30TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR C HOMILY 2022
JUSTIFICATION & SELF-JUSTIFICATION
Lk 18.9-14 Ecc 35.1-19 2Tim 4.6-8,16-18
And here’s another regular Gospel parable which echoes through our memories, doesn’t it?
The difference here is that the Pharisee is not portrayed by Jesus as a hypocrite, because he has, in fact, done all the right things, without being told, but of his own initiative. It is his tone and attitude which is the problem, as he is presenting as holier than thou, thinking he is superior to everyone else, but particularly the other chap hiding at the back, in shame and humility, but in a spirit of penitence. His outlook is compounded further by his expressing judgement of the publican as an inferior sinner. We might think he is not likable because of this, and he’s not, but the point Jesus makes, is that the even more disliked tax collector, from a public perspective. The self-righteous person can be painful, the problem being an inability to see beyond oneself, except to look down on others, and judge them in inexcusable wilful ignorance.
It’s one thing to do the right thing, but it’s not good enough, without engaging as an equal with others, and accepting their foibles and faults, as well as our own. There’s always room for growth and improvement in knowledge and understanding, throughout our lives, as I mentioned to the Year 12 young women graduating from St Columba’s and Ave Maria Colleges this past week, facing the anxieties of exams and then the challenges of the future, with all its ups and downs. I always go back to my old Monash Uni motto of Ancora imparo (I am still learning)! And that goes for all of us.
The Scripture scholars see Luke as more concrete in his reflection on the need for practical response to others, rather than mere strict observance of the Law. It’s one thing to observe the letter of the Law, and another to see and respond to needs, beyond legal prescriptions. The righteous person is one who looks further and acts accordingly, using God-given free will and conscience, with compassion and generosity.
Then hope is given for the sinner, the non-righteous person, who is prepared to admit fault and be open to forgiveness and another chance, by the God of mercy and love, whom Jesus constantly reveals. The Pharisee here has a closed mind, believing he knows it all, and kidding himself that his God will reward him, just because of who he is, and what he has done, not what he hasn’t done!
There is something here about humility as well, no being a big noter, but just quietly going about one’s business, living one’s life according to the principles of love, humility and service, whilst observing the Law, in its place, but not as the over-riding priority.
It’s a good line in Ecclesiasticus, where it says: “The Lord is no respecter of personages.” There are no preferences or favours for the high and mighty, but a place for all who respond in faith and a sense of humility and acts of service. Then again, we know it’s not as simple as it sounds. God doesn’t appear like magic to solve all of our problems, not to provide for all of our needs. That is up to us to act in and on faith, as you and I are his eyes, ears, hands and heart, here on earth.
What is so wrong with the Pharisee here is that he is more concerned about himself and the faults of others than he is on looking beyond self to others with an open and non-judgemental mind.
As for the tax-collector, his reputation goes before him as untrustworthy and despised, at least partly because of his job. Yet, we can presume he had a family to support, and what’s more, someone has got to do it. Nothing on-line to the ATO in those days!
In fact, the reality and necessity of taxes is a never-ending debate, even going on now, with talk of future tax cuts, yet without sufficient consideration of the bigger picture that essential services have to be paid for. In a fair society, as we like to think ours is here in Australia, too often that concept is pushed into the background, as we keep expecting governments to provide more, whilst many seem to prefer lower taxes. (This seems to have caused more than a few problems in Britain recently!)
In the Roman world, it has to be said that taxes went a long way towards paying for the roads, the aqueducts for water supply, sanitation, and a fair degree of law and order, with Pax Romana (Roman Peace) in effect for some 200 years from 30BC, and they did seem to have some respect for local culture and religions.
Brendan Byrne again sums things up well: “The application of general moral rules and norms to individual lives requires sympathy and pastoral understanding of the pressures and burdens most people have to bear… The divine impulse is towards acceptance, mercy and liberation.” And not self-righteousness, self-satisfaction and judgmentalism. So let’s, once again, get on with the job of active discipleship.
And it’s World Mission Month, this weekend we have our appeal, along with a short video of the way we can support the Church’s ongoing mission work by hearing a good news story from Ethiopia. (Video here)
So now, it is time to pay particular attention to the needs of those less fortunate, to the needs of the churches that are fragile, struggling, persecuted, and in need of our support.
This weekend, with our prayer, material support and action, we look to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. Your financial support for Catholic Mission will assist the work of Fr Habte, the Church, and the community.
john hannon 23rd October 2022