The Pharisee in today’s Gospel is the “bad guy” while the tax-collector is the “good guy.” I have time in this homily to speak only of the “bad guy!” Actually, if we look more closely, the Pharisee, like many of us good practicing Catholics, was a good man who tried to practice his faith fervently. He even went beyond fulfilling the obligations of the Law. The Law required that they only needed to fast once a year during the Day of Atonement. However, this Pharisee fasted twice a week – probably on every Mondays and Thursdays; and this is one hundred times more than what the Law required of him! The tithe-giving Law of paying taxes on earnings was imposed only on certain agricultural products, but this Pharisee pays tithes on all that he earned.
If we just look at the facts of what the Pharisee prayed he was actually stating the truth; he did not lie; he did actually pay his tithes, fasted twice a week, he was honest, just and did not commit any adultery, like the rest of mankind and the tax-collector.
So, what was really wrong with the Pharisee? What began to go wrong in his prayer was when he began to compare himself with other sinners; when he began to think highly of himself and praise himself for the good that he has done. All these self praise became worse when he began to look down on others.His prayer became disastrous and was rejected by God when he began to condemn them for being evil; in short, when he became self-righteous and proud. That was the beginning of his downfall; otherwise, if he had not done that, he would have probably been a good model for the other Jews to imitate.
The challenge of today’s Gospel is first to recognise that if we are able to do good, if we are able to live exemplary moral lives and are able to be totally faithful to our spouses, and are able to bring up good children and are able to come to Mass every Sunday, and pray and also be very successful in our career and have not compromised in any way in the practice of our faith, then, we should simply thank God for all the abundant blessings that we have received from Him; that’s all!
There is a story of this bus driver, Jack who thinks so highly of himself; he looks down on other bus drivers and prides himself for being the most popular driver in Singapore. He was so good that the travel agencies head hunted him and snapped him up by giving him double pay. Jack would drive people all over Singapore and even on tours in Europe. On one of the trips, an old aunty came up to him as ask Jack, “Jack, would you like some nuts? Oh hazel nuts; they are my favourite. Thank you so much, aunty.” Jack gleaned and ate away the hazel nuts and thought to himself, even old aunties love me, as he drove along the highways. One hour later the same old aunty would come up and offered him more hazel nuts . . . and then again the same thing for the next two hours. Finally, Jack pulled up the bus and stopped for a short coffee break. Being curious he asked, “Aunty, the hazel nuts are so delicious, where do you buy them.” Oh, aunty replied, “Oh, just before we got on the bus. You see, we like chocolates a lot and because we have no teeth, we can only eat the chocolates; so I am sorry if the nuts were a bit gave you are a bit moist!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are times when we are tempted to think that we know a lot of what is happening around us. Jack and the Pharisee fell into the same trap. So, when we are very good and gifted as a Christian; simply thank God for the blessings that He has given us. Don’t begin to compare, don’t begin to look around; don’t begin to ask and comment why so and so are living hypocritical lives, why so and so are divorced, or is an alcoholic or is such a nasty and corrupt or irresponsible person and the like.
It is not up to us to judge others; leave the judging to God. All we need to do is to focus on trying to be more Christ-like by becoming more forgiving, more compassionate, more generous and selfless in our service of the needs of others; just try to be more faithful and fervent in our prayers and more passionate in our efforts to love God more fully in our daily living.
Well, you may tell me, “Father, but it is very much part of our lives that while we relate with people, we cannot help but be affected by the way they live.” Yes, sure, we are affected by people, but still, we are should not judge, gossip and let alone condemn other people for the way they live. This is precisely why Jesus mixed with sinners, tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the blind, the lepers, the poor and the needy instead of condemning them. These were all sinners that Jesus came to forgive and show His Mercy unlike the Pharisees and the Scribes, who rejected, marginalised and looked down on.
Today is Mission Sunday, and we are called to bring the Gospel values of Jesus to all peoples. If we begin to be judgmental about people, we are in effect cutting them off and driving them further away from God. That is why even as Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He forgave them and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they did not know what they were doing,” in doing so, He continued to leave the gates of heaven open to them. Once we condemn someone through our prejudice views of them and harbour bad thoughts about them, we immediately act and behave like a self-righteous Pharisee. In fact, we immediately also restrict the Holy Spirit from helping us to grow to become more Christ-like. This is because the negative views and the bad thoughts that we have of people will always be blinding us and never enlightening us to Christ’s truths.
There is a story of how one day as Gandhi was getting on a train, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on a track. He was clearly unable to retrieve it as the train was pulling out of the station. To the amazement of his companion, Gandhi calmly took of his other shoe and threw it on the track beside his first shoe. His companion asked him why he did that, Gandhi smiled and said, “The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair that he can wear.” (adapted: “Laughing Christ, collected reflections of Joseph Galdon,S.J. pg. 259.)
My sisters and brothers in Christ, our Christian vocation on Mission Sunday is to remind us to light a candle and bring hope to peoples’ lives, and not curse the darkness of our pains in life and more so, not to condemn the sins of people through being self-righteous like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel.
To capture Christ’s Spirit of compassion, light and hope to others,instead of the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee , as we celebrate Mission Sunday, I would like to end with us reflecting on a poem written by a Jesuit in India for a moment: (adapted “Happiness Manufacturers, by Hedwig Lewis, S.J.)
One song can spark a moment,
One flower can wake a dream.
One tree can start a forest,
One bird can herald spring.
One smile can begin a friendship,
One handclasp can lift a soul.
One star can guide a ship at sea,
One word can frame the goal.
One vote can change a nation,
One sunbeam can light up a room.
One candle can wipe out darkness,
One laugh can conquer gloom.
One step must start each journey,
One word must start each prayer.
Our hope can raise our spirits,
One touch can show you care.
One voice can speak with wisdom,
One heart can know what’s true,
One life can make the difference,
You see, in the end, it’s all up to you!
When we return to our homes today, it is good that we reflect on this question, “Do we curse the darkness of sinners and pain of this world through the self-righteous attitude of the Pharisee or do we share the light of hope and peace of Christ?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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