“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Lk 18 : 13
Who is a tax collector in Jesus’ day-and-age? A tax collector was typically a Jew who had gone to serve Roman authorities to collect taxes. They frequently collected more than required so that they could skim off the top and live a life that is a little more opulent than it would have otherwise been.
To the Romans, they were still second class. To the Jews, they were sellouts, extortionists, and sinners. Even though life may have been comfortable in the material sense, it probably had its share of discomfort in all the other ways.
Here we see a Pharisee-a person who would have been at the top of their game in terms of the spiritual life, and we see a second-rate tax collector pray in the temple. The person spurned by all is the one who leaves justified, not the all-star. Why?
The things that the pharisee offers are worth little to God. God has no need of tithes, as he does not require food or wealth. Fasting is good, but clearly the fast of this pharisee is about boasting and “piosity”-a word that I made up for pious practice done solely for oneself.
The tax collector on the other hand, recognizes God’s immensity and offers him what he has-a humbled and contrite heart, asking for forgiveness. God cannot command love from us-we must freely give it. And this is the greatest gift that anyone can give to anyone-genuine love.
Blessed Chiara Badano was suffering mightily towards the end of her life from cancer, but those who visited her remarked that there was a light in her eyes. When they asked her where it came from, she replied, “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”
There is a simplicity in love that shows us that God is not a Rubik’s Cube. He will not love us simply because we twist the colors in the right combinations. His love is a free gift. Our love to him must be our free gift as well-free from any affection that would keep us from him.