Browsing Reflections

Fr. Jo's Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr C, October 23, 2022

I learned that the reason why some folks prefer the back row when they come to Mass is to identify with the humility of the tax collector in today’s gospel, and I say “bravo” to the backseaters. I do hope, though, that the backseaters do not develop the attitude of another backseater tax collector who rather prayed: “God, I thank you that I’m not like the rest of these people here—do-gooders, frequent Church-going, front-sitting Pharisees—especially Ms. XYZ. I may be greedy, dishonest and adulterous, but I’m grateful not to be a hypocrite like them.”

My point is that it doesn’t matter where you sit. The desire to judge, exalt, and justify oneself can always find a reason—even in one’s so-called humility, or in the back, middle or front seat of the Church. In fact, the greatest hypocrisy of our time comes with the labeling of others—especially those who make effort to be good—as hypocrites, while those who have got intoxicated in moral relativism pride themselves as okay people. And society idolizes, canonizes, and emulates them. Goodbye good men and women!

“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity,” sounds arrogant, outrageous, and harsh; yet many of us, in our different holy camps, carry that same sort of attitude. The poor judge the rich as wicked, and the rich judge the poor as lazy; the old judge the young as vile and senseless, and the young judge the old as out-of-date; conservatives judge liberals, and liberals judge conservatives; the new sanctimonious center judge everyone else, and you dare not judge them. America judges the rest of the world and vice versa. What’s everyone saying? If only the rest of the world were a little bit more like me, the world would be a great place. There’s a Pharisee in each one of us.

The Pharisee of today’s gospel was not a bad person; he has a lot going for him. He honestly didn’t cheat his neighbor; many of us can’t say so. He fasted twice a week; many of us quarrel with mere abstinence from meat on Fridays only. He tithed his income to God; the chart shows that we’re stingier than our parents. He prayed four times a day; we applaud ourselves when we make it to Mass once a week. If everyone tries to live like this Pharisee, surely the world about us would be a more delightful place. But here is the bad news about this man, and even “badder” for us: He was a proud prig, swept off by his self-importance; and so are we, oftentimes. William James said: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.” The Pharisee’s prayer consisted of trumpets and accolades to his humble self. The worship that day was to himself. He found in the world two perfect people—himself and God—and he wasn’t quite sure God was that perfect; the reason he was, perhaps, in his prayer wondering why God hasn’t yet sent him a “Thank You” card or some plaque.

The tax collector was surely a bad person. We wouldn’t like to hear his stinking story. The good news: he was humble. The word humility was born from the Latin word “humus,” meaning, ‘earth’ or ‘ground.’ To work out an equation between the Pharisee and the tax collector is Jesus’ motif in the parable. Take the good in the Pharisee and the humility of the tax collector and you form a perfect child of God. The pride of the Pharisee and the evil of the tax collector cancel each other out. Sadly though, the last two are what some people choose to retain. Not only are their lives evil, they’re proud of it. No one has been able to improve on the famous expression that “pride goes before the fall.” But for heaven, it might be too high, but its entrance gate is so low that to pass we must stoop in humility. This is represented by the very short entrance door to the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem. Pilgrims find that to enter into the mystery of Christ, they must bend the knee and be as humble as the one who stripped Himself of divine glory in order to become human like us and save us.  

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


RSS Feed