30th Sunday Ordinary Time 2010 - Gospel Pharisee and The Tax Collector

Anyone who looks ahead to this Sunday's Mass will find much to reflect on.

All the scripture readings can be found here with commentaries.

It is a well known parable of the pumped up self righteous pharisee and the humble tax collector. As a child I remember the tax collector was called a publican and used to think it was someone who owned a pub !  

Apparently the ye olde term, "publicans" was given to powerful people who had the contract to collect taxes and were engaged in massive exploitation—to such a degree that Julius Caesar suppressed the institution.

In a commentary on this passage John R. Donahue S.J. says: "The tax collectors in this parable are minor players,  just petty bureaucrats, who collected taxes for the Romans or King Herod.
They were disliked as agents of oppressive regimes, probably did engage in shady transactions and also were thought to be unclean because they had frequent contact with Gentiles at forbidden times. 

Yet throughout the Gospel, Jesus betrays a penchant for associating with them, so much so that before he is ever called Lord and Christ, his title seems to have been “glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Lk. 5:34).

So the question is ...
How often do I define my own goodness by contrasting it with the defects and shortcomings of someone else ?" 

The rest of John R. Donahue's commentary can be found at America magazine here.

There is another good one by Dianne Bergant aptly called, God Am I Good ! also from America magazine here.

Some of my own thoughts...

One of the most popular secular songs for many years at funerals in the UK is " My Way" by Frank Sinatra - truly a song of the "me "generation !

I have never liked it because it always struck me as a blockbuster account of being rather smug and self congratulatory and completely ignores the fact that we need to acknowledge that whatever we are in our lives ultimately depends on the active grace of God.

Our lives today can so easily lead us to develop an exalted sense of self and vanity that says I need no mercy. It can take many forms  and is especially cruel when it laughs at and ridicules the misfortunes of others.

In these uncertain times when so many people are anxious and unsure, where economic crises,  job cuts and closures mean that a persons life circumstances can change at the stroke of a pen, it is wrong for those who have escaped these pitfalls  to think that they have escaped misfortune because they have done enough to deserve it .

We cannot pat ourselves on the back and admire our own righteousness. Our pride in our own achievements has little value, if it makes us bankrupt of genuine compassion and concern for others less fortunate.

The worst thing about the Pharisee is that he compares his own flaws, not with the infinite perfection of God, but with the imagined greater flaws of others and our human nature allows us to fall into the narcissistic trap so easily. 


Ultimately this kind of living reaches the point where we place ourselves above God.
Living today often so concentrates on the satisfaction of self. My money, my house, my reputation, my power, and this then so easily becomes " my religion."
The problem with this is that someone else's money, house, or reputation is only important to me as and when it affects my own standing. 
Last Sunday, the message of the gospel was to be persistent in prayer and to pray for justice and this week Jesus reminds us that we should pray for mercy.

At first sight the pharisee seems above reproach because he does keep the rules and does lead a life that is probably better than the tax collector. 

But once again Jesus turns the tables on us by saying that it was the penitent tax-collector who went away with the mercy of God , rather than the pious-appearing Pharisee.

If you have the time and energy you might like to click here for a reflection
which has a modern take on the parable for generation X.

Perhaps we would never be able to be so full of ourselves if we were able to realise that we are all interconnected.

And finally this from Albert Einstein....

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. 

This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. ... 

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive."

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