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Select Exegesis
October, 24 2013

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dr. Terrance Callan

Sir 35:12-14, 16-18 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18 ; Luke 18:9-14



            It is easy for us to think everything depends on us.  We do our work, care for our children and parents, serve our communities.  At times it can seem we do it all ourselves.  We need to remember that we can literally do nothing without God’s power at work in us. 

            This Sunday’s reading from the book of Sirach tells us that God “is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.”  God hears the prayers of any person “who serves God willingly.”  The reading says that God is “not unduly partial toward the weak,” but then goes on to emphasize that God hears the prayers of the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the lowly.  It seems that such people are especially likely to be those who serve God willingly, whose prayers are heard.  Even though God shows no favoritism, the poor and oppressed are more likely to know their need for God than are the rich and powerful.  They are more likely to turn to God for help and to receive it.

            The reading from the gospel according to Luke makes the same point in a different way.  In this reading Jesus describes two men who went to the temple to pray, a Pharisee and a tax collector.  The Pharisee prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”  The tax collector prayed, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

            The different prayers of the two reflect their different lives.  The Pharisees were Jews who made a special effort to live according to God’s will as it was set forth in the laws of the Bible.  They were particularly pious, God-fearing Jews.  Tax collectors, on the other hand, were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman oppressors of Israel.  Not only did they collaborate with the Romans in their domination of Israel, they also collected more than the Romans required and enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of Israel.

            Despite this great difference in the lives of the two men, Jesus says that the tax collector went home justified after his prayer in the temple, while the Pharisee did not.  This shows us that virtue, like wealth, can delude us into thinking that we have no need of God.  But awareness of our dependence on God is essential for a good human life.  The Pharisee’s problem is that his virtuous life has led him to think that he is virtuous by his own effort, rather than by the action of God’s grace in him.  This is clear in his contempt for the tax collector.  If he realized his dependence on God, the Pharisee would not despise the tax collector, but would simply be grateful for the grace of God shown to him.  The tax collector, despite his sins, knows his need for God and is justified.

            The reading from the second letter of St. Paul to Timothy offers another perspective on the issue of knowing our need for God.  Paul, who was a Pharisee himself, lists his accomplishments somewhat as the Pharisee in Jesus’ story did.  “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me.”  This shows us that there is no problem in being aware of our virtues, as long as we do not think they are our own doing, and lose sight of our need for God.  Paul clearly knows that whatever he has done has been done by means of God’s grace.  He says that “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed.”  And Paul does not despise those who lack his virtues.


Terrance Callan

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