“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Today, the world hails Martin Luther and Ghandi for their stands and believes in the equality and dignity of all human being regardless of their colour, race or creed. They believed that God is not a respecter of personages to the detriment of the poor man. This belief is a basic and fundamental teaching that is rooted in scripture. The book of Genesis 1:26-27, tells us that God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.
In the first reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14.16-19 for this Sunday, we are once again reminded of this important teaching. We are reminded that the Lord is a judge who is no respecter of personages. He shows no respect of personages to the detriment of a poor man; he listens to the plea of the injured party. He does not ignore the orphan’s supplication, nor the widow’s as she pours out her story. The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds.
The first reading underscores the role of Divine Justice in bringing about social harmony and equity. God is the champion of the weak and humble. He will right the wrongs and grant redress to the injured party. “The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds, until it arrives he is inconsolable nor will he desist until the Most High takes notice of him, acquits the virtuous and delivers judgement.” The lord will not watch unconcerned as the strong and powerful take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. He will give judgement in this life or the next.
In the gospel reading from Luke 18:9-14, Jesus emphasized the same message. Through the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee he shows us how easy it is for religious power to turn into self-righteousness. The danger with self-righteousness is that it makes us look down and even despise those we feel fall short of the religious standard.
In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee Jesus shocks his audience into spiritual mindfulness and cautiousness. The Pharisee was a good man and the tax collector was a real crook. The good and the bad went into the temple to pray but only one of them actually prays. The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds.
Notice that the word of God tells us that the Pharisee was praying “to himself” his prayer sounded like a litany of self-praise. He compared himself to the tax collector who was only good for a doormat to be walked over. He prided himself on being virtuous and despised the tax collector as sinful. The Pharisee was contended with resigning the tax collector into the category of sinners who remained oppressed in wrong doing and evil.
The tax collector on the other hand 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.” The tax collector was able to accept his sinfulness and take responsibility for his action; asking for God’s mercy. He had nothing to offer God but his own sinfulness and brokenness. The tax collector came just as he was without any pretence or exaggeration and threw himself before the mercy of God; hoping that God’s mercy will take care of his sins and transforms him.
Jesus the righteous judge however has come as the friend of tax collectors and sinners to give a chance to all the humble of the world who recognise their sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Jesus has come to take us away from our sinfulness and lead us into the freedom of God’s mercy. Jesus wants us to know that we deserve more than the evil and violence that keeps us imprisoned in sin and wrong doing.
Jesus says in the scriptures Jn10:10 “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” He has come to set us free from everything that dictenslave and makes us less human and reduces our dignity as made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus wants us to avoid the kind of religion that humiliates and despises others because of their weaknesses and sins. Rather he wants to empower us through the humble acceptance of our sins and weaknesses and taking responsibility for our actions through the mercy of God.
Like St Paul in the second reading from 2 Timothy 4:6-8.16-18, we are encouraged to fight the good fight of faith and run the race to the finish and leave all judgement to the righteous judge who humbles the man who exalts himself but exalts the man who humbles himself.