Friday, 25 October 2013

Pride and prejudice

GospelLuke 18:9-14 

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Luke has been taking us on a teaching journey and the end - Jerusalem - is now in sight. The teaching becomes tighter and more explicit; no time now for  tales of Good Samaritans and Prodigal Sons. The challenge and the risk is set before you; you either get it or you don't.

Short gospels particularly call for deep reading. Often it is easy, especially with the parables we know well, to accept the obvious yet there is still more to the obvious than meets the eye.

The Pharisee belongs to a group of people whose life is the Law, with all the 613 precepts that must be obeyed. He belongs to a group that has grown in privilege and influence. For many of the laws he is able to fulfill because he has the time and the money to fulfill them. His negligent pride in his status reminding me of the princess' suggestion that the poor should eat cake. He heightens his worthiness by his judgment of those around him; every one of whom is found wanting.

He proclaims his own praises. And he prays  - he prays - to himself.

God can do nothing for this man except act as an audience. The only 'other' who is not like the rest of mankind - is, surely God. The Pharisee stands in the Temple and commits the greated sins there is - he idolises himself; he shows contempt for others.

Short gospels, but Luke's Jesus is now playing the long game. As disciples of the Way; how long would it take us to find ourselves standing in the place of the Pharisee; paradoxically berating the world for what it lacks in compassion and justice. Prestige and influence is both tempting and justifiable - when we want it to be -  and tax collectors haven't moved much further up the popularity scale. Yet on the outskirts and in the shadows is where Jesus wants us. The downcast gaze of the tax collector making me think of the Koder painting of the reflected face of Jesus as he washes Peter's feet. Jesus wants us with him.  

It's still not a comfortable position to put ourselves in; it is easier to raise our eyes to heaven and add 'but at least I'm not as bad as... at least I come to least I've done...'hiding behind the 'other' that we are meant to love as we love ourselves. 

At the beginning of the Mass, we admit that we come as sinners to the Table of the Lord;  we join with the tax collector in the Kyrie - 'Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy'. We look inwards to our need of God and offer 'what we have done and what we have failed to do'. 

This is our gift to God; the humilty of surrender. The confession, in front of 'others' that there is a place within us that only God can heal. If we can hold onto it, then we are in a state of unquestioning grace; a broken heart - an open heart -  willing to be filled by God.



Claire Bangasser said...

God can do nothing for this man except act as an audience.
Fabulous, Word :-)
A really good reflection. Thank you.

Gelli Ma said...

Thanks, Claire ((+))