Jerusalem Bible © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday & Company Inc.
Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Did you know?
Points of interest and Catholic lore
- It is always important to look at who the characters are in the parables of Jesus.
- Pharisees were deeply religious laymen who observed the law very closely and met together regularly for prayer and table fellowship.
- Tax collectors were despised because their job gave them opportunity to cheat and defraud the people and also because they cooperated with the Roman oppressors. Their contact with the gentiles made them ritually unclean. No wonder this tax collector ‘stood some distance away’. The Pharisees would have believed he had no right to be in the temple at all.
Exploring the Word
The purpose of this parable is to shake the complacency of those who think that all they have to do is follow the rules to the letter of the law and that that is enough to guarantee them salvation, regardless of their attitudes towards others or the way they speak and act. There is a timelessness to this parable. It is as true today as it was in the time of Jesus. The Pharisee asks nothing of God. He is under the mistaken impression that he can fulfill all that is required of him by his own actions. He believes that as long as he adheres to the letter of the Law, that is all that is required. The tax collector, on the other hand, is aware of his brokenness and opens himself to God, asking for God’s mercy. He rightly recognises his own sinfulness and sees that God is the only one who can fill the void within him. Again, as is common in Luke’s Gospel, it is the poor or the outcast who is on the right track and who will be exalted. The Pharisee, who should know better, will be the one who experiences God’s dramatic reversal and will ultimately be humbled.
- In what ways do you find this parable comforting or challenging?
- With which character do you most identify?
Opportunities for group discussion and personal prayer
- Are there times when you pass judgment on others or consider yourself as ‘better’ than certain people?
- How difficult do you find it to recognise your own shortcomings?
- Do you find it challenging to look beyond the shortcomings of others?
- Have you ever been in a situation when you were made to feel small or embarrassed by someone who exulted themselves at your expense? Have you ever ‘put someone down’ by your actions or words? Share your reflections.
- Notice occasions this week when it may be easy to judge someone badly. Do something positive to favour someone to whom you may feel in some way superior.
- The humble prayer of the tax collector makes a suitable prayer for you this week:
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
Sharing the tradition
A closer look at the Scripture of the day, to see how it makes more explicit God’s word to us through the teachings of Jesus Christ
Last week was Mission Sunday. This is celebrated by the universal Church and is marked each year by a special statement issued by the Pope encouraging the mission of the Church in the world and the work of those who undertake this mission, especially in cultures other than their own.
Read the statement issued by Pope Francis to mark Mission Sunday this year on the Vatican website. You could make copies available to participants and use this to stimulate your discussion.
The Second Vatican Council included a decree on the Church’s missionary activity, Ad Gentes. The Church considers that all baptised people are engaged in this missionary activity of the Church.
- You could discuss how all people are called to be missionary—not necessarily in places far away, but in their own homes, workplaces and societies.
- You could explore some of the missionary orders of the Church and the work they do—for example, the Columban Fathers or Divine Word Missionaries.
- You could gather materials from organisations like Columban Mission, Catholic Mission or Melbourne Overseas Mission and discuss the missionary work being carried out by Australians.
- Discuss how the catechumens are called to carry out this missionary mandate of the Church.
Symbols and images
This gospel really asks us to think about what constitutes right worship. Is God impressed by words and outward show alone when the human heart is harbouring thoughts of hatred or vengeance? This parable would indicate that God is more impressed by humility and recognition of our own need for healing.
Living the Word
Practical ideas for group leaders to employ in connecting Scripture and daily life, with suggestions for music and environment
- In what ways is your community involved in the missionary activity of the Church? To whom does your community reach out?
- You could use a pair of sandals and a walking staff as a focus for prayer. Invite people to give voice to their own prayers of intercession for their needs and the needs of the world. Include all missionaries in your prayer in a special way today. Conclude with the prayer of blessing in the RCIA at §97E.