Taxing, Isn’t it?
Greetings on this the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: SIR 35:12-14, 16-18; PS 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23; 2 TM 4:6-8, 16-18; LK 18:9-14
In today’s gospel we listen to a parable story told by Jesus where Jesus speaks in contrasts not in opposites. He is contrasting two men and their worship. His audience and purpose is plainly written in the gospel:
He spoke to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
Both the Pharisee and the tax collector come to the temple area to pray. Jesus contrasts the content of the prayers each makes.
Side note: Pharisees in the Gospel are not all Pharisees but the few who are religious leaders and are those who have power and exert influence upon other.
The Pharisee praying to himself took up his position (perhaps a place of honor and prominence) and gave thanks to God. He listed out from his perspective what he is not (greedy, dishonest, adulterous) and what he does (fast, prayer, almsgiving). Basically, he gave God a report card on how he followed the 10 commandments and the practice of faith.
In contrast, the tax collector stood off at a distance unwilling to raise his eyes to heaven, beat his breast, and prayed, O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
God does perceive and respond to both men. The humble tax collector went home justified. The Pharisee did not.
Jesus explains the Lord’s reasoning: exalting oneself leads to the need for humility and humility leads to divine praise of one’s taxing effort.
Let’s take a second look. Tax collectors and Pharisees do not have the same social standing. Tax collectors are usually distained for their work and their behavior. They apply the Roman tax upon the people and sometimes they do so with greedy intentions extorting extra.
The treatment of tax collectors and Pharisees are kept in parallel throughout the Gospel of Luke.
Let’s take a walk through leading up to Jesus’ story.
John the Baptizer
John the Baptizer having gathered such a large following receives a visit from the Pharisees (Lk 3:7-9 and Lk 3:12-13)
John is none too happy and speaks out and can be reduced to these two points:
- You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee?
- Go and first bear fruit of repentance.
The tax collectors having heard this exchange, who wished to be baptized, ask with trepidation:
- Teacher what shall we do?
- Reply: Stop collecting more than is what prescribed.
Jesus Testimony to John
Still later in Luke 7:29-30 it is written how the tax collectors did in fact receive the baptism of repentance and the Pharisees did not.
(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.)
Already we see a formative difference. A desire to be close to God and a desire to repent of sin. Repentance is most assuredly an act of humility. When challenged by John the Baptizer some did what he prescribed (resolve to change) and then came for their baptism. Perhaps the tax collector read Sirach’s understanding of the justice of God? The voice of the weak, orphaned, widow and the lowly reach the ears of God. Not only reach but the prayer is continuous echoing in the ears of God until the Most High responds.
Remember: Your prayer is continuous echoing in the ears of God until the Most High responds.
Both the prayer of those we offend and those who wish forgiveness. Those who need forgiveness are indeed crushed in spirit.
It is taxing to repent.
Back to the gospel today.
Let me ask you, would you agree the tax collector in the temple that day was likely one of the tax collectors that heard John the Baptizer? One of those who repented and reformed their lives and came back to receive the Baptism of Repentance from John?
Going further, it is possible that the tax collector Jesus is referring to is Zacchaeus? You remember (Lk 19:2ff) where this very short man in the Sycamore tree repented of any misdeed and welcomed Jesus into his home?
Now in the temple, he prays a humble prayer unto the Lord?
We are called to a continuous conversion. Catholics are asked to each evening do an Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition to make present again and again the saving act of the Lord.
We are saved by the action of the Holy Spirit bringing Grace through the passion of Christ to invoke in us faith and to strengthen our conversion and thus our Justification which is accepting of God’s righteousness and gifts of faith, hope and charity.
It is not simply our exterior obeying the commandments and principles of piety. It is our interior conversion that brings about these things.
Perhaps, in some way, we are both Pharisee and tax collector. And Jesus is talking to us when we miss the mark and be convinced of our own righteousness and despise everyone else.
Peace be with you,