Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Sirach 35:12-14. 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
Reading II 2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Gospel Luke 18:9-14
This morning we celebrate the thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our readings talk about humility, about the crown we hope someday to receive. It talks to us about the importance of prayer and that God always listens to us. In the Second Reading today from St. Paul to Timothy, Paul is in prison, he is about to be martyred, and is probably somewhat depressed but also optimistic. He is depressed because he is being tried and there is no one there to support him. And yet he says to himself, “The crown that I will be receiving will be coming soon” — the crown that not only he received, but hopefully all of us, as we live our lives the way we need to, will find a place in heaven.
Then in our first reading from the book of Sirach, the writer was talking about God saying to us that he always listens to our prayers. Always. Especially the prayers of the poor, of the marginalized, the humble. The important thing is that no matter what we say or wherever we are, God is there for us. As we heard in the responsorial Psalm, he “always hears the cry of the poor.” Which means to us is that since we are Christlike through our baptism, we are to look around to see the poor and the marginalized and to meet their needs.
Then we have the Gospel. In order to understand the Gospel we need to know who is a Pharisee and who is a tax collector. First, in Judaism the Pharisees were a religious sect and they considered themselves to be very, very holy people who followed all of the Mosaic laws. They went to church on the Sabbath, they tithed, they did all the hundred and some rules they needed to do.
Then we have a tax collector and we sort of know who a tax collector is. But at the time of Christ we have the Romans who had taken over the whole area. They would come in, and the Roman overseer would find a Jewish man, and he would make him the tax collector. The tax collector’s job was to obtain the amount of money or goods the overseer had determined should be taxed. So let’s pretend that in a year’s time the overseer wanted a thousand bushels of corn — it was the tax collector’s job to see to it that he had one thousand bushels. However, the tax collector could collect whatever he wanted. So he could collect two thousand bushels. Or three thousands bushels, whatever he wanted. Then he would keep the rest.
As you can imagine, tax collectors were not the most favorite people in the world. First, because the tax collector worked for the Romans who the Jews didn’t like; and second, often times they were crooked.
So here we have the parable: The Pharisee comes to church, looks up to heaven and says, “God, thank you for making me who I am, and making me better than the rest of humanity. I am not an adulterer, and I am not like the tax collector over there. I tithe more than I need to. I do all of these things. Thank you, Lord.” Then you have the tax collector. The tax collector comes into the back of church, he bows his head and says, “Lord, I am a sinner. Be merciful. Forgive me.” And Jesus asks, “Who is going to be justified? The Pharisee, or the tax collector?”
The answer is the tax collector. But if you were a Jew at this time and you heard Jesus saying this, or you were the Pharisee and you did all these things — the Pharisee thinks, “He is saying it is the tax collector and not me!” The point is: We need to be humble people. And the opposite of being humble is being prideful. We all have that inclination to be prideful and to think we are better than someone else and think, “I am better than that tax collector. After all, I go to church on Sunday — they don’t.”
Humility means that we see our dependence upon God. We see our need for him. We see that all the gifts that we have been given — have been given to us by God to help one another. Yes, do we have to cultivate the gifts and talents that we have? Absolutely. But can we take all the credit for everything that we do? No. And if we do, then we become prideful.
The one thing about life is we all experience humility. I did a few minutes ago, and other times. If any of you have ever been in the hospital and had to be on the bedpan and had somebody help you, you know what humility is. If you have children, if you haven’t been humbled — you will be — more than once. If we are married, we will be humbled as well. The bottom line is, we all have gifts from God that we need to cultivate and use. Yes, we need to be thankful, and, no, we shouldn’t say, “Oh, poor me” or put ourselves down. The point is: We need to be appreciative of everything that we have and realize that it isn’t just me, but it is God who has given everything to us.
There is a story that took place about forty years ago. It is about a pilot and he was flying a commercial plane. In those days the policy was that the pilot had to be there when the passengers left the plane to thank them for coming and talk to them. Well, the pilot had an eventful flight. It was very turbulent and his landing was very hard and rough, and he wasn’t looking forward to greeting the passengers as they left because of what they might say. But to his surprise, when he was there at the exit everyone went by and no one said anything. But as he was about ready to leave, this older woman with a cane slowly came down the aisle. When she came to him she said, “Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Of course.” She said, “Did we land or were we shot down?”
The bottom line of the message today is: We need to be humble people, we need to be grateful people. We need to be people not like the Pharisee going to church and abiding by all the laws and thinking this made a difference, but rather we need to be people who use our gifts for each other and realize that it isn’t us — but it’s Him. In our world to make a difference — it’s us. And as it stated at the end of the Gospel, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who are humble will be exalted.”
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR401 Disc D 006)