My homily, as heard this past week on Sacred Heart Radio's 'The Gospel Today.'
Every once in a while, especially in the Gospel of Luke as we have been hearing over the past year, Jesus presents us with a type of ‘anti-hero,’ someone who on the surface should not be held up as an example for us to follow, yet there is a depth to this person’s own self-awareness that we cannot help but be drawn into the experience. This happens again this week as it did in last Sunday’s Gospel with the Unjust Judge. Today, we see the contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee versus the humility of the tax collector. The former, the Pharisee, is the example that every believing Jew at the time of Jesus would want to follow after: they looked the part, they said the right things, they held the prominent places at the synagogues, in the Temple and at banquets.
Yet, Jesus tells us that his prayers are not answered, they fall upon the deaf ears of God.
In contrast, Jesus holds up the example of the tax collector: one who is shunned, one who is reputed to be a thief, a cheat, a cooperator with the evil Roman Government. I always get the sense that when the tax collectors are named in the Gospels, there is this underlying booing and hissing that comes from the crowd, the Imperial March from Star Wars plays in the back of my mind. These are not people to follow, these are not people to be respected; yet Jesus tells us that his prayers are heard by God. Hold on a sec, here, this sinner is the one who has God’s ear? Yep, and he gives us a model to use for our prayers.
You see, the tax collector was the one who recognized that he needed the Grace of God in order to go about his day, he was the one who recognized that he was a sinner, that he was imperfect, that he made mistakes. And coming to these realizations, he also realized he needed God’s presence in his life to overcome his shortcomings. And this is where the Pharisee, who should have recognized all of this, was actually blinded by his own pride and arrogance, and approached God not out of humility, but out of a sense of entitlement. And for this, his prayers went unheard.
Now, the challenge is to apply these lessons to our daily life, to examine our own motivations, our own prayers, and hopefully to recognize that we also need to approach the Father as did the tax collector, and not like the Pharisee. We have to recognize that without the Grace of Christ, without His presence in our lives, we fall short. We would be unable to live the life that Jesus has called us to. We have to recognize that we have done nothing to earn the love of Jesus other than just be, and he loves us deeply just because of that.
So, there needs to be a balance in our lives between the recognition that we are unworthy versus that gift of grace of God which gives us the dignity to be call a son or daughter of God.
But our starting point is to be that recognition of our own weakness, our sometime ineptitude, our own mistakes. We lay these at the foot of the Cross, for only in the strength of Christ are we able to overcome them and shine forth the grace of our own redemption.
One thing I have come to realize in my work as Vocation Director, in my work of walking along with the men who are in formation to the priesthood, is that while God does call us to perfection, He also recognizes that this is something that we will never be able to achieve, especially if we go it alone. His grace is what enables us to be able to live the life He calls us to.
And honestly, in can be frustrating. We want to be perfect, we want to be completely transparent, leading others to Christ in all that we say and do, yet we still sin, we still fall short, we still are in need of a deeper conversion.
And as we recognize this need, that is when Jesus is able to do the most in us. I am convinced that the best healer is a wounded healer, and this is where the Tax collector shines forth in a greater beauty. As he recognizes his short comings, he will eventually be able to lead others to Christ so that they may experience the same healing that he experienced.
Let us all learn from the example of the tax collector, and lay our weaknesses at the foot of the Cross, so that Christ, who heals all things may heal even our souls and lead us to a closer union with himself.