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10/23/16 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Ron

Homily Summary for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Deacon Landry

 

Parables are designed to help us focus by redirecting our focus. At first glance, today's gospel appears to be pretty straight-forward. The moment we hear the Pharisee pray, we know that we are above such presumptuous folly. And so, from the very beginning, the parable does exactly what it is meant to do. We fall right into the trap of dismissing the behavior of the Pharisee as something we would never do, and in so doing, we are guilty of the very same behavior.

To add insult to injury, on further reflection, what the Pharisee claims when he beseeches Almighty God is really quite accurate. We might find aspects of our own lifestyle wanting when compared to a man whose whole life is based on a meticulous knowledge and understanding of religious and moral law, and the strictest adherence to it.

What's awkward here, is that the Pharisee is apparently the righteous man he claims to be, and yet we fell into the trap of being thankful that we are not like him; therefore acting in the very same manner for which we criticize him.

Let's to turn our attention to the tax collector. After all, here is an individual who knows his place: scripture tells us that rather than taking his position like the Pharisee, the tax collector stands at a distance. We might very well relate to the tax collector, because while he is a sinner, at least he prays appropriately. He acknowledges that he is a sinner, confessing this to God.

By virtue of their very profession, tax collectors were notorious. They not only worked for the government officials who oppressed the people, they used their position to cheat them. An interesting irony here, is the total and obvious avoidance by the tax collector of any pledge to leave his dishonest way of living, nor is there any offer to make restitution to those who he has wronged. We may have been too hasty in accepting the tax collector—as opposed to the Pharisee—as a model of the way we should approach Almighty God when we pray.

Neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector in this parable gets it completely right. But to his credit, the tax collector, unable to even lift his eyes to heaven, humbly acknowledges his lowly position before God. The Pharisee appealed to God based on his own virtue, even going so far as to thank God he is not the lowly man that other people are. He fails to recognize the fact that those virtues come from God—he has no right to self-righteously take credit for them.

The parable points out to us how easily we lose the proper focus when approaching Almighty God. In genuine humility, we must recognize that everything good that we are, everything good that we have, is all because of the love and mercy of God. That is true humility. And that is the focus of today's gospel message: it is not about us, it is about God.

That reminds me of the promise given to us by Jesus Christ when he declares, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Really? Well, no matter how much I pray, that Lamborghini will not to appear in my driveway. And as fervently as she might pray, my wife will never wake up to find that I resemble George Clooney. Our life, our prayer life, must always be focused on God. On what God wants. That is the reason why our Lord says of the tax collector, "I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

One of my favorite passages from all of Sacred Scripture is the scene in the garden of Gethsemane. Here we witness the Son of God in the most human form of prayer. He appeals to his Father to release him from his terrible destiny because, being fully human, he dreads the suffering and death that he is about to endure. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me..." And yet, in the very same sentence, the Son of God—the Savior of the World—humbly submits, "...still, not my will but yours be done.” He places his focus on the will if the Father.

When asked by his disciples how to pray, Jesus responds with a prayer that includes in his petition to God the Father, "...Thy will be done..." If we pray as we should, if we live as we should, focusing on God's will, then it stands to reason that he will provide all that we ask. 

 

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