Saturday, October 26, 2013

Do you want to go home justified? Listen to Jesus

As I mentioned last week, which marked the Sunday in Year C that we began reading Luke 18, verses 9-43 of this chapter serve as vignettes that seek to teach the kind of faith (in Greek pistis) the Lord wants to find on earth when he returns.

Jesus does this in this week's Gospel reading by telling the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which is a parable about a person who is seen by himself and others as a religiously upstanding person, someone who is "tight" with God, and a person who is a manifest public sinner, someone alienated from God.
Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14)

This is one of those passages that we need to handle with care lest we dilute Jesus' message, which is crystal clear as long as one understands the contrast between the Pharisee, a serious Jew concerned about exact observance of the 613 mitzvot that entail keeping the law, and the tax collector, who, if Jewish, was seen as one who was in collaboration with the occupying power, a cheat, someone not concerned with keeping the law.

So, in an effort to keep my reflection this week short and to the point I will note four things. Two from the other readings, one from a different source, and a final thought:

"The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal; Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right" (Sir 35:21-22a).

"The Lord hears the cry of the poor" (Psalm response).

"Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen" (the ending of the Prayer of St. Efrem the Syrian, my brother deacon, who lived long ago).

Finally, when reading Luke's Gospel we need almost always look for the connection to the Eucharist. The connection today seems very clear and bends us back towards Jesus' parable. It has to do with our inward disposition towards those sitting around us. How's your heart disposed towards your brothers and sisters with whom you are gathered around the table of the Lord?

Oh yea, it's Priesthood Sunday, an event that really doesn't arise directly from our readings. So I guess priests shouldn't act like the Pharisee either and should teach like Jesus, not being afraid to challenge themselves and the people they serve, and set the example in leading sacrificial lives (if it were "Deacon Sunday" I'd write the same about us).

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