30th Sunday of the Year (c) 2016
‘John’s gone all holy’!
Meaning: that he isn’t the same as he used to be: that he is no longer like the rest of us.
And it was true: now instead of lying in on a Sunday morning I used to go to Church. I belonged to a Legion of Mary Group; helped in the Parish Youth Club. None of my friends did this.
I had become different from my friends. Did I look down on them? I don’t think so. But this was a temptation. There is the temptation for the religious person to look down on others.
The Pharisee in the parable is a religious man. And what he does is clearly admirable: he thanks God for making him the kind of person he is: not grasping, nor unjust and certainly not adulterous. And to be like this is no mean achievement: such an upright person would be praised today: it can never be easy to be honest and pure of heart.
Over and above these admirable qualities this man also fasts, not once but twice a week. What discipline this must take. It cannot have been easy when everyone else is eating and drinking normally, just to drink a glass of water. He must have stood out among his family and friends who knew he fasted: not just once but twice a week. And if that were not enough he says he pays tithes on all he gets. These ‘tithes’ were to the Priest. It must have been easy to keep something back, especially as other people, even good people did. But, no, not this man: he was honest as the day is long.
But for all this man’s so called holiness, he was missing something essential. He had little or no humility. On the contrary: he prided himself on being virtuous and despised everyone else. All his fasting and honesty has taught him nothing. In fact, they were an obstacle. Because as long as he practised these things he thought he was pleasing to God. But he wasn’t. Not only is he not pleasing to God, but God is not happy with him.
This is a sad man but only because he cannot see his sadness. And it would be so easy for him to change, to become pleasing to God. All he would have to do is not judge others who have not been given the same opportunities and graces that he has. He just needs to acknowledge that ‘but for the grace of God go I’. But for this to happen a real miracle is needed. Because such men and women do not listen to others; even to God.
Pride is in us all. Sometimes it is so deep rooted that we can’t see it. We should recognize it by our attitudes. And the more religious we are the more humble we have to become. Humility is truth. I cannot look down on anyone else: my constant attitude must be: ‘but for the grace of God go I’.
And when I say “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner”, I must believe it: first, that I am a sinner, no matter how good others may perceive me to be; and, second, that the Lord, is merciful; especially to those who turn to him in their sinfulness.
And so, ‘to be holy’ does not necessarily mean being different from others. The holiest people are often so ordinary you could overlook them. ‘Holiness’ is not immediately obvious.