October 27, 2013
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 Sir 35:12-14, 16-18
Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Some folks reminded me at Mass this morning that today is my 50th birthday. As a birthday present, I’ll give you a rather short homily. As to why this is a good gift, more later.
It’s tempting to think that the point of today’s gospel is that the Pharisee is merely prideful and ought to be considering his own faults instead of the faults of the tax collector . . . . except, we cannot assume that what the Pharisee says is wrong.nnFor, as a Pharisee, he would have found it exceptionally important to follow the divine law, which indeed required him to do the things about which he boasted: Fasting twice a week, Paying tithes on his whole income. Meanwhile, the tax collector was likely the bad man that Pharisee sought to avoid becoming: Greedy—taking his cut of the taxes collected; Dishonest—cheating the Jewish people, collecting more than required by the Romans; Adulterous—working in cahoots with the Romans—the despised occupiers of the land—for whom the tax collector worked for them made him, in an analogous sense, an adulterer. So, it is likely that the Pharisee’s characterization of the two men was spot on: one carefully observant of the commands of God, the other wicked, greedy, dishonest, and adulterous.
What is it, then, that leads Jesus to praise the greedy, wicked, adulterous man and condemn the sincerely observant religious man?
The key to understanding Jesus’ parable are the words that begin the teaching: “Two people went up to the temple area to pray.” For, as it turns out, only one of the men is actually praying. The Pharisee, we note, merely details all his successes in the observance of this faith and presents them to Jesus. His prayer is about himself, not about God. On the other hand, the tax collector actually prays—he speaks to God, asking God to help him. For, above all, prayer is God-focused—not us-focused. The fact that the tax collector acknowledges his sinfulness is merely a quick, shorthand way to take himself out of the center of the conversation with God, and rather focus primarily on God.
Friends, we have come here to pray—which is God-focused, not people-focused.
May I briefly remind of the classic Catholic method of prayer that is called lectio divina, as example of what prayer is to be: It is a four step method of prayer, meant to take the focus off us and on to God. I call the four steps: READ, REFLECT, REQUEST, REST.
READ—read a passage of scripture, especially the gospels. I’d recommend, for your daily prayer, the gospel for each day, printed weekly in the bulletin. The word of God draws us away from ourselves and to the voice of God.
REFLECT—reflect on the meaning of the passage, particularly with the question: what are you trying to say to me, God. This is different than “figuring out” the passage. Instead, let the passage figure you out! What are you trying to say to me, God, through your word?” is the question to guide reflection.
REQUEST—Ask God for what you need. The focus is on God—what do you need God to do for you?
REST—Sit in quiet, and let God care for you. Sit, rapt and attentive, and silent, at the feet of the Master. This is when we let God be God—and trust that God is doing great things for me, in my soul, even if I can’t know immediately what it is. For me, this works best in church, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, in adoration.
Adoration is a powerful word—coming from the Latin adoratio—ad ora—to the mouth—literally going mouth to mouth with God. I’m reminded of the small bird that opens wide its mouth to receive from the mouth of its mother the food that it needs. This is adoration, our coming, with hungry mouths, to the mouth of God, to be fed.
We have come here, though without a doubt flawed and sinful before our God, above all not to focus on ourselves, but on our God. We do that through prayer—READING God’s word, REFLECTING on it in during the homily, REQUESTING what we need in the general intercessions and through our own intentions, and the RESTING in adoration. Adoration—most clearly when the Blessed Sacrament is shown to us before Communion—is our coming with hungry mouths to the mouth of God, who feeds us with word and sacrament. We come in adoration—not focusing on others, and not even primarily focusing on ourselves—knowing our need to be fed, and confident in faith that only One can feed us with an everlasting Bread of Life.
So, I’ve kept this short—so we can get to the adoration—so we can be fed.