A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 18:9-14
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 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
REFLECTION: 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
We have heard many a time the parable of the Pharisee who exalted himself and bragged about how good he was in comparison to the tax collector who all he could say in the pit of his deep sorrow was, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
We have a little bit of the Pharisee and the tax collector in us. We pray and hope that we will see our sins and come to full repentance. But to do this, one must be in constant need of God's grace and help.
In 1886, Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story : The Repentant Sinner about a man who lived unrepentantly for seventy years, and only when on his deathbed, and only at the last moment as he was dying wept and said, "Lord! forgive me, as Thou forgavest the thief upon the cross". And the sinner's soul as these words were being said, left his body. But the repentant sinner was filled with love towards God and faith in His mercy.
The soul was greeted by St Peter who greeted him with the question of what deeds did he do while alive. The Accuser answered, "not a single good one". St Peter said he did not belong in heaven. But the sinner pleaded with St Peter, reminding him when St Peter failed Jesus during His passion and how he was forgiven. And Peter was silent.
The sinner then knocked again and was greeted by David, who asked the same question of what good deeds he had performed, and the Accuser said, "not a single good one". David said he did not belong in heaven. But the sinner pleaded with David reminding him of his adultery and murder and how he was forgiven. And David was silent.
And the sinner's soul knocked again, and this time John the Divine, beloved disciple of Christ, answered and asked what deeds had he done, and the Accuser recounted the sinner's evil deeds. St John told him to leave as he did not deserve heaven. But the sinner rejoiced because he remembered that it was St John who wrote that God is Love and it was this love that would look on the sinner with mercy.
And the sinner was embraced by John and taken into the Kingdom of Heaven.
May we not wait til the last minute to ask God for forgiveness --to repent and atone for our sins. With humility and perseverance may God's love flow and rest in our hearts.