Jesus once told a parable about the Pharisee and the publican. Translated in 2013 lingo, it is a parable about the superstar and the schmuck. Let's revisit this pearl of divine wisdom with a new coat of paint applied for current relevance.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
Quite often, two different kinds of people go to the church to pray. The first is the all-American success story. Pulling themselves up by their brawny boot straps, they fully believe in the theology of 'God helps those who help themselves.' They tend to sound more like Job's friends than Job, judging success as godliness, and failure as reflecting an inner inferiority, an inner lacking. Birds of a feather flock together--and these peacocks love to spread their plumage with fellow 'socially acceptable' success stories. Compassion, for them, in reality, is condescension at best.
The second person, who sneaks in the back door of the church, is the person well aware of their long history, penchant, and addiction to vice. Feeling the sliminess of sin, they are tormented, desperate, and shamed in front of the only hope for Mercy in the world--the God of Sacraments and Scripture--and the rumor of the living saint. Rejected by the shining 'morning stars' of the church, they tend only to experience God in the confessional and in the Eucharistic species. Mercy, for them, in reality, is acknowledgement of their battle with sin, and God's perseverance.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
Every Catholic diocese, every non-Catholic church, has a 'human resources' department, and an 'educational' department, which seeks to find the best Catholics and Christians to lead the people in Catholic catechesis and Christian education. But politics, ideology, and personal prejudice prevail in keeping out all sorts of publicans, while bringing in the right kind of Pharisee. Progressives want progressives, and Conservatives want conservatives; and peacocks always tend toward fellow peacocks.
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14
In the end, your journey in Christ will be judged, not on how many church offices you held, or on how many banquets you hosted, or on how many awards you won, or on how many people you impressed, but on how many publicans you publicly befriended, in repentant solidarity with the sinfulness only the Lord of Mercy can justify.
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