Oct 24: 30th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C
Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18: 9-14
Last Sunday, the readings focused our attention on the power of persistent prayer, the conviction that we must never quit and never give up, because nothing is impossible with God on our side. This Sunday, the readings continue the same theme of prayer, drawing our attention to the need for a humble posture and a spirit of total dependence on God in every prayer before God. In the first reading we hear that God listens to the cry of the poor, precisely because of their total dependence on God. The responsorial psalm highlights that point. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those who are crushed in spirit he saves”. I once heard the story of a priest who shortly before starting Mass, noticed that the front pews were empty and so urged those at the back to come forward. All moved forward except one woman who remained at the back throughout the Mass. After Mass, as the priest was greeting parishioners on their way out, that woman told the priest: “Father, I just recently returned to Church. I’ve made the big step to walk through the door, but you’ve got to let me ease my way up into the middle of the congregation. I have a lot of things that the Lord and I need to deal with first.” That is a wonderful example of real humility before God; of expressing the fact that we are still struggling with our salvation; we are not righteous yet!
In the Gospel reading, Jesus confronts us with the familiar and challenging parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. This parable is addressed to us and is like a mirror that enables us to see clearly who we are and the way we tend to behave at prayer before God who sees everything. The central message of the parable is that God listens and favours those who humble themselves, and rejects the hypocrite; those who refuse to face the truth about themselves. The story is simple. "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. Let us recall that Pharisee were very important lay personalities in Jewish society who lived according to the Law. Some of them were genuinely good people. This particular Pharisee did not even need to pray, nor did he need God! He took up his position and spoke the prayer to himself. Tax collectors on the other hand, were hated because they worked for occupying powers – the Romans, and over-charged their fellow Jews in order to get some money for themselves. They were therefore considered to be not only traitors but also sinners because of extorting money in taxes. Jesus in the story helps us to realize how we are both like the self-righteous Pharisee – with a posture of pride before God and judgemental of others; and like the tax collector, humble and in need of God’s mercy. In the parable Jesus urges us to imitate the attitude of the tax collector, who is deeply aware of his sinfulness, and in need of God’s loving mercy and forgiveness; empty and in need of being filled with God’s life and grace in Christ. The tax collector is repentant – moving toward conversion. That’s why he was at the back of the temple. He had made the big step to enter the temple door. He didn’t feel that it was right for him to come any closer because of his unworthiness. It is not that he did not want to participate in the service. He and God had things he needed to work out. Namely, he needed God’s mercy; God’s forgiveness. For that reason the the tax collector is favoured by God, and goes away more justified; more transformed than the Pharisee. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings draw our attention to the need for a humble posture and a spirit of total dependence on God in every prayer before God. 2) Jesus in the parable reminds us that religious practices are only blest when they flow from an authentic interior life of true humility. 3) That is why the tax collector was filled with God’s life, while the Pharisee returned home unchanged, without being touched by God’s life. May our prayer always be like that of the tax collector, reflecting an attitude of humility: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
©2010 John S. Mbinda
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