Sir 35:12-14, 16-18. 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18. Lk 18:9-14.
The Prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God is biased for the oppressed, the orphan and the widow; “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” Already in Exodus 22:22-23, Yahweh warned Israel: “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows and your children orphans.” This was truly a severe warning showing us how God hates oppressors and exploiters of fellowmen. That is why human trafficking and slavery in every form are most repugnant to God. Of course we do neither human trafficking nor slavery. But the truth is that we sin by despising others, by looking down on them and rejecting them. This also is a form of oppression. A mother in our M.E. community shared that when her husband became manager of a big bank they enrolled their daughter in Poveda, Elementary Dept. Her husband’s car used to bring the child to school was company issue, while most students came in Mercedes Benz, or BMW. At recess her daughter joined a group of classmates to play. But to her dismay a classmate spoke out in a loud voice: “I don’t play with poor girls.” The poor child became confused and went away crying.
The Gospel of today speaks to us of two persons who went to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a publican. At the time of Jesus, the Pharisee was considered the holy person because he obeyed the Torah to the letter and his religiosity was measured by the outward observance of the Mosaic Law. The publican, on the other hand, was considered a sinner and a traitor to his country because he collected taxes from the Jews for the Roman occupier. The Greek explicitly says that the Pharisee stood up while praying, thanking God that he was not like the sinners and the publican; he fasted and paid his tithes. In short he was better than the other men and considered himself acceptable to God. Prov. 3:34 says, “When he is dealing with the arrogant, he is stern, but to the humble he shows kindness.” Ps. 138:6 says: “The Lord is on high, but cares for the lowly and knows the proud from afar.” James 4:6 says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Pt. 5:5-6 says, “God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” The publican stood at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, so conscious was he of how people thought of him; he beat his breast and his prayer was a plea for mercy “for I am a sinner.” It was a posture and a prayer of the humble which was acceptable to God. Thus, the publican went home justified in the eyes of God. Jesus did not look into the external performance of the Pharisee, but into the attitude of the heart possessed by each person. He who exalted himself was humbled and he who humbled himself was exalted.
We do not identify ourselves with the Pharisee who is so arrogant looking at all men from top to bottom with ‘better than thou’ attitude. Neither do we identify ourselves with the publican who looks at self as an odious sinner. And yet we would like to “go home justified.” In my heart there is not only the Pharisee nor only the publican, because at one time or other I have been one or the other and at times even both of them. There is the desire to be a person pleasing to God who sometimes considers himself better than the others. There were also times when I felt myself far from Christ that I would not dare raise my eyes to heaven. As Paul would put it, Christian life is truly a combat, a struggle to achieve a goal with the incessant plea to become meek and humble of heart, to reach a point in life when we possess “the same sentiments as those of Christ Jesus.” Let us cast out all feelings of superiority over others and become poor and humble, so that we can go home justified in the eyes of God. Let this be our desire and our petition. -0-(30th C, p.2)