Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 23 October 2016
Over the past couple of weeks, one of the stories that made headlines was the perks of politicians that many argue, fail the pub test. They say our MPs gain from highly generous ‘entitlement’ schemes including superannuation payments, retirement benefits, Life Gold Passes, etc.At the heart of this debate, they contend, is not just the system needs fixing but also the sense of entitlement that goes against our deeply held Australian concept of “a fair go”. We might resent such entitlements and those who benefit from them. However, there is another sense of entitlement that is more innate, more subtle and more pervasive in all of us.
This is the mentality that attributes our successes and achievements to ourselves. It leads us to claim credit for what we have and it makes us less appreciative of the gratuity of God’s grace. More importantly, this mentality inclines us to be judgmental of those less fortunate than we are and blame them for their predicaments and failures. The Word of God today exposes such a mentality as fundamentally self-serving and delusional. Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in a way that cuts through layers of human prejudices.
The Pharisee is often held up as an example of moral uprightness. Yet through the prism of Jesus, he is seen as self-serving and delusional. The Pharisee is the person with the ultimate sense of entitlement. He attributes his moral superiority to himself: “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind.” He is totally blind to his self-made and self-earned illusion.
As a result, he is unable to see that there is a shared humanity between him and the tax collector. He puts himself above the latter: “I am not like this tax collector here.” As far as Jesus is concerned, it is not self-made righteousness but empathy and compassion that truly matter. The Pharisee fails the litmus test of authentic discipleship because of his lack of empathy and compassion. The tax collector, on the other hand, is praised because free from any sense of entitlement, he is totally open to the gratuity of God’s grace.
This is the hard message of the Gospel. It disarms us because it takes away the security that we rely on in terms of who we are, what we have and the sense of worth that is linked with our successes and achievements. The parable of Jesus says that the Pharisee is not more valued than the tax collector because of the badge of honour he wears, the status he has or the social prestige he is entitled to.
It challenges the notion that we deserve more than others because of what we have inherited or earned: our talents, gifts, contributions or our race, religion and other accidents of birth. Jesus consistently tells us that God does not see things the way we see nor judge people the way we judge. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Good Samaritan or the 11th hour worker convey this same message: God looks upon the humble who recognise the gratuity of his love, rather than the proud who boasts about his own record of achievements.
Brothers and sisters,
The Word of God thus challenges us about our relationship with God and with one another. If God refuses the proud and hears the cry of the humble poor, we cannot but identify ourselves with them. We cannot be the disciples of Jesus and think and act merely in terms of what we are entitled to by virtue of our birthright or conquest. None of us could be saved if God applied the strict justice on the basis of our merits and failings.
The parable is actually designed to prod at our sense of entitlement and our claim to what is ours at the exclusion of others. It challenges us to think and act in the way that God in Jesus has shown us, which is based on the justice of the kingdom and the very mercy of God. Pope Francis often comes into sharp criticism even from Catholic circles because of the way in which he lives out the message of God’s gratuitous love and mercy. In an age of trickled down economy and entitlement, he challenges us to see and value people the way Jesus taught and showed us.
His embrace of refugees, Muslims, prisoners … is quite frankly confronting. If tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, etc … were the beneficiaries of God’s unstinting goodness, who are we to exclude the outcasts of today? If the socially marginalised, the ritually unclean, the morally inferior, etc … found favour in the company of Jesus, who are we to judge as not entitled to what we are entitled to?
Let us pray that like St Paul who turned away from his self-made illusion after his Damascus experience, we learn to be humble, open and docile to God’s way. May we learn to see the way God would see and it is often from the bottom up or from the vantage point of the outcast rather than from a privileged position.
May our lives and prayers be led by a humble spirit and acceptable to God. May we grow in empathy and compassion after Christ’s generous and loving heart.
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