Greed is bad and easily leads into selfishness. But people act greedy and selfish anyway and glorify it as ambition or, mildly, as saving for a rainy day. War is definitely bad but there are people who would wage it in the name of a just war, which in itself is a contradiction in terms. The principle of the preemptive strike has corrupted the Golden Rule and reformulated it thus: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Christ knew the human heart because He created it. He saw the pride, the selfishness, the greed and even the anger and hatred in the heart of the Pharisee even as he was praying. He praised the humility and and simple prayer of the tax collector. The former praised himself; the latter praised God. The former asked for nothing for he felt totally self-sufficient; the latter asked for forgiveness and acknowledged his unworthiness.
Life is indeed full of paradoxes and, alas, it did not come with an Instructions Manual nor a User’s Guide. That is why Christ had to come: to show us the Manual of Life through the life that He lived and to give us the Instruction Guide through His words.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Jesus 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.”