The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 27 October 2019
Lectionary Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14
Theme: Keeping the faith in words and in deeds
The gospel on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the second parable of Luke on prayers, teaches us on how to pray and what we tell God as we pray. (The first parable, read last Sunday, on the judge and persistent widow teaches us of the need to pray and not to lose heart.)
The Pharisee, standing by himself, thanked God he was “not like the others.” By the others, he meant the thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like the tax collector who was praying nearby. While thanking God he put himself above others in comparison. He also boasted of the fasting and the tithing that he had done which was more than the required.
In contrast, the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” We are told at the end of the parable that he was the one who went home justified (he pleased God). The big lesson is the need to be humble in praying.
This is the straightforward learning from the parable. But I venture to say there are many other lessons to be learned, positive and negative, if we consider the historical context.
The Pharisee was a respected member of the community of his time. Historian Flavius Josephus (in Antiquities of the Jews) said that the Pharisees were known for their excellence and “were extremely influential among the town folk, and all prayers and sacred rites of divine worship are performed according to their exposition.” Thus, the Pharisee was the model, the norm by which others based their performance.
On the other hand, the tax collector was shunned and was one of the most despised at that time (even now people don’t love the tax collectors) for the job he was doing for the authorities and the Romans that exploited mostly the poor.
But in the parable we have the reversal of roles as the model is not the Pharisee but the tax collector. This is so like Jesus who had in many instances questioned the status quo and challenged the prevailing value system causing people to rethink old beliefs and traditions.
Inspired by this rethinking mindset, I suggest we can cease to think of the Pharisee and the tax collector in black and white as we can learn lessons from both of them. We can learn from the Pharisee to be persistent in learning the Word of God, in observing fasting and other Church practices and in giving tithes. We can learn from the tax collector to be humble in prayer and to ask God to forgive our sins. From both, we can learn that it is good not to have a disconnect in our faith life. Our interior life must match our exterior life. We have to walk the faith not just for people to see (like in the case of the Pharisee or for God to hear like in the case of the tax collector. (He should try to change jobs. For how many times would he ask for God’s forgiveness for doing a day job that exploited the poor?). We have to be consistent in our doing and in our praying.
Another learning for me is that nobody is superior or inferior before God. As stated in the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, Jews and Christians have common spiritual patrimony. As children of God, we all can pray in loving confidence and with grateful heart to our merciful God the Father.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Do you know of a modern-day Pharisee or a tax collector?  What are ways you can do to be persistent in your faith and consistent in the job you do and in praying?