Minister’s Forum: Acknowledge your own sins before pointing out others’
In the gospel reading from Luke for the 30th Sunday in ordinary time (18:9-14), we are presented with a Pharisee who prides himself on his righteousness and a tax collector (a public sinner) who testifies to his sinfulness.
The Pharisee who sat in the front row of the Temple professed disdain for others and thanked God that he was “not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, and adulterous — or like this tax collector.” He must have possessed rear-view vision because he was able to see the man in the last row of the Temple and to read the state of his soul.
The tax collector, on the other hand, stood at a distance from the front of the Temple and would not raise his eyes to Heaven. Instead, he beat his breast and prayed: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector makes no attempt to whitewash his sins by pointing an accusatory finger at someone else. Instead, he acknowledges his sinfulness and asks for divine mercy.
Many Pharisees believed that they were righteous because they kept the letter of Mosaic laws inscribed in the Torah. They prided themselves on their fidelity and disdained those who were unable to do so. For this reason Jesus condemned them here and in other passages of the New Testament. Much to the surprise of his listeners, Jesus declares that the tax collector is justified before God because of his humility and honesty. Self-righteousness is never acceptable to God. In God’s eyes all human beings are sinners and all humankind is in need of divine mercy, reform and renewal.
One of the great character actors of the 20th century was Carroll O’Connor, who starred as Archie Bunker in “All in the Family.” He played the part of a “lovable” bigot and saw his role as a way to attack bigotry. Archie made prejudice seem so illogical — whether it involved religion or race — that he forced people to look at themselves: to look for the log in their own eye rather than to find a splinter in someone else’s. May we have the courage to do likewise.
— Richard L. DeMolen is a priest at Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church.