30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C 2019 (R. 1: Sirach 35: 15- 17, 20- 22; Psalm 34:2-3, 17- 19, 23 R. 2: 2 Timothy 4: 6- 8, 16- 18; Gospel: Luke 18: 9- 14)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
ONLY THE EMPTY CAN BE FILLED
King Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and interviewed the inmates to know why they were imprisoned. One after the other, they expressed their innocence. One said, God was his witness that he was innocent, another said he was a victim of prejudice, and another said he was a victim of exploitation and so on. Finally, the king came to one of the convicts who remained silent. “Well,” said the king, “I suppose you are also innocent, but can I hear how innocent you are?” “No, sir, I am not innocent,” replied the man. “I am guilty, and I deserve this punishment.” Turning to the warden (Prison Officer), the king said, “Release this rascal from the prison right now before he begins to corrupt all these innocent people here.”
Last Sunday, Jesus taught us the need for persistence in prayers using the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. Today, He is showing us the right attitude and disposition for prayer, and here he is using the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both of them were believers in the same God, both of them belonged to the same religion; both of them worshipped in the same Temple, and they went to pray at the same time. Yet, at the end of the worship, one of them went home at peace with God, while the other did not. Why? Solely believing in God does not save anybody. James tells us that even the devil believes in God and trembles with fear (2: 19), but that has not saved the devil. What matters is what we believe about God and how this belief affects our views and ways of life.
Jesus certainly surprised his listeners by showing the Tax Collector as an example of faith rather than the Pharisee. Remember that the Pharisees were members of a sect of Judaism who were very active at the time of Jesus. They taught an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses as the foundation for the Jewish religion. The name Pharisee means “Separate.” They went beyond the requirements of the law to make up for those who would not keep the law. They fasted twice a week (usually on market days to attract attention), even though the law required people to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement. They gave tithes of all their income and not just of the required parts. Tax Collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. They were collaborators with the Pagan Roman authorities in a system that allowed the tax collectors to fill their own pockets by charging more than the defined taxes.
In today’s prayer over the offering, we pray that whatever we do in the service of the Lord may be directed above all to the glory of that same Lord. Prayer is the raising up of our hearts and minds to God in praise, thanksgiving, petition, and intercession. Prayer is an expression of our inadequacies, our dependence on God, and the fact that we are mere creatures. Humility is the proper disposition for a great prayer life. But this is not reflected in the prayer of the Pharisee. Rather than praise God, he went to the Temple to present his testimonial to God so that God might praise him. The Gospel passage has it that he said the prayer to himself. The Pharisee was too full of himself that there was no space for God to enter into him. The Tax Collector, on the other hand, was very much aware of his insufficiency. He stood far off, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He came to God in humility and as an empty vessel, and so there was space for God to enter into him.
We have come to worship God like the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We have to examine ourselves to see who among them is our model. We become like the Pharisee when we pray like this, “I thank you Lord that I am in the Church today, while others are languishing in the hospital; I thank you Lord that I am at Mass today while others are in jail; I thank you Lord that my marriage is a success while that of my neighbor sitting next to me in the Church is a failure.” We are like the Pharisee when we stay away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Even when we go to confessions, we are like the Pharisee when we say things like “Bless me Father for I have sinned, actually, I have been trying my best to be a good husband/wife and a good parent, I do no drugs, I come to church as often as I can, I try not to say bad words, it is just that my wife/husband gets on my nerves sometimes.” In a situation like this, the priest will be tempted to ask, “Then what are you doing here? This place is for sinners; I guess you have dialed the wrong number.”
My dearly beloved in Christ, the tax collector went home full of God because he came empty of himself. Mary is full of grace because she is empty of herself. Let us pray to God to help us empty ourselves of ourselves that we may be full of God until we come to see God face to face, through Christ our Lord. Amen.