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Faith is a Scratchy Sponge

Scratchy Sponge

Faith is a Scratchy Sponge

Greetings on this the Second Sunday of Advent

Readings: IS 11:1-10; PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; ROM 15:4-9; MT 3:1-12

Remember Last Week

If you remember last week I asked Dare to Dream Holy Dreams just like Isaiah.

How did you do?

Isaiah 2 dared to dream of a time even beyond the coming of the Messiah to the time of the complete peace with the final judgment.

This week Isaiah 11 going even further or not as far, so to speak!

Peace as a Person

Isaiah 11 introduces us to one he dreams will come, who embodies all that is holy.

There will appear a restorer of right relation between all men, God and creation itself.

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse (4th Advent we read Isaiah 7 where the Emmanuel is promised).

Peace as a person.

All that is God becomes touchable, knowable, and palpable in the incarnate one.

He does this in an interesting way.

He says the one who is to come will be the perfect and divine expression of Holy.

Any/every good attribute we can subscribe to God is this fully in this certain someone:

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:

a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

a spirit of counsel and of strength,

a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,

and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Paul Affirms the View

In his letter to the Romans:

Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,

that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures

we might have hope….

in Christ Jesus.

For I say… (Jesus) confirms the promises to the patriarchs.

Scratchy Gospel

Faith is a scratchy sponge. One side is smooth and one side is the scratchy side.

(see picture attached).

When the sponge is new and supple it is ready to absorb and be used. It is helpful to succor hurts, apply balm and to whisk off any imperfections.

When the sponge is dried out it becomes stiff and unyielding. Am I right? Have you ever use a dried out sponge? Eek!

It is useless for applying balm and rather than whisk away imperfections a dried up sponge creates new ones!

If faith is a sponge, made to be supple and absorb holiness, than what is the solution for a dried up sponge?

This week, Second Advent, we are to be alert just like last week but now to the person who is coming. This Messiah embodied with every aspect of holiness.

This Messiah did not come to show off or to be in a glass case on display of what holiness looks like. No, he came to share who he is, and to give it away.

Isaiah is saying simply that God himself has come to impart and imbued us with these his divine self a/k/a gifts:

  1. Spirit
  2. Wisdom
  3. Understanding
  4. Counsel
  5. Strength
  6. Knowledge
  7. And Fear of the Lord and the delight of the fear of the Lord.

Literalists take note: Fear of the Lord has two parts:

  1. Awe of the Lord in his majesty and his benevolence toward us.
  2. Humility in the presence. The perfect in the presence of the imperfect. The Divine living with the profane.

Repentance is the Beginning of Acceptance

The one thing we can all confess is a resistance to the Divine’s effort to gift us himself.

We can be like dried up sponges that need the refreshing dew of these heavenly gifts: Spirit, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord. As we soak up these gifts we become the supple instrument of grace in our own lives and the lives of others.

John the Baptizer – A Really Scratchy Sponge

John the Baptist – a super sized Scratchy Sponge. His was filled with supple holiness.

It’s really easy to project John as a mean guy with a chip on his shoulders. I suppose wearing camel hair and eating locusts might not put me in a good mood either.

But actually we would miss the story.

John is the preparer: Prepare the way of the Lord, the gospel says.

Here is the thing. Jesus really doesn’t need help. We do. John is preparing the way for us to see Jesus, for us to make our path toward holiness. The warning John the Baptist given the Pharisees and Sadducees is of the same type given the soldiers and tax collectors of Luke 3.

The added element is the degree of urgency!

Urgency!

Do you hear anger in John’s voice? Maybe your sponge is dry?

I hear a four-fold urgency:

  1. Brood of vipers – the exact example of social sin as we describe it today in modern Christian theology.
  2. Flee the wrath – do you really understand what exactly this wrath is? How urgent the need is for you?
  3. Change/repent – you can’t keep doing what you are doing.
  4. Do not presume – the most urgent warning even today! Do not presume, “Christian”, that you are safe without the living in the living Jesus.

And after all this John says, the one Isaiah promised has come and he will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. He wants to give you these gifts in Isaiah 11.

Accept them. Accept him.

Supple Sponge

Be a supple sponge. Accept the gift that is God.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

Pity and Fear

Each Wednesday night we celebrate Adoration and Benediction.

When speaking of adoration in regards to the Divine, we say we adore the essence of the Divine.

It isn’t praise or extolling. It isn’t thanksgiving. It is uniquely a recognition not of power, might, or action but of essence.

The Gospel reading was Mt 15:29-37.

Right in the middle, between the healings and the proto-Eucharistic Bread…

My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.

