Homily for October 23

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

Audio for homily

The poor Pharisees often don’t fare very well in the pages of the gospel
but it seems this Pharisee did many good things:
he fasted and he prayed
and he gave ten percent of his whole income to the temple.

A generous man, he was not greedy;
a truthful man, he was not dishonest;
faithful to his wife, he was not an adulterer.
and in all this, in his own estimation
he counted himself more virtuous than most
- and that, of course, was his undoing.

The only thing this Pharisee might have left off
his self-congratulatory list
was pride in his political choices, whatever they might have been.

Suppose the Pharisee were in temple today: can’t you hear him saying,
 “I thank you, Lord,
that I’m not like the people in that other political party,
fools despised by anyone with common sense and half a brain.
I love it when my candidate rips apart the opposition,
and I take comfort in knowing how justified are my opinions.”
That might be the Pharisee’s prayer today.

And then there’s the tax collector.
Judging from his simple, one line confession,
O God, be merciful to me, a sinner...
there’s little doubt that he did some bad things --
perhaps things too shameful for him to even mention.
But we’re left in the dark about his political affiliation
since Democrats and Republicans are in an absolute tie
when it comes to the number of sinners in their ranks.

But it’s the tax man, the sinner
who goes home justified -forgiven- in God’s eyes
while the apparently virtuous man goes home
with little more than his biased self-approval,
propped up by what he sees to be the sins of others.

So, with whom do we more closely identify in this parable:
the Pharisee or the sinner?
It’s so easy to say to ourselves, 
 “What, me? A sinner? 
I’m not a murderer, bank robber,  drug dealer
- or a presidential candidate!”

Or as the Pharisee put it so succinctly in the parable,
 “Thank God I’m not like all the others - the real sinners!”

And perhaps it’s true that like the Pharisee,
we, too, do many good things.
But aren’t we also like, even more like, the tax collector?
Don’t we also have reason to ask, even to beg for God’s mercy?
Let’s take a look…

• In spite of the fact that in many ways we have more than we need,
in a world where so many have nothing or next to nothing at all,
do we find ourselves complaining that we don’t have enough?

• Are we sometimes so stretched to the limit working
to provide for those in our care,
that we’re too busy to spend time with them?

• Though I may be a very busy pastor,
do I keep just busy enough to avoid the things I least like doing?

• If I’m a teen, do I appreciate and love my parents, but seldom, if ever,
give them the time of day, let alone my affection?

• Do I keep my mouth shut
when a situation begs for someone to speak up?

• Do I allow my pledged love, my promised fidelity,
to fray at the edges,
outside the company of my spouse, my beloved, my ministry?

• In a divorced family, am I fair and just with my ex and my kids?

• Do I excuse my dishonesty at work, my cheating at school
by comparing myself to others more dishonest than I am?

• Am I so convinced of my own opinions, political and otherwise,
that I give myself permission to demean and demonize
those who disagree with me?

• Do I say things behind my neighbors’ back
that I’d never say to their face?

• In big things and in small ways,
do I stretch or deny the truth to insure my own comfort?

• Am I faithful to prayer outside and beyond my times of urgent need -
or am I usually too busy to pray?

• Do I hold on to grudges and resentments
rather than making peace with those with whom I’m at odds?

Well, I’m sure we could all add many more questions to that list,
questions that would find us off in the corner like the tax collector,
humbled, contrite, acknowledging our need for God’s mercy.

Make no mistake about it:
the Lord’s message in this parable is aimed precisely at any of us
who might have felt uncomfortable listening to my list of questions.

It’s folks like the tax collector -- and you and me --
who are invited to seek the healing of God’s mercy.
The Pharisee? He went home self-satisfied,
patting himself on the back -  and alone.

The tax collector went home with God in his heart,
God who filled him with peace when he bared his soul,
came to terms with his sins - and asked for forgiveness.

Today, it’s us, you and I, who have “come up to the temple to pray”
and like the Pharisee and the tax collector
we stand before God and one another.

May God keep us from pointing to the failings of others
to justify ourselves and our own behavior.
Instead, may we all bow and bend low before the Jesus,
who humbled himself and bowed his head on the Cross for us
and who now invites us to his table
to share in, to feast on,  the gift of his mercy.


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