PHARISEE AND PUBLICAN AT PRAYER: Luke 18:9-14. (Watch it on You Tube here!)
Honest to God! Who do we look down on, today? A question for each of us, in the room of our own heart.
Do we/I despise anyone? In the societies to which we/I belong, are there some who think themselves as above everyone else?, who consider others as lesser human beings, because of their backgrounds, or where they live, or because they are ‘on the other side of the tracks’ ? Let’s be honest! We all do this, but mostly we are blind to it.
The publican was not an off-licence owner! And he wasn’t the owner of your ‘local’ drinking spot. He was a public official, a ‘tax-collector’, who worked for the invaders (Romans) and supported them by collecting taxes for them from among his own people. He was your local Revenue Commissioner,- and not very liked to say the least. In fact, these tax-collectors (aka ‘publicans’) were despised.
Notice that word ‘despised’. It comes into the opening line of our Gospel, this Sunday: Jesus would often meet ‘some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else’, – they were (and are) all over the place. The Upstairs/ Downstairs brigade. And who are they? THEY are US,- at least sometimes, and maybe often.
And Jesus meets us head-on, about this. He gives us a story-that-illustrates, what we call a ‘parable’,- from παραβάλλω (paraballō, “I set side by side”), from παρά (para, “beside”) + βάλλω (ballō, “I throw”). He plants down an illustration in front of us, like a mirror in which we can see our real selves deep down. When ‘he spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else’, he was talking to us, this very weekend. Why? Because he cares about us, more deeply than we could dare to dream of.
In this parable, there are two people put side by side for comparison,- and both of them are us. At different times, I am one or the other.
‘God, amn’t I great! Look at me! I’m so good, so virtuous. I go to Mass often, I give to different charities. You must be very pleased with me! Thanks that I’m so wonderful.’
‘God, I’ve made a mess of things. I’ve been selfish, I’ve been lazy. I’ve been lustful in my thoughts and eyes! I’ve neglected a lot of people around me who need me. Lord, I could go on, and on, and on… But you, Lord, know the whole story. There’s nothing in me that’s concealed from you. You see through me! Thanks that you do. Thanks that you know it all and still love me, in all my weakness and struggles and fragility. Lord, I’m a sinner! Take me as I am, and get to work in me. I’m in your hands. Do with me whatever you need to do. I need you, real bad!’
Which is me? Both are me, at different moments.
Maybe today I will set down ‘my achievements’ side by side with ‘God’s grace’. I’ve nothing to boast about, no ‘achievement’ that would win or demand God’s favour. Everything is God’s gift, freely given. God doesn’t love me because I am good: I am good because God loves me. All goodness is Gift.
There’s a phrase I heard some time ago: ‘We live our lives between Kyrie Eleison and Deo Gratias!’, – between ‘Lord, have mercy’ and ‘Thanks be to God!’ (One was at the start of our worship in the Latin Mass, the other at the very end.)
This parable of Jesus is about me,- about each one of us. Why? Because He loves us enough to speak truth to us.
Have I, have we, the ears to hear?
By the way, the first man prayed to himself! The second prayed to God!
Fr. Seamus. firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here to connect to Soul Food for Young Adult Communities, written this week by Sarah Kelly.