Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Fr. Ugochukwu Ugwoke, ISch
Scriptural Texts: Sirach 35:12c-14.16-18b, 2 Timothy 4:6-8.16-18, Luke 18:9-14
Our gospel reading of this thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time is on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In this parable, Jesus tells the story of two people who went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In the time of Jesus, the tax collectors were known for working for the Roman government. They were collecting taxes from Jewish people, and not just that, they were adding to it and extorting the people. As a result, they were seen as criminals and the worst of sinners. The Pharisees on the other hand were like the upstanding citizens of the society. They were the best synagogue members; the moral, clean-living, conservative, godly people of the society.
While in the temple, the Pharisee, aware of his uprightness and consumed in self-righteousness, patted himself on the back, and prayed about how good he was. The tax collector on the other hand, mindful of his sinfulness, beat his breast, and asked God to have mercy on him. We were told that the tax collector rather than the Pharisee went down to his house justified. In human terms, the Pharisee was supposed to be commended and the tax collector condemned. But the reverse was the case. The Pharisee was not justified because he trusted in himself that he was righteous, and treated the tax collector with contempt. He was so full of himself that he had no place for God. The tax collector was justified not because he was a sinner but simply because he was humble enough to acknowledge his sinfulness and went ahead to ask for forgiveness and mercy from God. As the first reading tells us, the prayer of the humble pierces the cloud (Sirach 35:16). Indeed, God takes delight in the heart that is humble and contrite (Psalm51:17), and he crowns the humble with salvation (Psalm 149:4).
We too must therefore learn to approach God in prayer with an attitude of contrition and humility. The spirit of humility makes us focus more on ourselves and be less judgmental of the failings of others. The attitude of humility will make us recognize our own sinfulness and unworthiness to stand before God. In truth, both the Pharisee and the tax collector were all sinners. But the line of comparison that the Pharisee was drawing between him and the tax collector was based on the fact that he was not sinning like the tax collector; the Pharisee was perhaps a private sinner while the tax collector was a public sinner. The fact that we sin differently from others does not make us better sinners than them. If there is anybody we should compare our perfection with, it is God and not our fellow human beings. God’s holiness is the ultimate measure of holiness. Hence, the instruction we find in the Bible “Be holy or perfect as your heavenly Father is holy/perfect” (Leviticus 11:14, Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 1:15-16).
There is this opinion that whenever we use the words ‘thank you’ and ‘I am sorry’ while praying, God is always pleased with us. But then, it is good to use them rightly. The Pharisee for instance started his prayer by thanking God but with a judgmental tone. When the tax collector said sorry, he really meant it. He recognized his guilt before God. He confessed it. He knew he was a sinner. He was not delighting in his sins; instead, he was sorrowing over them. Like the tax collector, not everyone is willing to admit their sins and limitations. Like the Pharisee, we like to bask in our self-righteousness. As the Bible tells us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us but if we acknowledge our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:8-9). Let therefore us make the tax collector’s prayer our own prayer- God, be merciful to me, a sinner.