Publicans who confess and plead
Jesus personifies the attitude of publicans who do as the publican in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican.
The parable shows that Jesus is not unfair at all toward the weak. He hears the needy of all kinds, the marginalized, the excluded. Among these, of course, are the publicans who are agents of the hated Roman Empire.
The publicans are Jews, but their fellow-Jews consider them Gentiles. In the eyes of observant Jews, moreover, of the Pharisees in particular, publicans are public sinners. That is why one has to avoid their company. The Pharisees, therefore, takes offense that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.
But self-righteous critics who despise everyone else does not deter Jesus. He warns them, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” He also indicates that, like his Father he does not see the appearance, but looks into the heart. And he makes clear what stance before God one should take that leads to justification.
The stance that leads to salvation is not the stance of the one who sings his own praises (cf. CRCM XII, 3). There is no justification for someone who exalts himself at the expense of the neighbor, pretending all the while to be thankful.
Rather, those who confess that they are sinners are the ones who please God and draw the attention of their merciful Creator. They tremble at God’s sharp, penetrating and purifying word.
And this humble stance is Jesus’ own stance.
Not only has Jesus become sin for our sake, but also a curse. He affirms, “No one is good but God alone.” Thus does he question even the one who calls him good. With loud cries and tears, too, he offers supplications to one who can save him. Finally, he humbles himself and obeys to the point of pouring out himself as a libation on the cross. Because of this, God exalts him greatly and gives him the name that is above every name.
Our Teacher and Master gives us disciples a model to follow. Indeed, discipleship commits us to the humility of the publicans who confess and plead. To be disciples is to see things also as Jesus sees them. Moreover, the worthy celebration of the Lord’s Supper requires every participant to confess at the outset:
O God, be merciful to me a sinner.
October 23, 2016
30th Sunday in O.T. (C)
Sir 35, 12-14. 16-18; 2 Tim 4, 6-8. 16-18; Lk 18, 9-14