Only by admitting our sin to God like the tax collector can receive God's peace

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

When you are ill and go to the doctor it would not make much sense to tell the doctor about another person’s illness. The doctor would not be able to treat you if complained about someone else’s illness and did not tell your own symptoms. If you were to do that you would go home again just as sick as when you went to see the doctor. (Sermon 351.1 of St. Augustine on today’s Gospel) Strange as that may seem it is precisely what happens in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee and tax collector both go to the Temple to pray. However the Pharisee, instead of presenting himself humbly before God asking for God’s help and grace, lists the faults of others, and complains also about the tax collector praying nearby. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11) Therefore it is no surprise when we hear that the Pharisee did not go home justified after his prayer in the temple (Luke 18:14). We might think the Pharisee came to God with the right attitude since he fasted twice a week. While the Jewish Law or Torah decreed fasting only once a year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), as the years went by Jewish piety added more fasting. But these additional fasts were not to repent of sins. Instead they were fasts to ask God for a favor or protection from calamities. They even fasted to prevent bad dreams or to understand how to interpret dreams. So the Pharisee’s fasting was not repentance.

On the other hand the tax collector goes to the temple in repentance. Even his body language displays his repentance: he stood away at a distance, did not raise his eyes and he beat his breast. But it is above all in his prayer that we see his repentance, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) Unlike the Pharisee, he did not try to conceal who he really was or put on a mask to hide his real self from God. He came to God as he was. Therefore God met him where he was and lifted him up and went home justified (Luke 18:14).

When you are ill and go to the doctor it would not make much sense to tell the doctor about another person’s illness. The doctor would not be able to treat you if complained about someone else’s illness and did not tell your own symptoms. If you were to do that you would go home again just as sick as when you went to see the doctor. The Pharisee and tax collector received from God what they deserved. The Pharisee came to God complaining about others’ sins and did not go home with the peace of God in his heart. On the other hand the tax collector came before God in complete humility, admitting who he really was, and went home at peace with God. The tax collector is really living the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He is poor in spirit. He is just like another tax collector, Zacchaeus, whom we will hear about next Sunday, who humbly meets Jesus in a spirit of repentance and is also saved (Luke 19:1-10)

Throughout Scripture we see God coming to those who know their need of God. The first reading today from Eccliasticus/Sirach reminds us that God does not have favorites and hears the cry of the oppressed (35:12-13) and that the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds (35:17). In the second reading Paul (or someone expressing Paul’s thought) is also poor in spirit before God. Paul knows he will soon be martyred so he says he is already being poured out as a libation (2 Tim 4:6). A libation of wine was poured over sacrifices so Paul is indicating he knows his life will end in the sacrifice of martyrdom. All Paul’s witnesses abandoned him when he had to defend himself. So he is left with only the Lord to be with him. He wrote in our second reading,

“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Tim 4:17)

St. Paul too is living the attitude of the tax collector. He has no masks.

What about us? Surely the Lord is saying to us in the parable that we have nothing to fear in approaching him just as we are. In fact, it is the correct way to approach God because otherwise we block God out from our life. Let us humbly admit our nothingness before God and our dependence on God like St. Paul. It is when we realize that we have nothing that we are ready to receive God’s grace. When you are ill and go to the doctor it would not make much sense to tell the doctor about another person’s illness. The doctor would not be able to treat you if complained about someone else’s illness and did not tell your own symptoms. Humble repentance before God opens us to God’s grace. It is such humble repentance that also gives us the grace to receive the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That sacrament is a beautiful way to meet the Lord and go home peaceful again like the tax collector. Let us not be too proud like the Pharisee but humble like the tax collector so that we can make frequent use of the sacrament go home peaceful again like the tax collector. Sin is glamorized on TV but sin is sin and needs to be repented of. Glamorizing of sin on TV and other media is closing the door to God. Instead the Lord is waiting to fill us with his grace, forgiveness and love, if only we come before him in humble repentance saying like the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) For the same reason we begin every Mass asking God to forgive us and again before receiving Holy Communion we say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The Lord is waiting to fill us with his grace, forgiveness and love, if only we come before him in humble repentance saying like the tax collector, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Thirtieth Sunday Year C

The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector: Pride and Humility

Related Homilies: pride/humility We are all Equal in Dignity before God

Be Gentle in Carrying Out Your Business

The greatest among you must be your servant