Luke 18:9-14: Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and 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 exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
St. Luke probably could have stopped at just the first line in our Gospel reading for this Sunday and I still would have been left with that sinking feeling in my gut. You know that awful feeling when you know the Scripture is talking to you, but not in a good way? Yeah, that one.
We can all agree it’s a tough time in our country right now… full of negativity, hatred, and distrust. By the rhetoric I hear, I can surmise that the majority of us ‘are convinced of our own righteousness and despise everyone else’. I’m pretty sure that most of us are ‘thanking God that we are not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous.’ And I’m convinced that we’re ALL wrong when we choose not to see the human in each other, when we fail to humble ourselves before God, when we focus on the sins of our neighbors, our family members, those in the opposing political party, rather than focusing on our own sins. We all fall short. That’s why Jesus came.
Funny how Jesus’ parables are so often directed toward the Pharisees, the most religious, strict observers of Jewish laws. As a church leader, I often ask myself, “Who are the Pharisees today?” Am I humble enough to admit that I may, at times, be standing in that camp? For the record, I don’t think you have to be a church leader to be Pharisaical. I think it’s about the heart. Jesus was always about the heart, for everything we do flows from it. (Prov. 4:23) When we place ourselves in this Scripture reading, who are we? The Pharisee or the tax collector? Self-righteous or humble?
My husband has this gift that I’ve been working years to achieve. When he sees another human or a group of people, he automatically assumes the best about them. He chooses to see the good in them and chooses to believe that they have the right intentions. When I say a negative comment about someone, he automatically finds a positive in them. The negative is still there, but why not focus on their positive attributes? Is it really helpful for us to focus on someone else’s negative traits? Sure, it makes us feel good about ourselves, but that leaves us in the same camp as the Pharisees in our Gospel reading.
That fun quote that always left me in trouble growing up, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” can be applied to us adults, too. But maybe it should be altered to: if you can’t see anything nice in them, change your focus. My guess is we can choose to find good in that coworker, family member, other political party. But if you’re not there yet, focus inward. See yourself in the tax collector and humble yourself before God.
This Sunday’s first reading from the book of Sirach opens with “The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” As Catholics, some of us may believe that God loves the people within our walls a little more than the people beyond our walls. But God has no favorites. As Americans, we may want to believe that God loves us just a teensy bit more than everyone else in the world. But God has no favorites. As wealthy hardworking individuals, we may be inclined to believe that we’re better than other people, but God has no favorites. As Republicans or Democrats, we may demonize those in the other party, but God has no favorites. As Cubs fans, we believe that God loves us more and that’s why we’re going to win the World Series, but God has no favorites. (okay, that one was a joke.) Don’t get me wrong, there is such a thing as good and evil, right actions and wrong actions, but when it comes to the people doing those actions, he loves them all.
May we see the other as God sees them, his beloved children.