Entrance Antiphon: Ps 105(104):3-4 – “Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice; turn to the Lord and His strength; constantly seek His face. First Reading: Sir 35:12-14, 16-18 – “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” Responsorial Psalm: Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23 – “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Second Reading: 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18 – “From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me.” Alleluia: 2 Cor 5:19 –“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, and entrusting to us the message of salvation.” Gospel: Lk 18:9-14 – “The tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home justified.”
Communion Antiphon: Ps 20(19):6 – “We will ring out our joy at Your saving help and exult in the name of our God.
When future historians write about this generation, they may comment on our hunger for self-knowledge. Hardly a week goes by when we do not receive mail ... either paper or electronic ... about a workshop, a course or a conference designed to help us grow in self-knowledge. These invitations usually come with a guarantee that this self-knowledge will make the participant a better person, a better spouse, a better parent, a better employer or employee ... a better man or woman. The basic premise is that, by knowing oneself better, one can become more responsible, more in control of his or her life and destiny, can become more self-assured. Jesus even said in Saint John’s Gospel that the truth will set you free (Jn 8:32). But it is still important to ask: What is truth?
The Pharisee and the tax collector both stand before God, each expressing his own truth. On one level, the Pharisee is correct in his self-analysis. By all standards, he is a good and faithful Jew.
Yet his relationship with God seems based on rewards and punishments. His prayer sounds more like a monologue than a heartfelt plea. He approaches the Lord like a business-person asserting rights and expectations. The center of his life is his ego and not his God! Even his comparison with the tax collector is geared to bolstering his superiority. He has failed to understand the most basic rule of Judaism: You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Dt. 6:5).
The tax collector, on the other hand, is a sinner in the eyes of others and even in his own estimation. Living on the fringes of Jewish society, many see him as a thief and a collaborator. I think I remember it was Groucho Marx who once said: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” The tax collector in the Gospel this weekend would most likely have shared that sentiment! His acknowledgement of his sinfulness stands in marked contrast with the self-centered superiority of the Pharisee.
The tax collector recognizes the basic truth that we cannot earn our way to heaven. We have to depend totally on God’s free gift of grace. God owes us nothing, yet He gives us everything. If only self-help programs could help us embrace that truth: No matter how successful we are in this life, when it comes to eternal life, we depend totally on God. Paul the Apostle knew this early on but came to a deeper understanding as he grew older. As we heard in today’s reading, he knew everything, including his achievements, came from God. He writes, The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.
As we stand before the Lord in prayer ... whenever we stand before the Lord in prayer ... we should strive to do so in honesty and truth. To think that we can save ourselves or enter into eternal life through our own endeavors is to delude ourselves. Instead, we must face the truth of our human weakness and in that honest moment make room for God in our lives. This is the real truth that will set us free!