-23rd October 2022-
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C
Mission Sunday: ‘You Will Be My witnesses’
Gospel Text: Luke 18:9-14
vs.9 Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.
vs.10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.
vs.11 The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not
grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax
vs.12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.’
vs.13 The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
vs.14 This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We have four commentators available from whom you may wish to choose.
Michel DeVerteuil : Michel, a Holy Ghost priest, and fmr director of the Centre of Biblical renewal , Trinidad, W.I.
Thomas O’Loughlin: Thomas is on the theology faculty of Nottingham University
Sean Goan:Sean studied scripture in Rome, Jerusalem and Chicago and teaches at Blackrock College and works now with Le Chéile.
Donal Neary SJ: Donal is editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger
Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divina The Year of Luke
General Textual comments
This Sunday’s gospel reading is in three sections
– verse 9, introduction to the parable
– verses 10 –14a, the parable
– verse 14b, general saying of Jesus.
As always with gospel passages we are free either to focus on the sections independently or to see the connection between them so that each one serves as a guide for interpreting the others.
This is particularly true for verse 14b. It occurs twice in St Luke’s gospel which indicates that it was a favourite saying of Jesus, or of the early Church. We are in line with the movement of the passage then if we choose to meditate on it separately but it is also essential for a correct interpretation of the parable.
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is one of the great parables of Jesus, one that has affected the consciousness of people in every age. It is also one of the best known of the parables, and this can be a disadvantage for meditation: we are so accustomed to the story that our imaginations are dulled, and we read it superficially and abstractly. We must watch every word, therefore, and enter into the concreteness of the story, so that it can touch us as if we were reading it for the first time.
Unlike last week’s parable which focused on the widow alone, this week’s presents us with two characters, the Pharisee (story of sin) and the Publican (story of grace) and they are of equal importance. We (or others we have known) have lived both stories as individuals, but we have also lived them as communities, Church, ethnic groups, nations and cultures. The human family as a whole has been both Pharisee and Publican.
Our meditation then will lead to two responses:
– ask God’s mercy for the sin
– celebrate the grace.
We are also free to see a link between the two stories, and interpret the parable as tracing the journey from sin to grace. Consciousness of this journey will lead us to humble thanksgiving and also to petition that we (and others) will continue to make the journey.
At first glance the passage is a teaching about prayer but, as we saw with last week’s passage “prayer” in the Bible includes all our deep attitudes – toward God, life, ourselves, one another, nature, life – and we must not restrict the scope of the passage. Like all gospel passages it is “catholic” teaching, applicable to life at every level – spiritual growth, personal relationships, the workplace, politics, international trade, etc.
Verse 9: “Jesus spoke this parable” must be read creatively. Jesus has many ways of “speaking parables”:
– a teacher (friend, neighbour, fellow worker, member of our family) teaches us a lesson;
– we meet an actual Pharisee or publican at home, in Church, or at work;
– some humiliation reveals to us how much we have the spirit of the Pharisee; the terrorist attacks of September 11 and war in Ukraine are obvious examples.
The parable. As I explained above, both characters are of equal importance in this parable. You are free then to choose which of the two you want to focus on at this particular moment. Focusing on both at the same time is impossible if you are working through your imagination. You can combine the two in your meditation but must still take one at a time.
The Pharisee. Ironically, it is easy to fall into the trap of reading the parable self-righteously. You will avoid this in two ways
– by recognizing yourself in the Pharisee;
– by finding him a person you can sympathies with; if you see him only negatively, you are reading the parable self-righteously.
In fact the Pharisee of the parable is generally the kind of person we would consider “good”. The text gives no indication that he was a hypocrite, as many Pharisees were. According to the text, he was upright and faithful to his religious duties. His two sins (they are always linked, both in the Bible and in real life) were that
– he did not humble himself (omission)
– he looked down on others (commission).
Remember a time when Jesus made you aware that (perhaps subtly) you, your community, or your family were taking pride in your high moral standards. He could have done this in different ways, some of them unexpected:
– one of your children or some member of the Church community criticized you,
– you found yourself committing a sin you never thought you would,
– a failure showed you that you were not as efficient as you thought you were.
However it happened, you celebrate the moment of grace.
