Two Men in a Temple
10th Sunday after Pentecost
“Two men went up into the temple to
pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other, a publican.” It
sounds like the beginning of a joke, but in actuality it’s the start
of a parable told by our Lord in today’s Gospel. We know the
story very well, the Pharisee who brags about what a wonderful
saintly man he is, and the poor publican at the back of the temple,
who won’t even lift his eyes to heaven, but just strikes himself on
the chest as he repents his sins and asks God for forgiveness.
We’re left in no doubt which of the two our blessed Lord approves
Both men address God directly.
This is not a performance on the part of either of them, made for
the benefit of the other. They are both “praying”. The
Pharisee “prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not
as other men.” Meanwhile, the Publican too is busy speaking
with God alone, smiting his breast, saying “God, be merciful to me a
However, one of them is certainly
aware of the presence of the other. The Pharisee specifically
names the publican, as he lists to God the types of people he
despises: “extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this
publican.” The Pharisee is proud to point out to God that he
is a better man than the Publican. And let’s face it, he does
seem to lead a good life, fasting twice a week, supporting the
temple and the poor with his generous donations. Meanwhile,
the poor Publican does not mention the Pharisee. His eyes are
down, he probably doesn’t even notice the man at the front of the
temple. He’s too upset at having offended God by his sinful
life. And it is, let’s not forget, a sinful life.
And yet, God looks down on these two
men, and smiles on the sinner even as he frowns upon the
self-proclaimed saint. Which of the two do we resemble?
Even as we ask ourselves this question, do we thank God we’re not
like other men, with our fasting, our donations to the church, our
rosaries, our obedience to the commandments and loyalty to the true
faith? And with our humility too, no doubt!If so, what value
are these treasures to us if we throw them away in an act of pride
and presumption? Let’s rather remember all the ways we have
offended God, not taking any pride in having perhaps improved over
the years, or resisting temptation better than we used to. No.
Let’s keep our eyes down, our thoughts firmly fixed on how pride
comes before a fall, and on how much we still owe to the God we’ve
offended so much and so often.
FR. BERNARD G. HALL
Dean of Chapter
Guild of St. Peter