C Cycle – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
I am going to assume each of us in church today have been raised by parents who had established rules for the household. If you obeyed their rules life was good but if you disobeyed the rules you were punished. As we grow older the rules were added to and the penalties harsher. We carried those lessons of right being rewarded and wrong being punished into every facet of our lives as we grew into adulthood. We also discovered there were rules established by local, state and federal governments, by society, by our places of employment, by societal norms and for relationships.
Think about your first confession and although decades may have passed since then your first confession taught you another lesson. The sins you confessed then did not stop because you confessed them, but they continued to resurface in your life, and you learned another lesson by those recurring sins. We tend to do things to satisfy our desires and those desires are stronger than our desire to follow the rules. So, our weakness haunts us and we like Paul say to ourselves “…what I am doing, I do not understand for I am not practicing what I would like to do but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Rom.7:14). We do not like to admit it, but we discover the very thing Paul discovered which is “we who want to be good discover evil resides in us” (Rom. 7:21).
We also learn from Paul that that” … sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not imputed where there is no law” (Rom. 5:13). This is exactly what drives us to make sure we understand the laws of God and the Church because they define sin clearly. This is seen in the posture and the words of the Pharisee in today’s gospel. I am not greedy, adulterous, dishonest; I fast twice a week, I tithe on my whole income I am a law follower. He was justified by the law and because he exceeded the demands of the law, he believes he is in right standing with God. The truth is his attitude is the sin of pride and he is blinded to the truth of his failure to please God.
We have grown up with this mentality of doing right and we believe being good is what is required of us to earn God’s graces. No one who hears this gospel identifies with the Pharisee who we clearly see is boastful, prideful, conceited and arrogant. However, the truth is he is out of touch with the very thing God desired to reveal to us by the law and that is to acknowledge we are totally and completely dependent on God for all things including our salvation.
The law can only reveal our sin, but the law does nothing to help us feel God’s mercy. We can only feel His mercy if we stand before Him as the woman caught in adultery did. What Is not revealed by the law is God’s desire for mercy for that is only discovered by standing in front of Him acknowledging our weakness and our sin. This posture allows grace to wash over us like a fresh spring rain, cleansing us and refreshing us.
These words of mine are and have been the teaching of the Church for centuries and are based on the scriptures (which by the way were compiled by the Catholic Church). Listen to God speaking to us through Paul, “God saved you by his grace when you believed, and you can’t take credit for this. It is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9 NLT).
Mercy is not a reward for the good things we have done. This has been the teaching of the Church for a very long time. It is all pure gift and given to us by the love, mercy and grace of God. All we have in life is a blessing from God. I know how hard I worked for all I have achieved in my life but one day I came to realize that God created me and gifted me with the things I used to achieve success. I gained much from my efforts, but they were and are God given talents just as yours are. Health is a gift of God but that does not mean we do not do things to stay healthy by diet, exercise, medication but God created us and brought us into being. If you just take time to consider how the body functions, you must acknowledge the body and how it works is a remarkable miracle.
Do we strive to grow spiritually and deepen our relationship with God, of course we do but it is God who has constantly invited us into that personal relationship where we will discover mercy, forgiveness and wholeness? Once we enter that relationship, we will be guided by the Spirit not the law. As we grow under the Spirit’s guidance God will change our hearts and we will focus our spiritual growth learning to discover our gifts for the building of the kingdom of God.
This is our destiny as told to us by God: we are “God’s handiwork created anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the things he prepared for us from the beginning” (Eph. 2:10 NLT). As we grow by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we no longer need the law to define our holiness.
The tax collector understood this aspect of God’s nature to change our hearts which was totally missed by the Pharisee who only looked to the law for his righteousness. The tax collector stood before God asking for the one thing God desires to give us daily and that is mercy and forgiveness. He was humble before God knowing he was totally and completely dependent on God for all things.
It is easy for us to become Pharisees believing our adherence to the law will keep us in good standing with God. But we fail to grasp the call to more than obedience. We are called to discipleship and discipleship is a life of following the voice of God and not the demands of the law.