23 PENTECOST, PROPER XXV - C - 16 LUKE 18. 9-14
“Jesus told his parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others…”
Today’s parable comes on the heels of last week’s gospel reading where Jesus emphasized our need to pray and pray without ceasing. In today’s parable two men go into the Temple to pray; one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-collector.
The Pharisee stood close to the altar and as far away from the tax-collector as he could get. He thanked God that he was not like other men, and then goes on to tell God what kind of men that would be, including the tax-collector who was praying in the Temple with him.
Then he concludes his prayer by boasting before God of his fasting twice a week which was more than the law required. And his alms giving, that included a tithe of all that he had that was well above and beyond what was required by the law. The Pharisee was long on boasting but short on humility.
The tax-collector, on the other hand, acknowledges his sinfulness before God and asks for God’s mercy. He dares not even raise his eyes towards God’s altar. He knows that he is unworthy to stand before God. His prayer comes from the heart. Jesus tells his audience that it was not the Pharisee, but the tax-collector that went home justified before God; a pronouncement which must have surely rattled those whom Jesus was aiming the parable towards. Justified, in this case, means forgiven and set right before God.
Is it a human flaw that some of us have a tendency to look down our noses at our neighbor? Or is it simply the sin of pride that causes us to feel that we are better than others? Pride and prejudice go hand in hand and causes us to have a judgmental attitude towards other people. Prejudice comes in many forms; religious, racial, social, and intellectual to name a few.
Many people come to believe that being a Christian means being against other people, or to use St. Luke’s words in today’s gospel, trusting in our own righteousness and looking down our noses at those who do not meet our expectations. Or else the ones we deem who are not on par with ourselves, or whom are simply different from us. Where is the Charity in that?
There is a grave danger in being self-righteous and that is our becoming consumed by pride and boasting. There us a reason pride is the number one deadly sin. “The beginning of man’s pride is to depart from the Lord; his heart has forsaken his Maker,” so wrote the author of Ecclesiasticus (132 B.C.)
All of us waffle in our faith. Our trust in God can be intermittent at best. Pride gets the best of us at times and when it does we separate ourselves not only from our neighbor but from God. Pride squelches true Charity and humility is no where to be found. God too is absent where there is boasting. When we are full of self there is no room for God.
Scripture defines righteousness as having Faith and trust in God, like that of Abraham. Man is justified by his faith and trust in God, not in his own efforts. Inward humility is blessed while pride in our outward deeds is condemned. It is not for us to judge who is in and who is out. That’s for God to decide.
The reality is that we are all sinners in need of repentance. The Holy Spirit convinces us of our solidarity in human sin, and of our common need for God’s forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. As St. Paul says, were it not for the grace of God, there go I.
If we are honest with ourselves, then, we can see something of ourselves reflected in the both of the church goers in today’s gospel. When we are at our self-righteous worse, our prayers offered to God sound much like that of the Pharisee. We give God a list of all the things we are against and thank God we are not among them. But the truth is, it is not how we see ourselves in the end that will matter, but how God sees us.
At other times life’s situations humble us and make us realize we have nothing going for us except our faith and trust in God and His mercy. The tax-collector’s prayer becomes our prayer “Lord have mercy.” Divine mercy is always reserved for those who are ready to admit their true situation in the sight of God.
Scripture teaches that God promises to hear the prayers of those who are honest enough to acknowledge their unworthiness. Indeed the whole message of the Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ, God has visited the humble and in doing so has set the example of humility for all of us to follow.
In Jesus, God descended in the flesh, humbling His divinity to share in our humanity. He lived and died as one of us, in the hope that through Him we might learn to live our lives to God by placing our faith and trust in God and not in our own self-righteousness.
In Jesus God came to share in our failures and our grief and our regrets, to identify with us in every way, even to the point of sharing our death, so that we might share in His resurrection. This is the Christian Hope.
This is the faith we made at the font of life through the waters of Holy Baptism, where we were “buried with Christ in his death and raised to new life in Him.” This is the faith we celebrate each time we come to God’s altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
When we celebrate the Holy Eucharist we recall the sacrifice Christ made on the hardwood of the Cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world that we might in turn learn to live the new life to which we have been called and inherit the promise of eternal life in Him.
The Sacramental presence of the crucified and risen Christ is a sign of God’s eternal love for us and a pledge of the Hope of our calling. Pray that through the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love we may no longer live unto ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, and in all humility give Thanks to God whose Love and great Mercy have made us worthy to stand before Him. AMEN+