30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 18:9-14
October 27, 2019

Another parable this week. But, it does not appear that this is just “another in a string” of little stories that Jesus happened to be sharing with friends, sitting around a campfire…or while relaxing at the table after a good dinner. This lesson had a target audience. Jesus was speaking directly to people who considered themselves to be “holier than Thou.”

When His words hit the mark, it hurt…or at least it should have. His message continues to strike a nerve today…or at least it should. This is not just “another in a string” of little stories.

What we have here is a lesson, which, in my estimation, is on par with The Lord’s reply to the disciples when they said: Lord, teach us to pray! (Luke 1:11) Although there, His wisdom was sought and appreciated. Furthermore, He responded by giving them words that disciples continue to use over 2,000 years later.

In this encounter, we have what amounts to a critique, which was most unlikely unsolicited, and quite probably resented. Imagine how these self-righteous, sanctimonious, and judgmental people must have felt when they heard the “punchline:”

Whoever exults himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Now, 2,000 years later, this lesson in humility remains relevant and still packs a punch…or at least it should! Basically, Jesus is telling us how to pray. Not in the sense of giving us words, but rather, pointing out the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer. We are to stand humbly before the Lord our God.

I clearly don’t know this to be fact, but I suspect that this Gospel is very close to the heart of Pope Francis. I suggest this because of the long string of comments he has made publicly. Words to the effect of: Who am I to judge?I am a sinner and I confess every two weeks…etc., etc. Ironically, when The Holy Father makes these types of self-effacing comments, he seems to irritate some folks, even within the Church hierarchy.

An attitude of self-righteousness, like the Pharisee brought to prayer in Jesus’s parable, tends to blind us to the weaker aspects of human nature. Even worse, the feeling of superiority that comes hand in glove with a “pharisaic spirituality” can cause people to be judgmental and intolerant of those who appear not to measure up to the high standard they believe they have achieved. As a result, then, it is hard for some people to accept Francis’s message of tolerance for human frailty and weakness. Some bristle when the Pope extends a welcome to those who the “self-righteous” feel should be excluded.

It really should be no surprise to anyone that the Holy Father’s teachings tend to echo the prayer of the tax collector: O God, be merciful to me, a SINNER! His spiritual formation was in the Jesuit tradition, and St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that the foundation of a sound spiritual life is an honest and daily examination of conscience. Beginning and/or ending the day by humbly acknowledging our total and complete dependence on God is key to a healthy relationship with our Creator; just so, a humble and candid listing of our shortcomings, coupled with a plea for the grace to improve promotes conversion…justification.

So then, if, through this little story, Jesus is teaching the proper disposition or attitude to bring to prayer, the Jesuit tradition has provided us with the words to humble ourselves so that we can hope to be exalted. Here is one Jesuit’s efforts:

Praying the Jesuit Examination of Conscience

Lord, I realize that all, even myself, is a gift from you.
– Today, for what things am I most grateful?

Lord, open my eyes and ears to be more honest with myself.
– Today, what do I really want for myself?

Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me this day.
– Today, in what ways have I experienced your love?

Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.
– Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?

Lord, let me look with longing toward the future.
– Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?