The Son fears for us. The Son has pity (compassion) for us. The Son sees our hunger. In him we are satisfied.

We adore the Lord because he has made us more important than himself. The essence of the Divine is decision. The decision to love.

Come, let us adore him. He has chosen us.

Dare to Dream Holy Dreams

Shalom

Dare to Dream Holy Dreams

This post is a collection of my notes that are the foundation of a homily given 11:00 AM Mass, Sunday, December 1st, 2019. A meandering homily I admit. I usually type my homilies so they gain a certain continuity and focus but I didn’t this week. It showed. Yet a few were touched and asked my notes. So, here we go….

Greetings on this the First Sunday of Advent

Readings: IS 2:1-5; PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; ROM 13:11-14; MT 24:37-44

Reading cycles

The Church reads nearly the entirety of the four Gospels in a cycle of readings spanning a three year period. Each Church year ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King, last week, and begins anew with the First Sunday of Advent. So with the beginning of the new Church year, Happy New Year 2020!

  • Advent – Cycle A – Gospel Matthew (privileged to be first among the Gospels as it is the most referenced by the Early Fathers)
  • Advent – Cycle B – Gospel Mark (with a Luke and John reading. Mark gets short shrift)
  • Advent – Cycle C – Gospel Luke

(By the way the Gospel of John is used every year in seasonal context and is just as fully covered).

Yet in all three cycles the readings are preceded by the Lesson of the Fig Tree.

Lesson of the Fig Tree

Learn from the fig tree, Jesus said. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things (signs Jesus performs), know that he is near (the Lord himself), at the gates (ready to enter).

Learn from the fig tree, Jesus said. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the gates.

Jesus is referring to himself, of course, containing very deep theology here. The branch of David has become tender (alive) and has sprouted leaves. The second Sunday of Advent we will read about ‘a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse’.

So in our current reading Jesus says therefore, stay awake! (MT 24:42) one must ask the question stay awake or be alert to what?

In a minute, we’ll see.

Dreaming Holy Dreams

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah (1st Isaiah).

Pardon the digression here. When we read Isaiah we should pay careful attention to a few things.

Isaiah had dreams that are Holy, divine dreams. And written for us are the contents of these visions which bring the first alert.

Literalists Be Alert

There has been a theory that when writing sacred scripture it was believed that Moses and the prophets were is some sort of holy trance. Pen to paper (so to speak) the writer would write or dictate the exact words of the Lord upon parchment precisely as dictated to them by God.

Not really.

It is better said that the writings of Isaiah are the writing of a person open to the voice of the Divine or, to borrow from the CCC, engaging in contemplation, study and gaining a grasp of the spiritual realities one is experiencing. Isaiah allowed the divine to penetrate him and share with him the hopes of humanity and the purpose of the Lord in our creation: Holy Presence and Holy Peace.

Isaiah dreamed holy and divine dreams. He contemplated the divine purpose in the world as a whole, the nation of Israel and for the individual person.

Here we quote Isaiah as he prophesizes Peace. Divine peace. Peace on Earth and Good will toward all.

He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

We share Isaiah’s dream. In the first coming of Jesus the Christ he shares with us the same divine dream (prophecy) about his Second Coming.

This peace is not yet fully realized.

In our reading today Jesus also looks beyond his ‘today’ except that today we are given the lesson of the fig tree to listen and be alert.

Alert to What?

Do you dream holy dreams?

Do you wonder of the purpose and presence of the Divine?

I often ask people during sessions: Do you dream? If so, of what do you dream?

During Advent we are invited into the dream of Isaiah. This is not wishful thinking. It is the dream given to him because he was open to the voice of the divine.

Days of Noah

Jesus warns about our tendency to fail to dream focused instead of the ordinary good of God (the natural blessings).

In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.

These are a people who won’t dream divine dreams. Instead they concentrate on the natural good as the only good.

It is a grave error that causes them to ‘be carried away’.

Contrast: In a modern Jewish Midrash, Noah’s wife, Naaham (one whose actions are pleasing to God) was busy too, collecting every seed and bulb so that the plants of the earth will also be saved from the flood (Sandy Eisenberg Sasso).

See how she dreamed divine dreams?

Literalists be Alert

Literalists struggle with complex, compound written communication.

The popular yet erroneous theory of Rapture is a good example.

Here Jesus refers to the two men in the field and the two women at the mill. One each is taken and the other remains.

This is a figure of speech to delineate those who listen and act upon divine inspiration and those who do not as reflected in the final judgment after the Second Coming. Otherwise, Literalists, you would be forced to conclude that 50% of all men and 50% of all women are condemned.

