My dear friends in Christ,
The Book of Ecclesiasticus – from where today’s 1st Reading is taken - is one of the longest books in the Bible. There is little doubt that the book was composed by one author, Ben Sira (50:27). Hence the book goes by the other name of Sirach. The part we hear today is an extract from a section which deals with true worship of God and God’s response to that.
True worship of God is an attitude which pervades every aspect of our lives, and thus shapes our life in a very particular way. At the centre of it all is an attentiveness to God. True worship is more than showing up at the temple (or church) for a weekly dose of religion and ‘paying our dues’ to God.
Pharisees often get a bad press in the gospels, and have become synonymous with the word ‘hypocritical’. This is not the suggestion that Luke is making in today’s gospel. The presence of the Pharisee is representative of those who took the demands of religious law very seriously, and in a sense this is very commendable. So, what is wrong is not that the man was a Pharisee or that he stuck to the law and did those good things (fasted and paid his tithes), but that all that goodness was overshadowed by a selfserving, let’s give myself a pat on the back kind of attitude. His was a heart that did not really look towards God, but to himself. It’s the thin edge of a wedge which gradually pushes God out of the picture.
On the other hand, we have a Tax Collector, a man notorious for cheating money out of people. While such actions do not go unnoticed by God, it is his attitude that enables him to go home “at rights with God” – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This is not about us going around proclaiming our wretched sinfulness, it’s about recognising our limitations and shortfalls when it comes to living the type of amazing, fruitful life that God has in mind for us. That type of life is characterised by a profound trust and dependence on God, an attitude that is evident in the heart of the Tax Collector, but not the Pharisee.
Have a good week!