October 26/27th is a long way off (when this Scripture next appears in the Sunday Lectionary) but this challenging and delightful reading is a possibility for the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance anytime:
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 (themselves) will be humbled,
and the one who humbles (self) will be exalted.”
The NRSV speaks of the Pharisee “standing by himself, praying thus …” which seems a little better than the sense of speaking a prayer to oneself–praying to oneself? Really?
God delights in turning expectations upside down. Here, we might in the Pharisee’s place put our favorite hero, and instead of a tax collector, someone we really dislike. And it would fit. The message from God on one level is that things will not be as they seem. The religious and righteous (are they really seeing themselves as god?) will be most unjustified in comparison to the one who is a sinner, and sees it.
Upside down is a good thing for people who are confronted with their sins and feeling deep contrition for them. We expect to be condemned, and that would be just. But God withholds judgment, gives us mercy instead. Good news.