30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 161-18; Luke 18:9-14

If they would have had social media in Jesus’ time, then the Pharisee Jesus describes in today’s gospel parable probably would have been a star.  He would have had a lot of friends on Facebook and many followers on Twitter.  His posts on Snapchat, Instagram and Tik-Tok would have received a lot of likes. 

The Pharisee certainly wasn’t lacking in self-confidence or self-promotion. He took up his privileged place in the Temple area. He spoke his prayer “to himself,” proudly listing his religious practices and disdaining those like the tax collector whom he considered sinners. He was full of…himself.

But he was empty of humility, that is an honest and well-grounded sense of who he really was and where he stood before God. His tragic flaw was that he was convinced of his own righteousness and failed to understand that none us can justify ourselves before God. All of us, from the greatest saints to me and you, need God’s grace and mercy. 

The Pharisee knew a lot about the Law of Moses. But he did not seem as familiar with the wisdom of Jesus Ben-Sira, who notes in our first reading that God doesn’t play favorites and yet is especially attentive to the prayers of the oppressed, the vulnerable and marginalized (e.g. widows and orphans), the lowly and those who are true servants of God. The tax collector was among those despised and marginalized. Standing at a distance and bowing his head, he admitted to God that he was a sinner and simply prayed for mercy. He went home justified—not by himself but by God.

Every Sunday we gather as a community of tax collectors. At the beginning of Mass, in the Penitential Rite, we “pause and call to mind our sins.” We bow our heads and we ask for God’s mercy. If we pray the Confiteor, we beat our breasts as we “own” our sins and ask for the prayers of the saints and the Church. We genuflect before we take our seats as a sign of our reverence for the God who saves us. We bow during the Creed as we remember God’s humility in the Mystery of the Incarnation. We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer as we remember the sacrifice of Jesus and the Paschal Mystery. 

As he closed his Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul said that his life was being “poured out like a libation.” It was likely a reference to Exodus 29:38-42, which prescribed the pouring of libations of oil and wine to consecrate an altar of sacrifice. He was following the example of Jesus. In his Letter to Philippians, Paul said that the Lord “emptied himself and took the form of a slave…[and] humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross” (2:7, 8). He emptied himself to be an offering to God for us.

Those aren’t the kinds of things that will get a lot of likes or followers on social media. But they have made all the difference for everyone exalted by God’s grace. +