The gospel parable for this weekend tells of a speech by a Pharisee which reeks of self-interest and self-righteousness. It is not easy to avoid these twin sins. Even our conversation so easily takes a self-serving turn. Self-preservation means more than species survival. It also includes a constant struggle for recognition which probably never vanishes completely. But repeatedly Jesus puts us on guard.
So much of Luke’s gospel represents a plea for humility and lowliness. Those who emerge in a favourable light are sinners and outlaws for the simple reason that they know what the need for God means. They have nowhere to turn but to God – and they do so.
If we could learn to make as much out of our failures as we do our successes, our lives would be much more God-centered. Failure is sobering; it marks our vulnerability. Sin, as a part of failure, shows us how far we can distance ourselves from God. The key is bringing all of that before God as an expression of our helplessness. Then our whole life, even with its successes, will take on a new light. Our prayer becomes richer because it truly expresses our dependence.
In our gospel parable this weekend, the tax collector goes home the winner. He gave nothing and received everything – and he realized it. St Paul, in our second reading this weekend, speaks of his successes. Faith-filled and often tested in the furnace of adversity, he is fully convinced that it is God who has brought him through. His, too, is the cry of the poor.