New Testament Eucharistic Readings for Sunday of Proper 25: Year C
2nd Timothy 4:6 to 8 and16 to18; Luke 18:9 to 14:
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18: 11)
I think we all ought to thank God all the time. I believe in saying “Thank You Jesus” as often as I realize something good has just happened to me. I Thank Jesus that I have only two Commandments rather than the 613 from the Hebrew Testament, or even 10, as in the Ten Commandments. Two is much easier.
Jesus’ two Commandments however require me to love God with all that I am and to love my neighbor as myself. One does not love neighbor as self, and then be thankful that he is not his neighbor. I ponder further that it is not so much that one is not his neighbor, but that he has, and continues to exercise, a pious discipline in his life, that his neighbor has so far, not learned (but can be taught).
This story, like the one about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38 – 42), makes us realize that we are both /and; and not either/or. So, let’s look at each man and see the good in each.
The Tax collector of antiquity is a victim. He, in many cases, is a man of low standing in the community even before he’s made a tax collector. Often he is fatherless and handed over to the local Roman authorities for the purpose of collecting the tax. While it is not his choice, he is hated by his native Israelite brethren as a participant and collaborator with Rome against his own people.
The Pharisee, afforded opportunity beyond his own doing, lives a religious life, keeping the tithe, fasting, praying, and yes, paying the tax. We need people like the Pharisee still. We need people who pray, who set aside money to take care of the needy either in charitable giving to the Church, or other charitable organizations as well as paying taxes. We should not look down on the discipline of the Pharisee. But we must be cautioned about his holier- than- thou attitude regarding his neighbor.
Both of these men teach two very important lessons. First, we should be thankful for what we are able to do in worship to God without looking down on those who either cannot, or have as yet, not been able to reach our level of discipline. And second, we all need to recognize our own short-comings and ask God for mercy and forgiveness. And this mercy is necessary somewhere in all of us. We are both of these two men; not either/or.
As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John