Gospel Meditation

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee and the tax collector—polar opposites by practice. The one is a religious leader, a professional follower-of-the-law. The other is a deviant who extorts money for himself as he goes about his economic business. But in today’s parable, Jesus flips these perceptions around. The humble tax collector is the one who “went home justified.” Whereas the Pharisee has a flawless outer appearance, when we see a glimpse into his inner thoughts we detect his vanity and presumption. We see a man who may keep the letter of the law, but who is not truly converted to God’s ways in his heart. The tax collector, on the other hand, pleads for God’s mercy, recognizing that he needs it.

So, which one are we? Honestly, most of us are probably a combination of these two character types. Most of us follow God’s laws some of the time, and fail to do so at other times. But the important point is to honestly acknowledge when we do fail, and to ask God to have mercy upon us. If we think we have nothing about which to plead for mercy, chances are we are living in a kind of self-imposed blindness like the Pharisee. When we won’t admit we need help, it’s hard to get the help we need! Instead, we should humble ourselves by honestly examining our conscience (regularly!) and seeking God’s forgiveness, particularly through reconciliation, the great sacrament of divine mercy.

As hard as it may be for some of us to confess our sins to a priest, this humble act of acknowledging our failings prepares us to be “justified” like the tax collector who cried out, “Be merciful to me a sinner!”