There is a difference between piety and holiness. Piety and holiness working together will help a person move forward to God's goodness. Piety without holiness serves God on the surface, and that is not the right way to honour God, because it serves only the person's pride. It focuses on the outside, on the appearance. Piety without holiness will not lead a person to love God, but rather to love oneself. On the contrary, holiness pays attention to the inside, the movements of one's heart. A prayerful person listens to her/his inner voice, which is deep rooted within a person's heart, and that helps the person to know the state of one's life. This week we hear about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both entered the Temple to pray. The Pharisee was focussing on the appearance, his performance; the tax collector was listening to the inside, his heart's movements. The Pharisee went right to the front of the Temple. He stood before God, raised his eyes to heaven, and proudly listed a long list of what he had done, and felt how much better he was than the tax collector and the rest of mankind. The tax collector, however, in all his humility, stood a long way back, looked down and struck his breast. He timidly said to God how sorry he felt, and asked God to show mercy on him.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner'. v.14
The tax collector looked deep into his heart, and saw how wrong he was and repented. He begged God for forgiveness, and God forgave him. The Pharisee made claims of holiness based on his strict observance of the law. He was proud of good works he had done, and believed, that he was right with God. He believed that his good works saved him. Well, he was deadly wrong, because God alone has the power to save, nothing else can. Apart from saying 'I thank you, Lord' v.11 ; the rest of the speech, the Pharisee spoke about himself. He asked God for nothing and received nothing. When we enter the Temple, we are all the same, no matter what social status we hold in our society. We are all the same before God. We are all sinners, and all are in need of God's mercy. A good and humble person would not, and should not look down on others.
The Pharisee entered the Temple. He believed that he was righteous. Well, he went home the same, unchanged. He thought he could earn God's mercy. Again, he was wrong. God's mercy is a free gift given to a humble heart.
There are several points we can learn from the tax collector. First he entered the Temple acknowledging his state of disgrace. He admitted he was bad, a sinner, and asked for God's mercy. He went home with a new heart, beginning a new life in God. Second, we can't save ourselves, no matter how good we are; we are all in need of God's mercy. We totally depend on God for life in this world, and for eternal life to come. Third, pride makes a person rely on his/her abilities rather than to trust God. Humility helps a person to see God in others because everyone is God's work of art. God creates us all. We pray to have a humble heart, acknowledging, that without God we are nothing. We need God's grace always.