(9) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: (10) “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (11) The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ (13) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (14) I tell you; this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Today is the 20th Sunday after Pentecost Day. At a quick glance, our Gospel story today seems like only a story about the attitude of the Pharisee and the tax collector and that the tax collector is favored because of how he composed himself as a sinner in front of God and the temple.
Here, Jesus is again critical to the leaders of the land. Like what he did to the unjust judge in the last Sunday’s gospel – talking about the justice demanded insistently by the widow. Here is a parable told by Jesus to the people pertaining to and describing how the Pharisees behave themselves.
Who are the Pharisees? What role do they have in the plight of the oppressed people? They were full of greed and self-indulgence. They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law but were, in fact, not righteous: their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. For them, obedience and subscription to the law and following it in every detail blindly is more important than saving a person’s life and being sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people. Social inequality and injustice are justified by the teachings of the Pharisees, and they insist that they are followed as they were the teachers and experts of the law.
Here, I would like to reveal to you why I chose to be ordained on October 18 – from diaconate to priesthood and even to the episcopate. It is the feast day of St. Luke, the Physician, and the Evangelist.
I grew up in a very poor with a hand-to-mouth existence yet a very religious and conservative family. We were always told that everything that happened to us is of God’s will and that we are lucky to suffer now on earth because we have a mansion with God in the heavens above. In a country that was colonized for more than 300 years under Spain, and then under North America (USA) and by a neighbor in Asia which is Japan, it was not hard to believe and accept that to be poor while others are rich, especially the foreigners and the mestizos. The Spanish clergy taught us, especially our grandparents that disobedience to what they said and going against the will of the government will bring us to a never-ending fire in hell.
While helping my parents in the economic activities for the family, as everyone in the family does, I was also active in the community and in the church as a parish youth president. I must admit that in those days there were questions that crop up in my mind – Why is there inequality? Why am I helping my parents while still at a young age while many of my peers are having time to play? Why are there young people like me who need to go to a night school because we work for money during the day? Why do our neighbors have television and refrigerators while we do not have one? Why do we have to wear our good dress only on Sunday while others are wearing them every day? And many others. I can only see inequalities and there was a longing for answers in my heart, but I do not see them as signs of injustice then.
In my study of the bible and about Christ, I knew Jesus who was introduced to me very differently especially in the book, the Gospel, written by Luke. In Luke chapter one in the song of Mary, the Magnificat, God is described to be with the context and situation of His people. Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid… He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” In the seminary, we have this weekend exposure program which is aimed at intentionally connecting our lives to the work of the priest in the parish worship services and to the real situations of the people of God – in the slum areas of poor people in the city, in the suburbs and in the rural area of poor farmers. With all honesty, I related to them my own life and situation. And yes, here is our own context that needs the intervention of God described in Mary’s Magnificat. And yes, the questions that I had in my younger years slowly found answers, and my faith has started to become socially relevant.
In Luke 4, we will see Jesus laying down his mission statement, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In Luke 18, the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus revealed his vision of justice. The unjust judge is the embodiment of the ruling elite of the unfair system and inequality in a society where social injustice reigns. The widow on the other hand represents the downtrodden. Jesus uplifted the morale of the people and encouraged them to be persistent in the cause of justice for in the end we shall overcome and win this battle.
Today, therefore, we are not only asked to avoid becoming the Pharisees of our time. Yes, we need to be humble like the tax collector. More importantly, however, is to become like Jesus – to be able to tell our people the reasons and causes of the social malady and to criticize those who are responsible for the impoverishment of the people, especially in the third countries and the global south. Every Christian needs to be the voice of the voiceless. In the present global social order, we need Christians who are strong and brave enough like Mary in the Magnificat to introduce the God who is affectionate to the afflicted but inflicts pain on those who are living comfortably at the cost of others.
This is a homily delivered during the eucharistic celebration for the ordinations anniversary of The Right Revd Antonio Nercua Ablon at Christ Resurrection Church, Karlsruhe Parish, Old Catholic Church-Germany on 23 October 2022