Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tissot - pharisee & tax collector.jpg

 Luke 18.9-14

"Lord, be merciful to me for I am a sinner"

The Pharisee of today's parable was, if we take him at his word, a man of outstanding merit. Fasting twice a week, giving tithes of all his possessions, here was a man who went well beyond the prescriptions of the Law, a man truly dedicated to his religious duties. Surely, in justice, God was bound to give him credit for all his virtue. Here was a man who had no need to ask God's forgiveness, indeed no need to ask for anything at all. In fact, it would seem really that he had no need even of God – for he “stood there and said this prayer to himself”.

In contrast, the tax collector “stood some distance away”, probably hiding in the shadows, “not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven”. His way of life was poles apart from that of the Pharisee's. He worked for the occupying Roman power and made his living by charging extortionate rates of tax, even from the poor, from which he could take his cut! He has nothing to talk to God about but the honest truth that he is “a sinner”. He can do no more than ask God for mercy, and his prayer is heard – “he went home again at rights with God”.

Jesus addressed this parable “to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else”. Once again he challenges the ways of the world, including the world of religious practice. There is simply no place for judging others. In our prayer we must face up to our own weakness and brokenness, our need of the help, love, patience and forgiveness of God and neighbour. We come to church not because of our worthiness, but because of our need. We admit we are sinners, but sinners willing to try to do better. So we humbly seek the healing mercy of God and the understanding support of one another.