The Publican. He too must be correctly interpreted. In Christian spirituality, he is often represented as someone without self-esteem. Jesus could not have presented us with such a role model; this would go against his entire teaching. We avoid this false interpretation by reading this section in the light of verse 14b. We identify the publican with people we admire deeply, whom we have “exalted” – parents, community leaders, entrepreneurs whose greatness is grounded in humility. They are self-confident but have no illusions about themselves and therefore do not despise others; they “dare not raise their eyes to heaven”, but they do not grovel either.
Verse 14b. Beware of reading this verse in the abstract. Enter into its movement, so that you feel
– the sadness of the first part: how sad that this person (or movement) had so much potential and then fell so low!
– the triumph of the second part: how wonderful that this person who had fallen so low rose so high!
Feel, too, the contrast between the two outcomes (taking one at a time as I explained for the Pharisee and the publican) each one highlighting the other. We should not rejoice that the proud are humbled, only feel sadness at what might have been if the publican had been true to his best self.
The saying is expressed in the passive voice – “will be humbled”, “will be exalted”. In the Bible these passives are often an act of respect for the transcendence of God but in fact refer to God’s actions – “God will humble”, “God will exalt”. We see the same thing in the petitions of the Our Father: “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done” are calls on God to intervene in the world. Our meditation here can be a celebration of God (and godly people) seeking out the lowly and “exalting” them. The expressions “exalt himself” and humble himself” will then be interpreted in the light of the Father exalting Jesus as explained in Philippians 2:6-11. It is important to give a correct interpretation to the future tenses “will be humbled” and “will be exalted”.
They can refer to the next life, but on condition that they are based on present experience. Our experience of the lowly being exalted points to (and promises) their final exaltation at the end of time.
“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” ….Solzhenitsyn
Lord, we thank you for those who like Jesus
remind us that we can never pride ourselves on being virtuous,
and that we cannot afford to despise anyone.
“Faith is to accept the fact that I am accepted in my total unacceptability.”…Paul Tillich
Lord, when we come into your presence,
help us to be conscious of our sinfulness
so that we recognize how we are in fact grasping, unjust, adulterous,
like all human beings, no different from the sinners we see before us;
and help us to know that our fasting and the tithes we pay
are not worth mentioning.
Then lead us to the deeper level where we are content to stand at a distance from you,
not daring to raise our eyes to you,
but beating our breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
When we have made that inner journey
we go home knowing that we are at rights with you.
“The only real prayer is the one in which we are no longer aware that we are praying.” …St Anthony
Lord, once we start making a fuss about our prayers,
we find we start talking about good deeds and pointing fingers at people.
Teach us to keep our prayer simple,
– standing at a distance so that we do not draw attention to ourselves;
– not daring to raise our eyes lest we disturb you;
– beating our breasts because we do not feel to look down on anyone.
“Those who know their own weakness are greater than those who have seen the angels.”
…. Isaac of Nineveh, Syrian monk of the 7th century.
Lord, many people feel burdened by guilt,
imagining that you are angry because they have no good deeds
for which they can stand in the temple and thank you.
Send them Jesus to remind them that if they stay right where they are and ask for your mercy they will go home at rights with you.
Lord, there are many things which divide people today: race, culture, education, work.
How sad it is that our worship of you should also divide us.
Going to the temple should be a moment when we do not dare
to raise our eyes to look down on anyone,
but just beat our breasts and say,
“God, be merciful to us sinners.”
“Our knowledge of God is paradoxically not a knowledge of Him as the object of our scrutiny, but of ourselves as utterly dependent on his saving and merciful knowledge of us.” …Thomas Merton
Lord, we thank you for moments when we feel no desire to raise our eyes,
because we do not want to understand or even to question you,
only to experience that you are merciful to us sinners.
Lord, self-righteousness is very insidious.
Even when we try hard to avoid it,
we find that we are self-righteous about our spiritual progress.
We thank you for spiritual guides who, like Jesus,
can perceive the subtle ways in which we pride ourselves on being virtuous
and despise everyone else.
Lord, forgive us that as a Church we are like the Pharisee,
proud that we are virtuous and despising all other Churches,
reminding ourselves of their faults, which we avoid, and of the good things we achieve.
Be merciful to us sinners.
Lord, we pray for Church leaders and political leaders.
They make great efforts to impress us
by telling us of the faults they avoid and the great things they do,
whereas they are never more at rights with us than when they ask us to forgive them their sins.
“What worries me … is the growing invisibility of the poor.” Timothy Radcliffe, fmr Master General of the Dominican Order.
