Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18: 9-14
Humility, total dependence and our need for God’s mercy are some of the phrases that help us to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings once again return to the theme of prayer, drawing our attention to the need for humility and total dependence on 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 (very Catholic) 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.
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. The central message of the parable is that God listens and favors those who humble themselves, and rejects the hypocrite; those who refuse to face the truth about their need for God’s mercy. The story is simple. "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector”. The Pharisee did not even need to pray, nor did he need God! He took up his position and spoke the prayer to himself. 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. He and God had things he needed to work out. He needed God’s mercy; God’s forgiveness. For that reason the tax collector is favored 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 humility and total dependence on God in every prayer. 2) Jesus in the parable reminds us that religious practices are only blessed 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. Am I going to return home today touched by God’s grace or simply unchanged? The choice is yours.
©2019 John S. Mbinda