Oct. 27, 2013
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Any high school religion teacher has heard teenagers try to justify not attending church on Sunday by criticizing the weekday behavior of those who do attend. And who has not heard adults judge the actions of active members in a parish? It is not difficult to see the faults of others.

We have heard this Gospel often and we come to it quite ready to make a judgment. We immediately want to say that the tax collector is a better human being than the Pharisee and we should try to be like the tax collector.

In modern English, a "Pharisee" has implications of the hypocritical.  This was not true during Jesus’ time. Pharisees were noted for their strict observance of rites and ceremonies and for insisting on the validity of oral tradition regarding Jewish religious law. They represented the group with the most rigorous adherence to the Law. They thought of themselves as models of holiness. But, like every group, there were some among them unfaithful to the spirit that ought to motivate religious observance. Tax collectors were thought of as models of greed and dishonesty who worked for an occupying nation. They were thought of as traitors.

At first sight it seems quite clear that we should be like the tax collector and not the Pharisee who judged him. Ah, then we can pray: “Thank God. I am not like the Pharisee,” and in that prayer, we discover that we are just like him. It is easy to think of the Pharisee as both pompous and arrogant. The publican seems a more likeable character to most of us. Yet, we know that any of us can appear proud or humble depending on the situation. Both parts of the capsule statement, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled while he who humbles himself shall be exalted,” might well apply to each of us at different times and in different circumstances.

Luke does not say that Jesus addressed the parable to the Pharisees. He said, instead, that he addressed it “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”

The first reading reminds us that God has no favorites. We can present ourselves to him without defenses and without fear of rejection. He hears the prayer of those who are humble and he hears the prayer of those who are proud.

We gather at the altar to pray the same Eucharistic prayer. We affirm our faith in the same Risen Lord, but we are people who have had different opportunities and who have varying degrees of faith. Some are able to pray with greater conviction than others. We unite with one another to strengthen our faith as a Church. In this gathering of believers, we are not “greater than” or “lesser than.” We have no need to compare ourselves with one another. We are one in the Lord who loves us all.