Alert to What?

One must ask the question, do I ignore my spiritual self. If I am body, soul and spirit then am I tending to my spiritual needs?

During Advent we are invited to tend to and make sure we are alert to the needs of our spirit.

Do I pray?

How do I pray and for what?

Paul gives a Contrast

St Paul always is good at providing contrast. He implores and begs us to cast of the works of darkness (things we do).

He is kind to list a few things in case we are in denial:

  • Orgies
  • Drunkenness
  • Promiscuity
  • Lust
  • Rivalry
  • Jealousy

Ooops. OK, I spotted a few I need to attend to….

He says instead our goal should be to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Jesus is both the strength for and the final end of such a life.

Alert to What?

What do I do that is a work of darkness?

What desires of the flesh do I hold tighter than the freedom of holiness?

When in the hospital the other day, and doing a bit of whining, the nurse looked at me and said,

Once a man, twice a child.

Nuff said.

Master of the House

You are the Master of your own house. You decide what you think, do and hope for because you have the natural divine gift of free will.

The integrity of your house is our own responsibility.

Aided by the Church and being open to divine dreams we can envision a day of peace for ourselves and others.

Then your house will not be destroyed in the final judgment but preserved in the divine presence.

Maranatha, come Lord, now and forever.

Help us dream holy dreams!

Alert to What?

Do I realize I am in control? I am not a fleckless idiot. I am empowered to be and act in the image and called to the likeness of God.

Do I know how to allow the Divine to help me gain the armor of Light?

Do I know how to allow the Divine to help be cast of works of darkness?

Advent Journey

Thank you for getting this far!

Stay Awake!

Be Alert!

May your Advent journey be like Cycle A’s scriptural journey.

Let us dream holy dreams.

Here is a link to a grid analysis for the readings of Advent Cycles A, B and C: Three Year Cycle – Four Week Advent

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

 

Following Leviathan or Christ the King

Leviathan
Leviathan
ChristKing
Christ the King

Following Leviathan or Christ the King

Greetings on this the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: 2 SM 5:1-3; PS 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5; COL 1:12-20; LK 23:35-43

Choosing Leaders

In every age and in all times we have leaders. Some are foisted upon us and others are selected by us.

The first reading today indicates that David was selected after a very lengthy war between the supporters of Saul and the supporters of David (2 Sam 3:1). Accordingly David enters into agreement with the leadership of the people.

The Lord himself selected David as attested by 1 Sam 16:1ff. Samuel finds David from among the brothers of Jesse of Bethlehem.

Then we can say together God and man selected David.

Let us be careful in understanding this and not as the current political peoples do. The selection by man was a political act and one of advantage and alliance. The selection by the Lord was different. David was selected to be Shepherd and Commander. Shepherd in all its meanings but especially in the area of governance.

One cannot understand the Shepherd call absent the divine understanding of that purpose and the antithesis of that purpose. I have written often on this so perhaps we can skip that today.

Source of Power

Ultimately the purpose of the Shepherd role is to deliver us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Making peace by the blood of his cross whether those on earth or those in heaven is the Shepherd standard.

If Jesus the Christ is the standard of the Shepherd, his actions and goals should be our criteria.

Gospel

Even now you sneer?

The reading today is of the sacrificial Christ who through his Kingship accepts even death on the Cross to redeem and return us to the Lord.

We are at a decision point between King Saul or King Jesus.

We must choose here in the USA between the King of Advantage/Alliance or the King of Shepherding and of Forgiveness.

Choose well.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

Hidden in Christ

After a day bedside, I went to pharmacy to get my own medication.

A man looked at me and said,

You are hiding the cross!

He was upset.

I replied,

Rather, I am hidden in the Cross.

He replied,

I don’t hide anything.

Indeed. More Bible time needed. See Eph 1:7.

Religious intolerance not only is rude but closes one off to new expressions of the Divine.

Don’t be rude.

Blessings,

Deacon Gerry

Persist

Burning Bush

Persist

Greetings on this the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 MC 7:1-2, 9-14; PS 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 THES 2:16-3:5; LK 20:27-38

First Reading

In the first reading from the 7th chapter of the 2nd book of Maccabees we receive the martyrdom story of a woman and her 7 sons. Previously in chapter 6 is the example of martyrdom of Eleazar, a holy scribe of advanced age.

All of them being slaughtered for obeying the prohibition from eating pork (see Leviticus 11:7).

