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Reflection on the Sunday Gospel by Fr. Isidore Clarke, O.P. 30th Sunday Ordinary Time

Reflection on the Sunday Gospel by Fr. Isidore Clarke, O.P.                                   30th Sunday Ordinary Time

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Greetings from Fr. Isidore Clarke on the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

In last week's Gospel Jesus used the parable of the widow and the unjust judge to urge us to persist in praying and not give up hope. In today's Gospel, Luke 18. 9-14, He uses the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector to teach us how we should approach God when we pray.

But beware: this parable sets a trap for us.See if you can spot it before I finish.See if you can avoid falling into it!

I bet all of us are shocked at the way this Pharisee prayed in the temple. Instead of praising God, he praises himself!

The Pharisee then compounded his fault.Like an artist, who wants to emphasise a pale colour, he places it alongside a dark one. So now the Pharisee contrasts himself with the tax collector, who had also come to pray in the temple.While the Pharisee took pride in his observance of God's Law he contrasted himself with the tax collector and everyone else whom he dismissed as worthless sinners. The Pharisee was probably right in thinking the tax collector couldn't have known and, therefore, have kept God's Law.Also, tax collectors were notorious for extortion and despised as collaborators for working for the Roman occupiers.

God, the Pharisee thought, should be as pleased with him as he was with himself!But if none of us likes a boaster, God certainly would not have been impressed by a man who came to the temple to sing his own praises, rather than God's.That's not prayer!Still less does God welcome people who write others off as worthless sinners.God never does that.

The Pharisee would have been shocked to be told that God would have been pleased with the repentant sinner, rather than with him –the observant keeper of the Law, a pillar of the Jewish community.But the tax collector –the repentant sinner -was open to receive God's mercy, while the self-righteous Pharisee saw no need for it.And yet such pride may well have been a worse offence than the extortion for which tax collectors were notorious.Pride blinds the self-righteous to their faults and prevents them from seeking forgiveness.Humbly recognising our faults leads us to seek the balm of the divine physician's mercy.

Of course Jesus didn't condemn the Pharisee for obeying God's Law, nor did He praise the tax collector for not doing so.But while the observant Pharisee was so wrong in being so smugly self-righteous and thinking he could impress God, the tax collector was so right in humbly throwing himself on God's mercy. He was only aware of his sinfulness and his need to seek God's forgiveness.He certainly didn't remind God of his virtues or other people's vices!

Now what about the trap in this parable? I wonder if you've spotted it.I bet we've all been horrified at the self-righteousness of the Pharisee and have said to ourselves, 'Thank God I'm not like him!'That's the way Jesus expected us to react to this parable.But if we did, we've fallen right into the trap and have become as guilty of self-righteousness as the Pharisee we condemn.And we dig an even deeper pit for ourselves if, like the Pharisee in this parable, we concentrate on other people's faults rather than our own, especially if we pride ourselves on being good decent Christians.

As the saying goes, 'When you're in a hole stop digging.'So, if we are to draw close to God we must stop relying on our efforts and, like the sinful tax collector, throw ourselves on God's love and mercy. Never must we think we are good enough to enter God's company and that He owes us any favours. Salvation is God's free gift, not something any of us deserves. It's far better to place our trust in the Lord than our own feeble efforts!Like the tax collector we should concentrate on our own faults, rather than other peoples.' We should remember that, when we come to confession. `

A final thought.Certainly we may have the responsibility of correcting other people when they behave badly.But let us always do it out of love for the sinner, while condemning the sin.We must try to build them up, not keep them down with a crushing burden of guilt, with no hope of forgiveness.And we must all realise that we never see the whole picture –the good the person has done, the temptations he's had to face and has sometimes overcome.

Above all, we must remember that each one of us is in need of God's mercy.Our salvation depends upon His forgiveness, not our goodness.Unless we realise that and seek God's forgiveness we cannot enter his kingdom.And if we can't avoid noticing someone else's faults let us humbly admit, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'

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