Lord, our modern world glorifies those who have made it in life – their faces are always on television, their names in the headlines, and as a Church we often follow this trend.
Help us to focus rather on exalting the humble.
“I rejoice, my brothers and sisters, that our Church is persecuted for its efforts of incarnation in the interests of the poor.” …Archbishop Romero
Lord, we pray that your Church may seek only the exaltedness
which Jesus promised to those who make themselves one with the lowly.
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Luke
Introduction to the Celebration
Today we are going to reflect on self-knowledge and humility. By gathering here in public we are telling the world that we take the need to profess faith in God seriously; we are saying we are people with a definite way of life, that we have taken up the cross of discipleship. But without humble awareness of our faults and our need of God’s mercy, we could be deceiving ourselves. Let us ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds that we might know our failings, and to give us the humility to ask for mercy.
This parable is only found in Luke, and is one of those few parables whose key point can still be readily grasped. We are all in need of mercy from God, and everyone needs to approach God with humility.
There are, however, two common blunders in interpreting this parable.
It is because of this parable that the Pharisees get an undeserved and unintended ‘bad press’ in the tradition of preaching. It is often read it is as if a Pharisee is there because that group was intrinsically hypocritical — hence in common parlance the descriptions of hypocrite and Pharisee are interchangeable. The meaning is thereby obscured: a Pharisee is chosen precisely because they formed a group who took the demands of the Law seriously. What is wrong is not that the man is a Pharisee or that he did those good actions, but that all that goodness was set at naught by a wrong attitude. The same is true of the Tax Collector — it is his attitude that brings mercy, not that God is indifferent to the practices of the tax collectors in the ancient world. To see the effects of this shift in interpretation it is interesting to read the text replacing ‘a nun’ for the word ‘Pharisee’, and ‘a drug pusher’ for ‘tax collector’.
Regular prayer, regular fasting, and definite alms giving — what the Pharisee boasts about — were seen as the three characteristic practices needed in the early church to train oneself as a disciple. It is against this church practice that we should view these activities. The message is not that these are simply externals of no consequence or simply ‘add-ons’ or ‘optional extras’. Rather, these form the basis for real, lived discipleship, but that must be animated by humility and sorrow for sin. Luke’s audience already knew that they had to pray and fast and provide for the poor; this tale would have reminded them that the performance of the task was not enough, for the Lord also looked at the heart.
1. We live in an image-laden world. We talk about organisations getting a ‘new image’. Political parties employ ‘spin doctors.’ Products and companies are ‘re-branded.’ Advertising can change our buying habits, our perceptions of ourselves, our bodies, our politics, and even our religions. In a world of constant’ communications’ there is a premium on being able to make things appear genuine, attractive, wholesome, and good. And for many that is the key demand: appearance. It might be good, but it must appear good; it might not be all its cracked up to be, but so long as it is branded properly and marketed well, then who cares? A newspaper owner once said that when legend replaces fact, then print legend. Another told his editor that selling papers was his business, not news. This is the world of the lie, where reality is in the background and perception is all that matters.
2. We as believers in a Creator have the task of challenging the lie: reality is our business because it comes from God and will return to God, and we shall be asked about our stewardship.
3. Getting behind appearance is, however, always difficult, and it always has been. We have to constantly pull ourselves up and have a reality check. We have to pinch ourselves to make sure that we see beneath the glittering images that strike our senses and which can deceive us. This is the wisdom captured in the proverb, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – alas, most of us do just that more often than we like to admit and this is proven by the fact that giving a book ‘hype’ works time and again.
4. This task of not being taken in by illusions that we know is important in our everyday lives: we do not want to be fooled, conned, or cheated. But it is also a Christian task for we proclaim the Christ to be the truth. Taking issue with hype and deception is part of our witness to the truth. Making sure that we are not engaged in deceptions is a basic of Christian discipleship.
5. This gospel challenges us at several levels.
First, there is the world of icons and brands. The very model of the devout follower of the Law is the Pharisee. The very model of the ‘bad guy’ is the tax collector. In the world of stereotypes and images we are to admire the first and condemn the second. But God acts at the level of truth, not the level of stereotypes and manufactured expectations.
Second, there is the contrast between external religiosity and a genuine desire to have a relationship with God. The two should go together, but just as a brand may have high appeal and not be the genuine article, so too with religion. But God does not dwell at the level of external and human display.
