30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 27, 2013)
2 Tim 4:6-8,16-18
Words can be very powerful and evoke much emotion in a person. Anytime someone mentions the phrase “9/11,” I am saddened as I recall the horrific events that happened in 2001 and all of the lives lost. To the other extreme, If I hear the words, “Orange Leaf,” my mouth starts watering and I day dream about eating a white chocolate strawberry frozen yogurt topped with Reece’s Pieces, chocolate chips, toffee and M&M’s. Some here may be too young to remember 9/11 and some, unfortunately, have never experienced the joy that Orange Leaf can bring to one’s taste buds. But there is one phrase in our English language that I think we can all agree on that, at the mere mention of, makes us shiver. Worse yet, if this particular phrase is written on an envelope that you receive in the mail, it’ll probably make your stomach turn and cause you to break out in a cold sweat. I am referring to three letters, that when put together makes us want to pull our hair out…“I.R.S.” Yup, the “taxman.” It’s the job of the I.R.S. to enforce the crazy, complex tax laws we have in this country. Most of us bust our hind ends trying to make a living, and we view the I.R.S as the entity that wants to take it all away from us. And if you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined, imprisoned or both. I realize the purpose of paying taxes can be for a just cause, but it doesn’t make us feel any better come April 15 or when we get those property tax bills in the mail on October 1.
The I.R.S may not have been around during the time of Jesus, but tax collectors were. In first century Israel, tax collectors could walk up to anyone and tax him or her for whatever they were carrying. Many of the taxes were for valid reasons like roads and security. It was the tax collector’s job to collect income tax, import and export tax, crop tax, sales tax, property tax, emergency tax and more. They would then turn over the designated tax money to the Roman authorities and keep any extra they happened to collect. They were hated and despised by their fellow Jews because they were working for Gentiles and taxing other Jews. Unfortunately, they often extorted large sums of money from their own people. This is why they were considered to be the worst type of sinners.
So know you have a better understanding of why the Pharisee in today’s Gospel was so mad at the despicable tax collector that dared to pray next to him in the temple. Pharisees were strict observers of religious law and traditions. This particular Pharisee got all dressed up, went to the temple, and started naming off why he was better than the evil tax collector next to him…”I’m not greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or worse, I’m not like HIM (as he points his finger to the tax collector and rolls his eyes). I fast twice a week and pay tithes on my whole income.” I mean, he’s obviously the clear winner in the “I’m-more-righteous-than-you” game…right??
Ok, two can play this game. The Pharisee went into the temple and prayed out loud so those around could hear him. Big deal…St. Padre Pio prayed the rosary upwards of 35 times each day without anyone even knowing it. He had a special pocket in his clothes that held his rosary. All day long, his hand was in that pocket with his fingers on the rosary beads. What else you got?
The Pharisee claimed not to be dishonest or adulterous. Big deal…rather than simply not being adulterous, St. Vitalis of Gaza actually went out and did something about it. He would work all day long and then take his money to a local prostitute. He then spent the entire night teaching her about her dignity and value as a woman. St. Vitalis helped these women see that they did not deserve to be used by men as an object of lust. At his funeral, it was reported that many former prostitutes came to his grave carrying lamps explaining how he converted their hearts and left their adulterous ways. What else you got?
The Pharisee claimed to fast twice a week. Big deal…St. Catherine of Genoa lived on the Eucharist and water alone during the entire seasons of Advent and Lent. What else you got?
The Pharisee claimed he paid tithes on his whole income. A tithe is 10%. Big deal…Sts. Andrew and Peter, two fishermen, dropped their nets and gave away 100% of everything they had to follow Jesus. Need I go on?
You see, no matter how great we think we are, there is always someone else who is probably doing more. However, we may not know it because most of these people are humble and don’t go around boasting of their accomplishments. Only St. Padre Pio’s closest friends knew why his hand was in his pocket. Nobody knew about St. Vitalis’ preaching to prostitutes until after his death when these ladies came to his funeral telling of their conversion. The problem with the Pharisee is that he is trusting in his own righteousness and thought God owed him something. Let me be clear…God doesn’t OWE us ANYTHING. We are the ones who allowed sin to take over our lives. We are the ones who screwed up so bad that God himself had to send His only Son to repair the damage. Jesus’ death on the cross opened the gates of heaven. He did this for us because He LOVES us, not because He OWES us. By His example, He wants us to do what is right out of love, not out of obligation. The tax collector in the parable knew this. He is a sinner and had no merits to stand before God. His only option is to plead for mercy. Mercy that was freely given.
God loves you and wants you to be with Him in heaven. The only way to get there is by His judgment. So rather than us boasting about how great we are, lets try boasting about how weak we are and bring that to God in prayer. Pray to Him daily and ask for His grace to be a better person. Ask for His mercy. Remain humble. Finish the race. Keep the faith. From Pope Francis, “To follow Jesus means putting Him first, and stripping ourselves of all the things that oppress our hearts.” If we do this, I pray that each one of us will have the chance to kneel before God on our judgment day and say with sincerity and humility, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”