Deacon Jerry Franzen - Cathedral - October 24, 2010
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14
The Pharisee and the tax collector both prayed to God.
“I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former.”
“Justified” as the late Fr. Jerry Britt put it, “means
put in line with God, just like our print is lined up
or justified at the left margin on a page.”
The tax collector’s prayer served to put him in line with God,
The Pharisee’s prayer did not.
Why was the tax collector's prayer
better than the Pharisee's prayer?
Because the tax collector actually made a connection with God,
but the Pharisee was only making a connection with himself.
You can’t put yourself in line with God,
unless you have made that connection.
The Pharisee’s prayer only served to put him in line with himself.
Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish community in Palestine.
They were Jews who collaborated with the occupying Roman forces
by collecting taxes from fellow Jews.
They often collected more than the law required,
pocketing the extra and further angering their countrymen.
They were openly sinful.
The Pharisees were just the opposite.
They were the most respected members of the Jewish community,
the elite, THE undisputed religious leaders of the nation,
never being openly sinful or admitting their sinfulness.
And yet, Jesus praises the tax collector's prayer
and criticizes the Pharisee's prayer,
the prayer of the religious leader.
Throughout the centuries, in fact, the tax collector's simple prayer,
"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner," has been taken up
as a complete summary of Christian spirituality.
"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
There are even cases of monks who made this prayer
the only words that they spoke,
and they reached heights of sanctity by means of it.
This prayer makes a connection with God
because it recognizes two things.
First, it acknowledges God's greatest quality
in relation to fallen mankind, his mercy.
The Latin word for "mercy" is “misericors” which comes from
the Latin "miseria” meaning “wretched” or “miserable”
and “cor” meaning “heart".
Literally, “mercy” means to take someone else's wretchedness
into one's heart. That's what God does with us.
He takes our most wretched part to his heart.
Second, the tax collector's prayer
recognizes his need for that mercy.
There is the important connection his prayer made to God.
The tax collector accuses himself of being a sinner,
someone who has selfishly abused God's gifts
and has used, instead of loved, his neighbor.
The Pharisee’s prayer begins with “O God, I thank you ….”
But it is an empty “thanks” because it doesn’t thank God
for anything God has done.
The Pharisee thanks God for what he, the Pharisee, has done –
that he has not been like the rest of humanity,
certainly not like the tax collector.
The Pharisee's prayer shows no knowledge either of God's mercy
or of his need for God;
rather, it is an exercise in narcissism, in self-admiration.
God wants to connect with us, but he can only do so if we let him,
and we can't let him if we don't think we need him.
We can tell that we are falling into the Pharisee's trap
when we are over-concerned about being recognized
for the good things we do.
A true story about two youth groups illustrates this point.
St. Mary's Parish was located a couple streets down
from St. Joseph's Parish.
Since they were so close to each other,
the two youth groups from the two churches
were often competing with each other.
They played sports against each other,
tried to outdo each other in food drives,
and had become intense rivals in just about everything.
One Saturday, the youth minister at St. Mary's
organized the kids into "disciple teams" and challenged them
to go out and serve others in the community.
The theme for the activity was: "Do what Jesus would do."
So St. Mary's youth group fanned out into the neighborhood
and started serving.
One team washed cars for free.
Another team visited and performed for
the residents of a convalescent home.
At day's end, all the teams reported back at the parish.
One team described how they had gone to serve an old widow
who lived close to St. Joseph's parish.
When St. Joseph’s parish,
their rival, was mentioned, everyone groaned.
"We mowed grass, raked leaves and did yard work for her,"
said one of the students.
"And after we finished, she invited us in for lemonade
and we all prayed the Rosary together.
And then she said to us,
‘You young people from St. Joseph's
are always doing such nice things for us old folks.'"
"Oh no!" said the youth minister.
"She thought you were from St. Joseph's?
Well, I hope you set her straight and told her
that you weren't from St. Joseph's, but from St. Mary's!"
"Well, no we didn't," said the team leader.
"You told us to do what Jesus would do, didn't you?
We decided that Jesus would just keep his mouth shut."
What matters to a Christian
is not being considered better than everyone else,
as the Pharisee thought,
but being close to Christ, as the tax-collector discovered.
It's remembering our need for God,
not acting as if we could do just fine without him.
[Illustration adapted from "Hot Illustrations"
copyright 2001, Youth Specialties Inc.]
Today's Gospel passage is actually the second time
in Luke's Gospel that Jesus says,
"whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus must really want us to get that message.
But it is not an easy message to get.
The Pharisee in Jesus' parable thought he was doing great.
Others did also.
He went to the Synagogue every Saturday.
He prayed his prayers.
He didn't commit any big, scandalous sins.
He really thought he was on track for a gold medal from God.
But he wasn't.
In fact, he was heading in the completely wrong direction.
He thought that he was so good
that he was doing all the right things on HIS OWN.
In fact, in his eyes, that is what made him SO GOOD.
But he was blinded to the invisible sins of arrogance
and vanity, sins that are not overt and thus easily seen.
The tax collector's sins were more obvious, easier to recognize.
He cheated and extorted and bribed.
Those were sins you could see.
So, how can we recognize our sins that aren’t easily seen,
the invisible sins of how we regard others?
Christ's parable tells us exactly how:
by looking squarely at our thoughts about other people.
Do we see every person in the world as loved by God?
Do we see that this means
that His Son died to offer salvation to every single person?
Do we really understand that His love and His mercy
have no limits.
As Christians, followers of Christ,
those trying to be more Christ-like,
we are called to that same universal respect and love –
even for the people who get on our nerves,
even for those that let us down,
for those who make our lives miserable.
If we look into our hearts and discover
that we don't have that universal respect and love,
that we do entertain vindictive, self-righteous thoughts,
and if we look at our actions and discover that we play favorites,
that we take pleasure in criticizing others,
if we see these problems as our being unlike Christ –
then we can say thanks be to God!
Because then we will know
that we haven't been blinded to these sins.
We will then be able to pray like the tax collector,
aware of our need for God's mercy,
and confident that his mercy will never run out.________________________________________
Patterned after material take from the website epriest.com for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C