Sunday Readings: Sirach 35.12-14,16-18; 2 Timothy 4.6-8,16-18; Luke 18.9-14
Two people went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things concerning himself — “I give you thank, O God, that I am not like other people–greedy, unjust, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of all my income.” The tax collector, standing far off does not raise his eyes toward heaven. He beats his breast. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” – Luke 18.10-13
The Pharisee’s prayer peeks in its first four words, then it’s all about him. He is a good man, observant but boastful. If he were a practicing Catholic today, he might be an usher, musician at Sunday Mass, religion teacher, and volunteer at a soup kitchen. Pharisees practiced their religion. The Pharisee in the parable uses his practices not to express his faith in God but to separate himself from sinners.
The tax collector is a stock outsider among gospel characters. Usually known for overcharging, the tax collector works for the occupying Romans, work that makes him ritually unclean. Who left worthy in God’s sight? In the parable Jesus answers the sinner rather than the Pharisee.
Professor Amy Jill Levine notes that the Greek preposition para, translated “rather than” in the parable, can also mean because of or alongside. What if the parable ended that this man, the tax collector, went home justified alongside the Pharisee or because of the him. This nuance calls us to recognize how we affect one another.
How does your prayer insulate you from others? How does your prayer connect you with others?
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