The First Reading shows Ephraim and Judah calling the people to turn back to God, confident God will hear them and raise them up. Let us return to the Lord … Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. In response to this God said, What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. God knows they repent because they are distressed and once God has rescued them, they will turn back to their old ways. God told them: for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. God wants true repentance: a love that is steadfast, one that does not fade. God wants them to know him rather than blind rituals.
We see this in the Gospel today where Jesus compared the false piety of the Pharisee to the true repentance of the tax collector. The Pharisee boasted of himself. He mentioned himself five times in his prayer, speaking of what he does. He also judged the tax collector because the tax collector, for the Pharisee is among thieves, rogues, adulterers.
God is not interested in our works, especially if it is for show or if we do it thinking it can buy our way to salvation. The Psalm echos the First Reading: the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite hear, O God, you will not despise.
Our actions have value when they are manifestations of our heart. When we turn to God out of love and when that love moves us to act, then the actions mean something. But if the actions are for show, they do not mean anything. The important thing is to repent from our sins and to turn back to God.
O Lord, change my heart. Give me the grace to love you as you should. Let my actions be consistent with my faith in you.