Sirach 35, 12-14, 16-18 + Psalm 34 + 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18 + Luke 18, 9-1
October 23, 2016
It is the same today as last week in that it is easy to think that this parable is simply about prayer and draw some pious conclusions and then go right on to the next one episode. The complexity of last week’s parable does not allow this, and in contrast, the simplicity of this parable following immediately does not allow this approach either. One look at the posture and position of these two in the Temple, and one ear to the words of their prayer should lead to wonder what is going on here because in some ways neither prayer can be judged as a good prayer or a bad prayer. We do not know anything about these two. On the way to the temple the Pharisee may have dropped off some food at the home of someone hungry, and he may well have paid someone’s rent that day before. The Tax Collector may well have cheated his way into that job, and that morning he may also have caused someone to be evicted because he raised their tax leaving them unable to pay their rent. This cannot be dismissed as a simple matter of right and wrong or good prayers and bad prayers.
There is an attitude problem being revealed here, an attitude that is inappropriate for anyone who wants to come face to face and commune with God which is exactly what prayer is all about. There is a word here that should spark our attention and make us very uneasy. The word is: contempt. If you will excuse one more excursion into Greek, this is the same Greek word used to describe how soldiers of Herod treated Jesus. What the word really means is that the human dignity of the other person is denied before God. A illustration that some might think is off the point would be to say that this is the way (contempt) some think about and treat an unborn human being. The dignity of that unborn person is being denied. That is what is going on in this parable. To put it briefly and bluntly, where there is contempt of any kind in a human heart, there is no possible prayer, and consequently no justifying or saving relationship with God.
What is being explored here is a kind of humility before God that leads to the recognition that every human being has dignity before God and therefore deserves respect. The consequence of this means that scorn and contempt for any person with whom we disagree is not possible in someone who wants to pray and be in communion with God. It is based on a kind of humility rooted in respect for others, all others: no exceptions, no exclusions. Our Holy Father, Francis is quoted in September as having said: “Dialogue is born when I am capable of recognizing others as a gift of God and accept they have some to tell me.”
The times and the culture in which we live is too often an age of contempt. There is a lot of contempt around us and sometimes within. The discourse between too many reveals this contempt dramatically. So, there is no dialogue and no one listens to anything, a fact or an opinion, because so many are convinced that they are righteous and that their opinions and positions about everything are the only way things can be. They hold anyone who disagrees or sees anything differently in contempt and they are treated with scorn.
What this Gospel episode allows us to consider is how we are all tempted to consider ourselves righteous or more righteous than someone else. There is always hope however because this is something curable for those willing to confront any shred of contempt in their hearts. It means we look at everyone else as a person like ourselves: sinners calling upon God for mercy with a desire to be healed. What justified the man in the back of the temple was not so much his prayer or his pew, but the truth that he wanted to find righteousness from God not from his own ideas, his own actions, or for that matter, from his own prayer.
(No audio available with this homily because it was not actually delivered during the Sunday Liturgy)