UpFront with Mary Hendricks, 10/23/2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  Year C

October 23, 2016

Luke 18:9-14


St. Luke’s Gospel today describes the demeanor of two men praying in the temple: a haughty Pharisee and a humble tax collector. The Pharisee tells God how wonderful he is by tithing the correct amount, fasting twice each week, by not being greedy, dishonest, or adulterous, “or even like this tax collector.” He is pretty proud of himself.

Meanwhile, the tax collector isn’t even able to “raise his eyes to heaven.” All he can do is beat his breast and pray, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus praises his humility.

Ah, humility. My sister-in-law, the vice president of communications at a university, sent me this text the other day: “Omg. I just sent an all-campus email, a death notification, with the wrong name. I killed the woman across the hall from me. In my defense, the last name is the same, and the first names are close.”

Being the supportive sister I am, I replied, “You murderer!”  But added, “Now what??”

She texted that she called to apologize to the woman across the hall and to her supervisor and sent a corrective email. Then she wrote: “Humiliation.”

Yup. I hate those humility lessons, too.

When we rehashed it later she said, “By the way, the 11th Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not reply all.’”

Now, back to the two praying men. The Pharisee was doing everything right. He was following the law to the letter, obeying the commandments. The tax collector, on the other hand, could have been overcharging his customers and pocketing a few bucks for himself. He was working for the Roman government, for pity’s sake!

The problem is, the Pharisee wasn’t even praying. He was bragging. Then it occurred to me. I’ve been guilty of the same “prayer.”

“Hey, God! Why aren’t you listening to me? Why aren’t you answering my prayers?? Are you paying attention? I work for your Church! Yeah, there are better-paying jobs out there, but, no, I’m dedicating my career to you. And every time that collection basket comes around, I give. And volunteer, too! Come on, Lord. Pay attention!” Then the realization comes that I’m only doing what I am supposed to do anyway. Another humility lesson. Hate them.

Here’s what we can learn from the two men in the temple:

1) God already knows our good and bad points. We won’t have to tell him.

2) Don’t compare ourselves to others. We either end up being proud of ourselves or ashamed of ourselves. Neither emotion is productive.

3) If we are truly sorry for our sins, God, in his infinite mercy and everlasting love, will forgive us.

4) No amount of good works, church attendance, tithes, or volunteering makes us “better” in God’s eyes. He desires obedience.

5) Our prayers don’t have to be complicated. It’s enough to say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.

6) And, finally, a little humility goes a long way.


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