By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 30h Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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The Secret of Good Worship

Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14

The story is told that one day Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I'm not,” replied the man. “I'm guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden the king said, “Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here!” The biblical saying proves true, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

Today's gospel is one to which every believer needs to pay close attention. It is the story of two believers, a Pharisee and a tax collector. It is important to underline the facts that both men were believers in the same God, both belonged to the same religion and both worshipped in the same temple. Both men were active believers who participated in temple worship and said their daily prayers. But what do we see? At the end of the worship one of them went home at peace with God but the other did not. We all, believers in God, need to pay attention to this story not only to learn the secret of offering a worship acceptable to God but also of leading a life of faith that leads to justification and not disappointment at the end of the day.

It will help us to appreciate the point of this parable if we try to understand a little bit more of who the Pharisees were. It often comes to us as a surprise to hear that the Pharisees were, in fact, very disciplined and devout men of religion. Pharisees were serious-minded believers who had committed themselves to a life of regular prayer and observance of God's Law. In fact, they went beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, even though the law only required people to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement. They gave tithes of all their income and not just of the required parts. When the Pharisee in the parable said, “I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income” (Luke 18:11-12) he wasn't kidding. Few Christians today can measure up to the visible moral standards of the Pharisees.

Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. Because tax collectors worked for the pagan Romans, mixed up with them and constantly handled their unclean money they were said to be in a state of ritual uncleanliness. As far as the religion of the day was concerned, tax collectors were public sinners on the highway to hell. But the tax collectors knew that the voice of people is not always the voice of God. They still hoped for salvation not on the merit of any religious or moral achievements of theirs but on the gracious mercy of God.

Believing in God does not really save anybody. James tells us that the devil himself believes in God and trembles with fear (James 2:19). Rather, what really matters is what people believe about God and how their faith in God affects their view of themselves and of others. The Pharisees believed in a discriminating God who loves good people and hates bad people. People behave like the God they believe in. So the Pharisees quickly learn to love only good people like themselves and look down with contempt on bad people and sinners like the tax collectors. Jesus told this parable against the Pharisees because they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt” (verse 9). The tax collector, on the other hand, trusted not in himself or in anything he had done but only in God’s mercy. Standing far off, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 13). This is the man who went home at peace with God and not the self-righteous Pharisee.

Like the Pharisee and the tax collector we too have come to God's house to offer worship and prayers. Like them we too hope to go home at the end of this service reconciled and at peace with God. Then let us learn from the tax collector the secret of worshipping in a manner that is acceptable to God. Firstly, we should not listen to other people or even to our own consciences when they tell us that God is so angry with us that He cannot possible forgive us. Secondly, we must acknowledge our sinfulness and entrust ourselves to the generous mercy of God which is bigger than any sins we might have committed. Finally, we promise God to never to look down on our fellow sinners but to help them in their search for God, just as the tax collector is helping us today in our search for God. Remember, God always opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

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