In the Gospel today we have two men who go into the temple to pray. Actually only one man went into the temple to pray. The second one, the tax collector, “prayed”, but the first one, the Pharisee, Jesus says “He prayed to himself.” One man goes into the temple to pray. The other man goes into the temple to talk to himself. One man goes into the temple for a good reason. The other man goes into the temple without a good reason.
Why does the Pharisee need to go into the temple to talk to himself? He could have stayed home and talked to himself. He could have gone for a walk to the store and talked to himself the whole way there. He must have thought that he was talking to God. We should know the difference between talking to God and talking to ourselves: God is interested in different things than we are. God is not interested in hearing our gossip. He is not interested in our belittling other people. He is not interested in hearing how wonderful we think we are. If we are talking about these things, we are only talking to ourselves.
The Pharisee begins well. He says, “O God, I thank you.” It’s all downhill from there. He says, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous.” What makes him think that he is so different from the rest of humanity? Every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Pharisee judges the rest of humanity so that he can ignore himself. He mentions the sins that he has not committed so he can ignore the sins that he has.
Indeed, when we pray we should thank God that we have not committed every sin that we had the opportunity to commit, knowing that the root of every sin is there in our hearts; only grace has saved us. Then, we should seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed. If anyone says they have not sinned, they are a liar, lying above all to themself. The Pharisee calls the rest of humanity dishonest, but who is more dishonest than the man who thinks that he is not like the rest of humanity?
We are sinners. We need mercy. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”