One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

October 24, 2010

For the Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday of the Church Year

Luke 18:9-14

In Israel of long ago, the Pharisee movement and the tax collectors both came into being after heathen outsiders defeated Israel and took over the land.
The Greeks had invaded Israel about one hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ.
They imposed their ways and their idol worship upon the Jews.
Some of the Jews began a heroic effort to keep separate from the heathen Greek ways and keep faithful to the true God.
That Jewish movement of holiness and faithfulness to God was the original Pharisee movement.
Then, about ninety years later, or about sixty years before the birth of Christ, the Romans invaded and took over.
The Romans also worshiped idols.
Mind you, in the full Biblical way of seeing things, idols in the end are demons.
In the face of the demonic Greeks and now the demonic Romans, the Pharisees kept up their heroic religious faithfulness to the true God whom their fathers had come to know and worship.
Rome made itself rich by imposing taxes on the Israel of God.
Demonic Rome hired lowlifers of Israel to collect taxes from the people of the living God.
However, the tax collectors further enriched themselves by squeezing more than Rome required from their fellow Israelites, God’s people.
For the sake of a share in the money of demonic Rome, the tax collectors were traitors to their countrymen and traitors to the true God.
Thus, the tax collectors were the opposite of the original Pharisees.
By the time the Lord Jesus began to preach God’s kingdom and call men to conversion, the Roman system of Israelite tax collectors had been in place for almost one hundred years, and the Pharisee movement for nearly twice as long.
The tax collectors were as bad as they had always been.
However, the Pharisees, who began as sincere holy men of God, had by now stiffened towards a mechanical system of self-justifying attitudes and observances to which we today might apply the label of “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
In his Gospel today, the Lord Jesus tells of a Pharisee practicing self-worship at God’s temple.
The Pharisee ... spoke this prayer TO HIMSELF,
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity....”

Then the Pharisee recited the sins of others, but also bragged of his own religious observances.
The Lord Jesus then told of the tax collector.
The taxman “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven.”
He knew he had done wicked things against God and country and neighbor.
So now, not daring to look up, the taxman beats himself up— the Lord Jesus says he “beat his breast.”
As he thumped himself, he prayed, “O God be merciful to me a sinner.”
That’s all.
The Lord Jesus says the taxman—not the Pharisee—the taxman “went home justified.”
Another way, a good way, to say it is that the taxman went home “right with God.”
Let us notice what matters to the Lord Jesus as he tells this story.
It does not matter that the Pharisee sincerely avoided acts of greed, dishonesty, and adultery.
It does not matter that the Pharisee fasted two days a week.
It does not matter that the Pharisee tithed, which means he donated one tenth of his whole income to the poor and the priests.
What matters to the Lord Jesus in terms of being right with God is what the taxman did and what the taxman did not do.
The taxman lowered his eyes before God, he beat his breast, he accused himself, he called on God’s goodness, not his own, and he called himself a sinner.
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
That’s what the taxman did; and so he was able— perhaps without even knowing it— to go home right with God.
What was it the taxman did NOT do— and it mattered to the Lord Jesus?
The taxman did not point at or mention anyone else’s sins or lack of integrity.
In the sight of God, who sees all and knows all, each of us is in some way both a Pharisee and a taxman.
In the story the Lord tells in his Gospel today, one thing matters in being made right with God: to confess one’s own self a sinner.
That’s why we always begin the Mass with a public confession of our sinfulness and ask God for mercy; and then we repeat the same at key moments throughout the Mass.
That’s why we offer up the Body and Blood of Christ.
He tells us:
this is my body
given up for you
this is my blood
shed for you
so that sins may be forgiven

“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
In the Gospel today, that is as powerful, infallible, and pure a prayer as that of the criminal who confessed his own guilt and Christ’s innocence— as Christ was offering himself up on the cross for sinners: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” [Lk. 23:42].
The Lord canonized him on the spot: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” [Lk. 23:43].
I am a sinner, and you are sinners.
We must ask for mercy, if we would one day be with Christ the King in Paradise.
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

That God Be Glorified in All