When the world has seemingly gone mad and we begin to wonder if we have tumbled down some rabbit hole into an alternative universe, we can either become "Mad Hatters" or else turn to spiritual practice. Madness is all around us -- I'm not speaking of the eccentricity of Lewis Carroll's Hatter, nor of the literal madness of hat manufacturers who, in the C18th and C19th centuries, used mercury nitrate to treat the pelts of small animals. Rather, I am referring to corruption, short-sighted policies, double-speak, and to the failure of our guiding institutions and world leaders to make the world a happier and safer place.
Let us pray for sanity, act justly and walk with our God.
PS I would greatly appreciate your prayers for my sister, Patricia, whose health continues to deteriorate. Gracias!
Jesus addressed this parable to those who, convinced of their own righteousness, despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalt themselves will be humbled,and the ones who humble themselves will be exalted." Lk 18:9-14
There are three different audiences in today's Gospel: Jesus addresses the self-righteous; the Pharisee prays to himself; and the tax collector prays to God. By examining each audience, we can break open the meaning of the parable and see how it applies to our own lives.
AUDIENCE #1: THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS
Jesus' parable is meant to puncture the egos of those who consider themselves holier than everyone else; his audience is comprised of those who make a public display of religion not only by wearing distinctive religious garb, but by letting everyone see their devotional practices and ostentatious gifts to the Temple treasury. The Pharisee in the parable is the epitome of what Jesus finds repugnant: he fulfills the letter of the Law but is completely lacking in both humility and love. In fact, he considers himself better than the rest of humanity and isn't ashamed to articulate this. Not only does he claim to be sinless but he prides himself on his fasting and tithing. No doubt members of Jesus' audience recognize themselves in the Pharisee and cringe. The piety Jesus describes cuts too close to home.
AUDIENCE #2: THE PHARISEE
The Pharisee is clueless when it comes to prayer. Though he stands in the most visible spot in the Temple, taking care to be seen by all the important people, he doesn't include God in his devotions! Luke, in fact, tells us that he speaks "this prayer to himself." Basically, the Pharisee is justifying himself to himself. He doesn't need to converse with God because he has deified himself -- he is the Alpha and Omega of his own life and is under the impression that he can earn his own salvation without turning to God in any way. The god he thanks for his own religious standing is none other than himself. The esteem of others and his own self-esteem are his reward for fasting and tithing.
AUDIENCE #3: GOD
Though the Pharisee despises the tax collector for collaborating with the Romans and possibly for over-charging those he taxes, the tax collector himself is not afraid to turn to God for forgiveness. Unlike the proud Pharisee, he humbles himself before God, beating his breast as he asks for mercy. Keenly aware of God's Presence, he is authentic in what he says and makes no excuses for his way of life. In fact, he never suggests that he is going to find a new occupation; instead, he invites God's mercy into his imperfect life, trusting that the God who sees his heart also understands his anguish -- the anguish of being trapped in a hated profession that simultaneously pays his bills and alienates him from the townsfolk.
AND WHERE DO WE STAND?
If we happen to be religious hypocrites, most likely we are as unaware as the Pharisee; this means that we are proud of our religious observances, believe we are superior to others and assume that God is impressed by our words and actions.In effect, we deify ourselves as the Pharisee does. Instead of listening to God, we listen to the sound of our own voice. We don't call on God because we don't recognize how in need of God we really are! On the other hand, if we acknowledge that we are weak, fragile human beings, then we are more likely to throw ourselves on God's mercy because we cannot save ourselves.