Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time-C
I grew up in St. Laurence parish on the South Side of Chicago. It was a very beautiful and enriching experience in many ways. But like anything else human, it suffered from the blindness revealed in today’s Gospel. Over the years, I have found myself growing in awareness of the many prejudices and the ignorance that were implanted in me by my early Irish Catholic formation.
First of all, we had a wide open highway to hell for others. Protestants and fallen away Catholics, especially the divorced, led the parade. The role of women was very clear: in the kitchen and preferably pregnant. The great sin was birth control. The “colored people”, the operative polite term of respect for African Americans in my youth, were inferior and happy to stay on the other side of 47th St. where God put them. As Catholics, we were very patriotic and in full support of the insanity of nuclear escalation. We were proud to be Catholics leading the way in the censorship of movies to maintain pelvic orthodoxy. I think the Communion line in my parish today would not have made it past the censors. We never gave a thought to Hollywood’s glorification of booze, smoking and violence. Mexicans were the only Hispanics I knew, and this only thru movies. They were always total losers only topped by the savagery of Native Americans who attacked the white settlers. I could go on at length about clerical dominance but the point is clear. St. Laurence, however, had no monopoly on hypocrisy. Organized religion, no matter how beautiful and profound, is never too far removed from the Pharisee in today’s Gospel.
I do not think often enough about what the next generation will see in our parish and today’s Church that is so completely off the radar of Gospel values. I am sure that there is a lot to consider even if it is hidden from our awareness at this time.
There are two powerful points in today’s parable. It continues Luke’s often repeated theme of reversal. In God’s coming revealed in Jesus, things will be put in the order of true reality. God is at the center. What is real flows from this recognition. It will not be that distorted world that places us at the center. This is the world of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel text.
Secondly, the Pharisee exposes the tendency of the human heart that we all share. The human heart tends to be an idol making machine. On the other hand, the Publican’s posture of humility exposes the goodness and mercy of God and our role as broken but loved and forgiven sinners. To share the openness and integrity of the tax collector is quite a spiritual feat. St. Teresa of Avila teaches the utter importance of self-knowledge. She practiced it so well that she could say at the end her life, that her life’s story is a story of God’s mercy.
The most fundamental truth of today’s parable is that every human heart is torn between the pull of the Pharisee’s arrogance and the tax collector’s humility and self knowledge. The power of the message is that the God of mercy revealed by Jesus forgives sinners. All we need to do is recognize our need to get in line for this liberating gift!