Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a devout Pharisee, the other a dreaded tax collector, who extorted money from his own people. According to Jesus, the tax collector left the temple justified by God, NOT the devout Pharisee.
Jesus commends a lowly and despicable sinner over a devout, religious leader as the one closest to God. The question of "why" immediately surfaces.
It all boils down to one's INNER disposition. The Pharisee was filled with himself, and his deeply roooted self righteousness was at heart of his prayer. His salvation became something he controlled by his religious observance.
The tax collector did nothing but stay in the background, bow his head, and beg for God's mercy. That's it. It wasn't all about him and how good he was, but how much he was a sinner and NEEDED God to embrace him.
We are ALL sinners and we come here or are watching with bowed heads, humbled, knowing how much we need God's mercy because we sin. No one here, none of us, is anywhere being perfect, far from. Nor are we disciples. We are disciples in the making, unfinished works of art, being molded and fashioned in the furnace of God's mercy. We come with the attitude of the tax collector, taking our place next to the one who is wounded and broken, shoulder to shoulder.
I heart the story of a group of Dominican friars who lived near a prison. They decided to discover which prisioners were being released and they reached out to them, inviting them to a sit down dinner upon release. Perhaps their first wonderful meals outside the walls of the prison. They didn't end with the meal, their "First Supper," but offered them help by learning their needs and connecting them with new people, helping them to establish new relationships with people who wouldn't lead them astray. This is a true story of community of Dominicans in England.
We have a ministry much like theirs, right here at St. Teresa's: One Parish One Prisioner. We have already connected with two inmates in two differnt prisons and slowly getting to know them through letters and emails. The goal is to have a relationship established, so that upon release, they will have a small network of support to guide them to a new life. You can be a part of their journey.
Through this ministry, we are being called, all of us, to the attitude of the tax collector in the gospel: acklowledging our own sinfulness, brokenness and how much we need Christ to lift us out of our self centered, isolated way of living. We are all works of art, in the process of becoming more and more beautiful, being refashioned in God's image and likeness. This Eucharist connects us all, especially with the walking wounded. And the extent that we see ourselves as one of the walking wounded, is the extent in which we will find salvation. We become more like God's "likeness" when we imitate the attitude of the tax collector, not the pompous religious leader.