A new company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hires a new CEO. The new boss is determined to rid the company of all the slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO notices a guy leisurely leaning against the wall. The room is full of workers and he thinks this is the chance to show everyone he means business!
The CEO walks up to the guy and asks, “... and how much money do you make a week?” Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $200 a week, why?”
The CEO then hands the guy $200 in cash and yells, “Here's a week's pay, now Get Out and don't come back!”
Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asks, “Does anyone want to tell me what the slacker did here?”
With a sheepish grin, one of the other workers mutters, “That was the pizza delivery guy!”
Can you imagine how embarrassed the CEO would be? He had no body to blame but himself. He was so eager to impress others that he risked to lose his relationships with them all. At the end, he looked small and ridiculous.
We are in the midterm elections season. Political candidates are campaigning for public offices, governorship as well as in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. All candidates are presenting themselves as superior to their opponents. The Republican candidates are saying that the Democratic candidates are not good for the country. The Democratic candidates are saying that the Republican candidates are bad for the country. They enjoy bragging about their achievements and their understanding of what America needs. And they are proud that they can do things better than the others. We are hearing echo very much sound like that of the Pharisee’s in the Gospel’s reading.
Pharisees were well respected and honored members of the Jewish community. They were lay people dedicated to studying and diligently following the law. A Pharisee knew the law as the Torah, the Mishna, and the Talmud. The name Pharisee literally means, “The separated ones.” They took the teaching in Leviticus 11:14 very seriously: “Be holy, for I am holy.” Holy means to be separated or set apart. So as God was set apart from creation, the Pharisee tried to be set apart from the world. This attitude was manifested in the prayer of the Pharisee.
He had a great sense of self-confident. He wanted to make sure that God knew of his righteousness. The temple area was familiar to him. He knew of the people there. He went into the temple and confidently took up his position. He spoke his prayer aloud. He surely believed that he was not like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. He was special and important! He fasted and he tithed. Most of all, he was not like the Tax-collector, shamefully standing at a distance in the back of the temple.
The Tax-collector, his name suggested exactly what he did for a living. He collected taxes.
In Jesus’ time, Tax-collector was considered the scum in their community. They worked for the pagan Romans. They collected taxes for the Roman Empire. The more tax money they collected, the larger amount they could keep for themselves. People would cheer and show respect to the Pharisee and despised the Tax-collector.
Tax-collector was not liked among his own people. So the Tax-collector knew where he stood among his people. His only hope was in God’s mercy. So he went into the temple and stood off at a distance. He was in no way compared to the Pharisee. He was not proud of what he did. He felt terribly guilty and unworthy. He was not confident to look up or raised his eyes to heaven. He did not have anything to brag about. What he had was a guilty soul with sinful background. He could only beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
But very interesting, Jesus said, this Tax-collector went home justified, and the Pharisee was not. The Tax-collector was able to impress God, and the Pharisee was not. What was wrong?
The Opening Prayer today shows us the true way to impress God.
“Praise be You, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no power for good which does not come from your covenant, and no promise to hope in that your love has not offered. “(Alternate Opening Prayer for Sunday 30th).
This was the reason why the Tax-collector went home justified and the Pharisee was not.
The tax-collector prayed with humility. He was totally dependent on God’s mercy. He asked for forgiveness so that he could have good relationship with God.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, was bragging about his achievements. He did not acknowledge that God was the source of all goodness and salvation. He believed that his observations of the law make him righteous. He was correct about everything he said in his prayer. His only problem was that he had not established a relationship with God. His prayer was the evidence of that. He was still trying to convince God. He came to God with an attitude that he deserved to have a relationship with God because he had earned it. God owed him the relationship. He left the temple without making a positive impression on God. He still had no relationship with God.
St. Paul was also a Pharisee. He became an Apostle. He was proud of his achievements too. He said in the second reading, “I have competed well. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. At my appearance, everyone deserted me, but God stood by me. He gave me strength . . . God rescued me . . .” St. Paul acknowledged that God was the source of his strength. God was helping him to do all the good things.
The Pharisee had an opportunity to pray and worship, but he left the temple untransformed.
We also go to church. We also pray and worship. Are we going home transformed or untransformed? Will we make an impression on God or not?
To be justified and transformed, it is important that we avoid the attitude of the Pharisee, and to take on the attitude of the Tax-collector and pray like the Tax-collector. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” God knows us from inside out. We come to Mass to worship in solidarity with one another. We do not separate ourselves from one another. No matter who we are. No matter how much we have. And no matter what our social status is. We are united as the people of God. We receive the same bread. We drink from the same cup. We call one another brothers and sisters. We are constantly reminded that we are sinners. But we often tend to act more like the Pharisee. We need to stop behaving like the Pharisee, and learn to pray like the Tax-Collector.
Right at the beginning of the Mass, we and all Catholics around the world, pray together,
“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault, (the new translation should be like this, “It is my fault; it is my fault; it is my entire fault.” (We strike our breast three times and continue), “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do . . .”
So right at the beginning of the Mass we acknowledge that we are sinners. Do you agree with this? We have to admit that we all are sinners. All the good deeds we have done are the grace of God. Then after our confession of sin, we ask for God’s mercy.
Lord have mercy;
Christ have mercy;
Lord have mercy.
Then the celebrant prays, “May Almighty God have mercy on us. Forgive us our sins; and bring us to everlasting life.”
Again, before receiving Communion, the priest says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Have you heard it? It is the Lamb. It is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world. It is Jesus who takes away our sins. It is Jesus who will justify us. Then everyone responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say a word and my soul will be healed.”
We are healed. We are justified. We are made righteous by the power of God, and nothing else.
We will make a great impression on God when we pray these prayers at Mass with true humility. God only hears the cry of the poor. The poor is the one who realizes that he or she is a sinner; a true sinner who does not have anything to brag about before God. He depends entirely on God’s mercy! And when we pray with this attitude, every time we come to Mass and go home, we will be justified and transformed.