I don’t want to spend too much time on this aspect but rather refer the reader to excellent articles on how to understand the necessity of placing humanity first with this short article and/or the book:

  1. Lessons from the Pig: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/lessons-from-the-pig/
  2. Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men: Fr. Frechettee recalls how pigs eagerly eat the bodies of dead people. Thus the need to protect, honor and then bury the bodies of the dead as soon as possible after death. Father believes the early Jewish prohibition of eating pork has to do with the respect due a human person from all social classes.

Back to the young men

The four examples (of the 7) are made for our instruction regarding what each expressed as having primacy over obeying this wicked king.

  1. Son #1: Obeying the Commandments and Law. This son’s act of faith was to remain faithful to and in obedience to the 10 Commandments and the dietary laws given to Moses from God.
    (By the way the intense suffering he endured is skipped in today’s account as it is quite brutal).
  2. Son #2: Declares in the Hope of the Resurrection which he states is His Law. This son elevates the understanding of the Law to include the firmness of the promise of resurrection with the power of divine law (resurrection theology goes through many advances through the NT period).
  3. Son #3: Declares a disdain for his earthen vessel relative to being in the Divine presence. He values his earthly body as elevated to the restored person in the after-life. This is further expanded in the Psalm reading today:

    I shall find Contentment in the sight of God (Shekhinah – presence).

  4. Son #4 Divine Judgment: He declares every man’s life has a choice to be made. One ultimately will Choose Eternal Life or Eternal Death. He chose life (x-ref Deut 30:19).

Yesterday’s Gospel Reading (Saturday)

The story is told of Jesus cleansing the temple as fulfilling the scripture passage I will have zeal for the Lord. When confronted Jesus offers this prediction of a Sign:

Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.

A sign of his power and predicting as a Prophet would do and as Moses taught.

The Gospel notes that Apostles remember Jesus words about rebuilding temple in 3 days (himself/resurrection). Thus they discerned that Scripture is believable and the words of Jesus (later known as the NT) is also believable.

First Born of the Dead

Jesus is the first born of the dead. His is the first resurrection. Jesus reminds the Sadducees that this they should already know as Moses revealed this in the story of the burning bush. God is the God of the living here on Earth and there in the afterlife.

The Problem

The Sadducees exemplify the exaggeration of our problem of faith. You see the example they gave is not merely a mocking of the resurrection theology but of the very activity of God in this life. Such a dire example is given in many accounts in the OT (7 Sons, 7 Husbands). But in every other account revealing not the despair of life but embracing the life given by the divine.

Here the Sadducees link the futility of marrying seven times to assure descendents to the (for them) the ridiculous promise of an after- life. The Sadducees are attacking acts of faith in this life and the promise of life after death. They are questioning the Good Work of God.

Strength

Saint Paul gives us some encouragement to persevere in faith. He says the Lord Jesus Christ provides everlasting encouragement and the grace to do good.

PRAY

Pray, he says.

PRAY FOR US – that the evangelization of the good news will grow and continue.

Do acts of righteousness and continue to do good until the very last.

Do not worry that with your heart pointed to God, you will have the endurance of Christ.

Remember Jesus’ words as the apostles did.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

Bringing Down Walls of Defiance

Walls of Jericho

Bringing Down Walls of Defiance

Greetings on this the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: WIS 11:22-12:2; PS 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14; 2 THES 1:11-2:2; LK 19:1-10

Recap and Reengaged

The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, last week, the gospel reading was about a tax collector.

Today in the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time the gospel reading was about a tax collector, in fact, the Chief Tax Collector.

Last week the contrast was between the prayer of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector.

This week culminates Jesus’ engagement with tax collectors. It is also the culmination of another important thread: the cherished place of Jericho.

Review on Tax Collectors (for Pharisee interactions – see last week’s homily):

Taxing Isnt It 30th Sunday

Ch/Verse Summary Essential Point
Ch 3:12ff John the Baptizer (JB) – firm advice

TC – what should we do?

JB – Collect only what is prescribed.

JB offers the way of repentance which must include acts of repentance before they can avoid the Day of Wrath.
Ch 5:27-30 Jesus calls Levi the tax collector.

(also becomes Apostle)

Jesus reassures TC Levi those who are sick need the Great Physician.
Ch 7:29-34 The tax collectors baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledge the righteousness of God. TC’s got the message of JB. JC is witnessing to the fact they did go through John’s baptism after amending their ways.
Ch 15:1ff Parable of Lost Sheep – TC’s are listening. TC identify with the Lost Sheep, now found.
Ch 18:10-13 Parable of Prayer – TC – sits in back, O God be merciful to me a sinner. TC moving from repentance to full reconciliation with God.
Ch 19:1ff Zacchaeus – Top Guy – Chief TC. Today’s gospel. Zacchaeus finding his humility, repentance, and restitution in Christ.

