GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER!
(Biblical reflection on the 30th Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 23 October 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14
First Reading: Sirach 35:12-14,16-18; Psalms: Psalm 34:2-3,17-19,23; Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breath, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 RSV)
Jesus meant this parable, says Luke, for those “who trusted in themselves”, those who thought they were “just, and despised others”. An how many of us can say “He didn’t mean me?”
The Pharisee goes to the temple at the hour of prayer. Perhaps he even went twice a day to pray. Nine o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the afternoon were the traditional hours of prayer. He was not an outright liar: he did give ten per cent of his income to the temple, he did fast twice a week, and it was a very strict fast on Mondays and Thursdays, no food and even no water.
With all his fasting and prayer, why doesn’t the Pharisee deserve the Lord’s praise? Because he despises his neighbor. He is so important in his own eyes that he rejects the thought that anyone not of his clique might also be pleasing to God. In the parable’s “prayer” of Pharisee, Jesus has captured the man’s spirit: “God needs me because of my excellent observance of the law, but who needs these sinners, these thieves, cheaters, adulterers, this scum of society?” He has broken the greatest law of all. He has entirely misread his Bible, ignoring God’s real message of love.
Far back, behind the proud Pharisee, stands a sinner, an outcast, a “lawbreaker”. But this man knows who needs whom. He is not proud of his accomplishments. His head is bowed in shame. But he knows where to turn for justice and mercy and forgiveness. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
This man is acceptable to God, says Jesus, because he knows the truth about himself and he faces it with a sincere heart. He also knows God well – the God of love and mercy who forgives honest sinners, sinners who know themselves. He knows, “I need God, I need Him totally to cleanse my life, and I trust in Him.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living and loving God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, I need You. I see my sin and want to be done with it forever. Cleanse me, Lord, that I might do Your will. I love You. Amen.
Jakarta, 21 October 2016
A Christian Pilgrim