30th Sunday of OT year C 2016:
We have all heard this parable before. We see the bad Pharisee and the good tax collector. But, it’s more complicated than that. It is important to remember the historical context of the gospel. It is easy to think of the Pharisees as the bad guys of the gospel. Jesus is always arguing with them and pointing out what they are doing wrong. In fact, we have a term “pharisaism” which means something like “hypocritical or fake.” So, it comes as no surprise to all of us that Jesus once again talks about a Pharisee who is messing up. But, the Pharisees were the religious leaders at the time. In fact, everyone listening to Jesus would have thought of the Pharisees as being the good guys. In a way, the Pharisee is a good guy, right? He is not greedy, dishonest or adulterous; he fasts, tithes, and generally does all the right things. The tax collector, on the other hand, was synonymous for a sinner, because they were famous for dishonestly accruing wealthy by taking money from the people.
But, Jesus is not criticizing this hypothetical Pharisee because of his actions. Rather, Jesus is trying to show the necessity of the conversion of the heart. Everything the Pharisee does in life is great, we should strive to be as virtuous as he is. But, he doesn’t have the right attitude in his heart.
When I hear this parable, I think of it as a great examination of conscience. I ask myself 2 questions: do my actions live up to the example of the Pharisee? Number 2, does my attitude live up to the example of the tax collector? This parable helps me to see that my actions and my attitude need conversion. I know I’m a sinner. My actions are not as virtuous as the Pharisee. So, I try to make the words of the tax collector my own: be merciful to me a sinner.
Over the past year we have been living out this Year of Mercy. Pope Francis has given us a great gift with this special year. By having a whole year dedicated to remembering God’s amazing gift of mercy, it gives us a chance to renew our faith in God, our hope for forgiveness, and our love for God and our neighbor.
As a way of celebrating this year of mercy, we are dedicating this year’s parish mission to the theme of mercy. We are blessed to have Dr. John Sehorn as our presenter this year. Dr. Sehorn is a professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. I have known him and his family for years, I met him when he was studying at Notre Dame. John has a terrific ability to present information in an approachable and engaging manner. I really think you will love his talks. The theme is mercy, and the way we are going to reflect on mercy is really interesting. Each night we are going to hear the thoughts of a different saint: Athanasius, Augustine, and Leo the Great. Each one of them has interesting insights into God’s mercy. I’m guessing that most of us have probably never heard the unique insights of these extraordinary teachers of the faith. John is going to be able to shed some new light on the mystery of God’s mercy by teaching us the insights of these wonderful saints. I think this will be a fantastic way for St. Jude parish to celebrate God’s mercy during this jubilee year of grace. I hope all of you can join us.
The tax collector today shows us that the pathway to salvation, the pathway to God’s mercy, is the humble and contrite heart. O God, be merciful to me a sinner. This sentence is a great summary for the year of mercy. I’m praying that our parish mission will be a great moment of grace for all of us. That our hearts might be moved by the hope of God’s forgiveness. Even if we cannot emulate the virtuous actions of the Pharisee in today’s gospel, I hope we can emulate the humility of the tax collector and pray: O God, have mercy on us.