October 23, 2022: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel – Luke 18:9-14 (translation from “The Message”)
Jesus told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
“Meanwhile, the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
This is a trick story, if you had not noticed. Parables function in that way for me. The passage initially has me thinking in two directions about my prayer life: Me as the Pharisee or me as the tax collector. If I allow my mind to run to either extreme, I miss seeing myself in this lesson. When I identify with the Pharisee, I judge myself pretty harshly as I recognize how often I distance myself from sin and prop my small efforts up a little too mightily as passable action. When I identify with the tax collector, I hold extra tightly as I distance myself from a full and frightening dependence upon God. My own sense of reliance on God and my practice of prayer falls somewhere between these two examples. The Spirit assists me in moving along this continuum that is designed to help me understand how to let go and also to let come.
Think about a challenge in your life that has led you to consider two outcomes. Yes or no. Black or white. Leave or remain. Challenge yourself in prayer this week to live in the middle of those extremes. What a wonderful journal experience this could be! Consider sharing your experience with the Providence community in the comment section.