October 23, 2016
SIR 35:12-14, 16-18 PS 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23 2 TM 4:6-8, 16-18 LK 18:9-14
Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel sets a clear delineation between the pride of the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector. Each of us would like to say we’re more of the latter than the former, but it would be more honest to admit it’s probably the other way around. I know it’s that way with me, and I catch myself from time to time. That’s not false humility, by the way – if we’re honest with ourselves, it should be obvious we fall into that trap more often than we care to admit.
But here’s the thing – God already knows about our virtues and holiness, and neither are impossible without His grace and help. What He wants is for us to be aware of our shortcomings, and recognizing that without Him, we’re incapable of doing any good whatsoever. It’s not He enjoys hearing we’re in need of His mercy – that would be sadistic. No, it’s that He desires to shower us with it when we seek it. When we praise ourselves for how we haven’t fallen – “even like this tax collector” – we’ve committed an even bigger sin. God doesn’t compare us to other people – that’s a human thing. As Sirach tells us in the first reading: “The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” But if we approach him with humility and honesty, then Jesus assures us we will be justified.
We get no credit for pointing out the relative smallness of our sins to others or to God. How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, it’s not like I’ve murdered anyone or anything.” As if murder was the worst sin possible. The worst sin is thinking oneself better than others, beyond the need of God’s mercy, and capable of goodness without His grace.