 

When we see this as a TC continuum the words of Wisdom make all the more sense:

Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!

Zacchaeus was the Chief Tax Collector. Whatever cheating the lower level TC’s did Zacchaeus would have:

  1. Zacchaeus knew about it.
  2. Zacchaeus shared in it.
  3. Zacchaeus probably did that and more with his lower TC’s.

Nevertheless, Zacchaeus also knew and John the Baptizers warning of the Day of Wrath, the need for restitution and repentance.

Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was the source of the forgiveness and mercy. He promises:

  1. Half of his possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.
  2. I have extorted and shall repay it four times over.

Zacchaeus was defiant no more. The walls of his defiance came down with the blowing of JB’s trumpets and the joyful cry of the lower TC’s.

Jericho Intercalated and Converges

Chapter/Verse Summary Essential Point
Ch 10:30ff Parable of the Good Samaritan ‘Who is my neighbor’ reply. Includes TC’s too.

Spiritually Enlightened.

Ch 18:35ff Healing of the Blind Beggar. Keep Crying Out (prayers) God will hear you!

Physical Blindness.

Ch 19:1ff Zacchaeus – Top Guy – Chief TC. Jesus seeks and saved who is lost.

He too is a descendant of Abraham.

 

Jericho – Place of Faith

By faith the walls of Jericho fell after being encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with the disobedient, for she had received the spies in peace.

Hebrews 11:30-31

The impossible is possible, (enemy, blindness, tax collector) you can find God’s righteousness.

(Spies = messengers).

Take Heart

Are you a Chief Tax Collector? Take heart. Even the walls of Jericho fell by faith.

Repent, restore.

Trust Jesus.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

The Making of Saints

All Saints

The Making of Saints

Greetings on this the Solemnity of All Saints

Readings: RV 7:2-4, 9-14; PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6; 1 JN 3:1-3; MT 5:1-12A

Taking a Name

In the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) we go through the process of helping the Candidates (Confirmandi) select a Confirmation Name. The name is selected from the thousands of names of men and women who have been recognized by the Church to have been Saints. Early in Church history this was done by a community acclamation – a strong voice of the people to declare – ‘This One Served God In Life and In Death Now Lives in Heaven’. Today the Congregation for the Cause of Saints is responsible for the process while the canonization decision sits with the Supreme Pontiff. It is from these names the Seal is used.

During Confirmation a Confirmandi by name is sealed by the laying of hands and the anointing of the sacred chrism.

How To Pick

I usually start with the known hierarchy of prayer warriors (to use the current language). The Blessed Mary is considered the premiere intercessor for humanity by virtue of her saintly life, relationship to her Son, and her being given over to the Church. Even today she intercedes with the Father for your needs.

After Mary comes her husband, Joseph. Joseph was honored with the patriarchal patron of the universal church.

Then in order the glorious Apostles, the noble prophets, the army of martyrs and the full body of saints who sing with joy. This entire company of saints live in heaven, praising the Lord and working side by side with the Creator for the benefit of the human family and all creation.

As we say in the Mass: On whose constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help

So Many

We go further and talk about ways in which to pick while always being guided by prayer and the aid of the Holy Spirit. I ask them to consider these questions when selecting a saint name:

  1. Which saint do you most want to be like?
  2. Which saint do you think can help you the most?
  3. Which saint can help you by their patronage for a location, occupation, state of life, or condition?

The Best Question

After they consider all the above I ask them to process their answer through the Beatitudes. In the end, and our gospel reading today, it is the Beatitudes that describe the Saintliness of a person. How closely or verifiably a person lives the beatitudes is the greatest indication of their closeness to and living out the image of God. For the beatitudes describe the activity of God.

If they really struggle I ask them to read through the beatitudes and pick the one beatitude that either they most want to be or need to most help becoming. Then look again at the list of saints that fit that perspective.

It’s a great journey to take.

Which beatitude do you most want to be or most need help with?

Pray for intercessors to aid you on your way.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry

Taxing Isnt It

Change is Taxing

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

First Look

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.

Second Look

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:

  1. You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee?
  2. Go and first bear fruit of repentance.

The tax collectors having heard this exchange, who wished to be baptized, ask with trepidation:

  1. Teacher what shall we do?
  2. 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.

Temple Prayer

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?

Continuous Conversion

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.

Repent.

Peace be with you,

Deacon Gerry