First, the self-righteous Pharisee. Here is a man who seems to impeccably follow the law. In some terms, he is the model citizen! Honest, fiscally generous, and faithful to his marriage vows. But something else lurks in his heart: pride. "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity … or even like this tax collector." For the Pharisee, no fault can be admitted. The only way to stay on top is to preserve one's image — even to God, it seems! — and point out the flaws of others from the pedestal.
In the back of the temple, hidden and bowed down, is the tax collector. "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." This man's prayer is one of supplication and petition. He isn't afraid to express his sinfulness and misery. This, Jesus says, is the one who "went home justified." How many times have we heard the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost? Jesus is the one who dines with sinners and invites every heart to repentance. But how can we return to him if we don't know we've left? How can we receive God's grace when we're adamant we don't need it?READ MORE
Today's Gospel features a persistent widow who ekes out justice from a notoriously cold-hearted judge. Why does she win the day? "Because the widow keeps bothering me." Jesus' recommendation to the disciples is to be persistent in prayer, because surely God the Father is far more attuned to their needs than this judge. If only it were that easy, right? We've all experienced the unanswered prayer, the silence after our cries. When this continues, sometimes it can be difficult to have faith in God or believe He answers prayers. It can be easy to lapse into a sense of His distance. We want Him to do something "fair," which — in our limited view — typically means that something works out in our favor.READ MORE
In the ancient world and into the Middle Ages, there was no treatment for leprosy. People thought it was wildly contagious and were suspicious of any skin diseases.
Lepers were isolated from civil society. This isolation was upheld by the Mosaic Law. Should there be a healing from leprosy, the former leper was to present himself to a priest to certify the healing. Like Jesus commands, "Show yourselves to the priests." The person would then undergo a religious rite to be formally reintroduced to society. In other words, a leper got their life back. So why didn't they come back?READ MORE
"When you have done all you have been commanded, say 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do."
The metaphor in the story could seem harsh to us today. A servant has worked hard all day, and rather than receiving a much-needed respite, the master commands an additional task. Jesus, however, is appearing to their sensibilities. This was a hierarchical society in which everyone had a place. His listeners would know this. No servant would presume a reward for good deeds.
It's important to remember that we do have a place at God's table. But we don't "earn" it. Dining with the Lord at the heavenly wedding feast requires surrender. It requires deep faith in God and His promises. It also requires commitment. The kingdom takes work! There are fields to plow and initiatives to prepare. There are sheep to tend to and family to care for. There are people waiting for our yes to generous service. When we serve dinner at a homeless shelter, we are waiting on the table of Christ. When we visit an ill relative, we're imitating the Good Samaritan. We're visiting Jesus! We're growing his kingdom of life and love.READ MORE