This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Oct. 27, 2013:
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector,” said the Pharisee in today’s parable, probably with a sneer and a sidelong glance at the repenting tax collector. That scummy tax collector–he knew he’d sinned, he knew that God knew that he’d sinned, and he feared for good reason that he was going to get it after he died. Jerk. Serves him right to be sorrowful!
While the tax collector was doing all this repenting, the sneering, sinful Pharisee was busy convincing himself that he–he–was a man of God; an example for his peers, a model of perfection for rodents like that tax collector. In other words, he was busy forgetting that–like the tax collector–he was human, and that–like the tax collector–he was a sinner. The point: we’re all human; we’re all sinners.
We have a choice–to an extent–of what to do about it. We can look at the awful things people all around us are doing, and thank God that we aren’t like them; or, we can relate their sins to our own, repent of those sins, and pray that we might not be like those people. That’s a worthy prayer, even if the sins of others are far greater than our own sins are ever likely to be (we can’t know for sure). Like them, we are human, and we are therefore capable of stooping to exactly the same levels as them.
I hope I’m not making myself sound like the Pharisee here. I agree entirely with the tax collector, that begging God’s forgiveness of our sins is a far better pastime than is telling God how great we are. All I’m trying to say is, if we see others sinning, rather than condemning them, we should consider our own actions, repent of those that are sinful, and pray that we don’t ever behave like those other sinners (just to use them as an example) who we so abhor. And all the while, we must continue to acknowledge that we, too, have done wrong. The cross is a good point of reference. Jesus paid one price on that cross for all of us, whether we’ve committed murder, or our worst sins are white lies. We’re all responsible for what he endured, and we must not try to stake the blame exclusively on others.
If we see that we have done something good–for example, restraining ourselves from giving a biting remark when a coworker said something snotty–rather than tell God how wonderful we are that we resisted the temptation to do evil, we should thank him for giving us the strength to resist making our coworker cry. Thank him for giving us such strength, apologize for whatever temptation towards evil we felt, and pray that we may never give into such temptation in the future. If we let pride into our lives (how much guilt will I have if I write more?), our pride will turn into sinfulness, we will find ways to justify such sins to ourselves through that pride, and we will thereby turn ourselves into people just like the Pharisee from the Lord’s parable.
“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” I’ll probably have to eat those words someday–even more than all the times I already have–but I love that line. It could apply to so many people, but to shorten the list, just look at Jesus and the Pharisees: the Pharisees had their expensive outfits, their money, their wealthy establishments; Jesus had a few clothes (which may have been tattered) and some sandals. Jesus now rules the universe; from Jesus’ references to the proud Pharisees, where do you think quite a few of them ended up? Case in point.
Something entirely different I want to mention–Halloween. I know that there are some Christians who think it is sinful and horrendous; and since I know the history of Halloween, and some of the practices that some people partake in on Halloween to this very day, I don’t really blame those Christians. However, if we keep God in our hearts, and we aren’t offering young maidens up to unholy idols, attending black masses, practicing sorcery, or in any way encouraging evil spirits to inhabit the living, then I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with, say, placing plastic Jack O’Lanterns around the house and going trick-or-treating as a Star Wars character. We really probably do worse things almost every day. I could be very wrong here–I’ve been wrong about many things in the past–and again, I don’t at all blame those Christians who disagree with me; this is merely an opinion that I wanted to point out. Do with it as you will. Have a Happy Halloween (even if you don’t employ pumpkins that take AA batteries) and a Happy All Saints’ Day–which is considered to be a Holy Day of Obligation (for those who don’t know…and I may have been one of those people just last year).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.”–Jesus
by Cameron Daly