Today’s gospel is the parable about a self involved Pharisee, who prayed thanking God that he wasn’t like the rest of humanity, and the tax collector who stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but acknowledged that he was a sinner and prayed for God’s mercy. Jesus said, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former.” This is a warning for us to not become too self involved and overly concerned about our own holiness, or even worse, focus our attention on the sins and imperfections of those around us, instead of our own.
The parable in today’s gospel is pretty simple. The meaning can be plainly understood and is very simple to apply in our own lives. In many of Jesus’ parables though, the meaning of the story is not so clear cut, and that may be exactly the point Jesus had in mind when he gave us the parables. The parables apply to many different races of people, in different cultures and time periods, and they apply equally well to men and women of any age.
The parables are timeless, yet ever fresh and their meaning can change with the current circumstances of our life, and yet still apply throughout our entire life cycle as well. Nothing sticks in your mind longer than a good story. Jesus knew this was a good way to reach people in a simple, universal manner that the average person could understand. The basic human tendencies that Jesus spoke of 2,000 years ago still applies to us today. Because the meaning of the parables are not always clear cut, they make you think about your own life and how the story might apply to you in your own particular life’s circumstances.
The parable in today’s gospel very clearly illustrates how easy it is to get caught up in our own little world, content with our own progress in holiness, and look down upon the people around us who are obviously not very perfect people. This is an easy trap to fall into, especially because the Catholic faith strongly encourages spiritual perfection. The “Catholic guilt” that so many fallen away Catholics speak of, is a result of never measuring up to the spiritual perfection that others expected of them.
This is really something we should give some serious thought to. People leave the Catholic church because they know that they are less than perfect people, and many feel like they can never be as perfect as the rest of us holy, pious, perfect Catholics. This is for the most part nonsense, because none of us are perfect, but young people do not always understand this from the outside looking in.
Even people in a state of mortal sin should be encouraged to attend mass (without receiving communion) and without our judging them, so that they can come to a better understanding of their sin and turn from it. A good example of this are Catholics who are pro-choice, whether they are recent converts or cradle Catholics. Their thinking is flawed, but hopefully someday they will hear an explanation about the dignity of human life in a way that they can understand better, and change their mind. Young people are like this too, about many of the more difficult aspects of our Catholic beliefs, like the sanctity of marriage, and our views about birth control, abortion, same sex marriage, etc.
Selfishness is something that we are all born with, and our spiritual formation is a process that takes time in order to transform us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. We are a work in progress and we are at all different levels of spiritual development. We may excel in one area, but drastically fall short in another. That’s what happened to the Pharisee in today’s gospel. It takes a lifetime to grow into the person that God meant us to be and sometimes it is one step forward and two steps back.
When we look at other people’s faults or virtues, we should try to realize that we are all at different stages of spiritual development. A person who seems to have a lot of faults and sins, are usually working toward overcoming them. If they aren’t, then we should pray for them, because we haven’t lived a perfect life either.
Things are not always what they seem to be on the surface of things and Jesus knows the truth about our lives. Jesus is a just judge. We will all be awarded the crown of life when we reach our Father’s kingdom in heaven one day. Our crowns may be different sizes and have different kinds of jewels in them, but one thing is for sure, we will all be very grateful just to be there. That’s what matters in the end, that we all make it to heaven and celebrate with Jesus, and with one another in our Father’s Kingdom.
Daily Mass Readings:
Hosea 6: 1-6 / Psalm 51: 3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab / Luke 18: 9-14