Please, let me argue for the taxman. No one likes the tax collector, they didn’t like him in the first century we don’t like them in the twenty first. Tax collectors are unpopular. What can we say about the Pharisee today, can we comment about what he said in the front of that temple? Certainly we read his words, but can we really dislike him as much as the tax collector? Where are our experiences, where do we draw our empathy? Sure, his prayer is boisterous and superficial. He pats himself on the back, and he certainly does not grovel? He was held in esteem in life, and prays like a person privilege. He says thank you a lot, he is polite. He doesn’t say pardon me, and he doesn’t say help me. But what of the taxman?
‘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.’
The taxman had no self-esteem, he was esteemed by no one. He took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. The rich didn’t care much for him because of the prejudices by which he made his livelihood. They didn’t like money handlers much, such a dirty profession. His own people didn’t care for him either. First, he took their money. Second he gave it to an invader. Third those coins had the image of a pagan god. Finally the taxman profited from the tax transactions: he skimmed a little for himself. So, how can anyone defend him? The taxman is despicable without a single redeeming quality. Right?
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
Well, what if that man had not taken those taxes? Would the emperor accept that, would the peasants get to keep their money? Would a massive army do battle for free? The taxman kept the peace. He was the broker between the invading empire and the conquered people. He collected enough tax for the emperor to keep the armies at bay, and not so much for his kinsmen to riot or revolt. Upon paying taxes, his neighbors might have made a snide remark but they did not draw their swords. The taxman had to carefully strike a balance, and to do so he had to be a great observer with eyes and ears always open. He could not rely on the words coming from the emperor’s camp, and he could not focus on the response of the taxpayer. Who then could he have turned to? That might give reason for his presence in that temple. His was a prayer of necessity and he had no to turn to but God. In his prayers he explains his plight, of doing what had to be done, no matter how unpopular. He prayed that he made the right choices, because neither side would offer the correct response. That is the reason for a broker, and why a broker would pray to hone their skills. To hone those skills did not infer the taxman would increase their wealth. If the taxman lived in luxury, then the emperor suspected a cheat. The prayer was for balance, and good judgement, and forgiveness; that is what he needed to survive. Now, what did that Pharisee pray for?
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time