Third, there is the contrast between self-deception and selfknowledge. We can so easily con ourselves into believing our own propaganda without being aware of our faults and needs. We are all in need of greater integrity and of God’s mercy.
6. We claim to be the people of ‘The Way’, we claim to follow ‘the way, the truth, and the life’. This is a call to integrity, self-knowledge, and humility: these are not virtues that come naturally to us as beings who love our senses. But these are the virtues that will bring us life with God.
Let the Reader understand
Last week’s parable on prayer emphasised the need for perseverance but now, with another wonderful parable, Jesus speaks about another aspect of prayer. The introduction to the parable explains its purpose because we are told it was addressed to people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else. Two very different individuals are then described in the story: the Pharisee and the tax collector. The former is doubtless a person of virtue and he is probably telling the truth about all the good he does. Likewise the tax collector was no doubt a sinner as it was common practice for them to make money by means of extortion. So what are we to learn from them? The first man is so full of himself that there is no room for God. The other man humbly acknowledges his deep need and goes home changed. For our prayer to be real, we need to come before God with empty hands.
As we know, Paul paid the ultimate price for his fidelity to the gospel. He was beheaded in Rome during the persecution undertaken by the Emperor Nero. That he died in this way, surrounded by an outpouring of hate and fear stirred up by a mad ruler, makes his last writing all the more poignant. Paul is the embodiment of the humble man as defined by Sirach: ‘The man who with his whole heart serves God will be accepted.’ He was never distracted from his task, never concerned for his own well being or position. He simply wanted to be true to the good news that Jesus had revealed to him. That makes him a model Christian for all ages. But if we feel we cannot hope to be another Paul we could do worse than model ourselves on the tax collector in the parable.
Donal Neary SJ
Church Reflections, Year C
The Pharisee’s boast
This is one of these stories of people who didn’t like each other, and brought the worst out of each other. The Pharisee was strict on religion, and the tax man was a greedy sinner. Each made the other feel awful about themselves, especially before God.
The Pharisee started boasting about his religious fervent observance. The tax man just swallowed his prejudice and admitted to God that he was a sinner. The Pharisee would look good in any religious line-up, and the tax man would be in the comer of the line-up, almost cowering in the back of the prayer- place, hoping nobody would see him.
But he knew who he was before God; he admitted his weakness. The Pharisee pretended religious fervour and looked down on the tax man, one of God’s favourites.
Jesus comments on the story that everyone would recognise, and we recognise ourselves in both people: the proud and arrogant person at times, and at other times, the one who feels a total failure.
He just says – in admitting who you are, you are high in the sight of God and high at God’s table.
Just to be oneself before God can be difficult. Many gospel stories are about this reality. We need to give those few silent moments each day to an awareness of being loved by God. In that we are humbled, that one as good as God could love us so totally, and so we are exalted.
We are gifted by God’s grace and if we can enjoy our identity as a child of God we will find happiness in life.
Lord teach me to know you more,
to love you more and
serve you faithfully in my life.
As today is MISSION SUNDAY in Ireland,
Fr Neary S.J also offers these comments
A passionate spirit
Irish people have long memories of helping the missions – collecting stamps, mission groups in schools, maybe aunts and uncles ‘out foreign’. It is an essential part of the Church, because Christ is missionary, sent not just to one, but to all, to make a better world, founded on the gospel of Christ. Even if people are not baptised, the Church wants to point out the way to a truly human life – in the way, truth and life who is Christ, and committed to the world of justice
With so much hunger, ill health, and lack of education, the missionary spirit is passionate about wanting to improve things with the message of the gospel.
Today we pray for our missionaries. They are helped by our prayers in what is often a lonely life for them. Help the missionary societies if we can; think of giving some time in volunteering in the poorer world; decide to vote for people who are concerned for the developing world and who will maintain our aid to the world in need; and we can encourage the young to think globally.
We pray for courage for our people overseas and also for ourselves that we can live as Jesus in different ways. All are missionaries as Pope Francis says – ‘Each individual Christian and every community is missionary to the extent that they bring to others and live the Gospel, and testify to God’s love for all, especially those experiencing difficulties. Be missionaries of God’s love and tenderness! Be missionaries of God’s mercy, which always forgives us, always awaits us and loves us dearly.’
May our lives be lived in love and service
of you, Lord God, and of each other.