Making a Difference

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October 23, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

October 23, 2016
Luke 18:9-14
Fr. George Smiga

One word can change the meaning of a parable, and that is the case in today’s gospel. But before we look at the word, let us watch as the parable unfolds. Two people go up to the temple area. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. Now the first thing to notice is that these are two very different people. The Pharisee is a good, religious person, perhaps excessively so. He fasts twice a week. He gives one-tenth of his income to the poor even though it was not required of him by the law. The tax collector, on the other hand, was a part of a profession that was the most hated and corrupt in the ancient world. He collected taxes for the Roman Empire. He would easily be seen by his fellow Jews as a traitor and a crook. No one would question the right of the Pharisee to be in the temple. He belonged there as a religious Jew. But people would be surprised to see the tax collector where he was. They could easily say, “What is this man doing in God’s house?”

So we have two very different people in the temple. They both pray. And Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “This one, the tax collector, goes home justified, not the other, not the Pharisee.” Why does Jesus make that statement? Why would the tax collector be seen to be pleasing in God’s sight, but not the Pharisee? Many people have suggested ways to interpret of Jesus’ saying. But here’s where the one word I mentioned earlier comes into play. If we change one word in today’s parable, a clear and life-giving message emerges. And that one word is the word “not.” Because in Greek, the word which our translation renders as “not” can also be translated “because of.” If we use that understanding, then Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “This man, the tax collector, returned home justified because of the other, because of the Pharisee.”

With one word, the meaning of the parable shifts. Now it is saying that the goodness of the Pharisee helps the tax collector. Now it is saying that the religious commitment of the Pharisee assists the tax collector in being pleasing in God’s sight. And the parable is saying to us that our faith, our good works, our prayers are not simply for ourselves. They can make a difference in the lives of others, even in the lives of those who do not seem open to God’s grace. We, after all, are the Pharisees. We are religious people who come to church regularly, who try to follow the teaching of Jesus. Today’s parable is saying that the efforts we make, the faith we express in this place can change the lives of others, others who would never come to this place. What a powerful and positive message. Our faith, our good works, our prayer have power.

So who should we pray for? Perhaps there is a member of your family or close friend who is struggling, struggling greatly, but that person has no faith in God. You can ask God to bring that person to happiness and peace. You can ask God to be close to that person, even though that person is not close to God.

Certainly there are people in our cities who are struggling with poverty and drugs, people we don’t know, and maybe people without an explicit faith. We can allow our faith to compensate for their lack of faith. We can ask God to lead them to life.

All of us are aware of how much anger, hatred, and prejudice have been a part of our political campaigning this year. As people of faith, we try to follow Jesus’ teaching of forgiving our enemy and working for justice. We can trust that our religious commitment can help to soften the heart and enlighten the minds of our fellow citizens, even though our fellow citizens might not be people of faith.

Not all people are religious, not all people are like us and the Pharisee. But today’s gospel tells us that our faith, our good works, and our prayer can make a difference in the lives of others. Our commitment to God can open hearts that are broken and weak to the power of God’s grace.

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