30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Luke 18: 9-14

You have to begin with the obvious fact is that the Pharisee is an arrogant fool. He simply has to make sure he is different from everyone else.  He probably dresses differently to get noticed.  He takes the most prominent position and makes sure that everyone knows he is praying. I just realized that I am the Pharisee. 

That is in stark contrast to the tax collector, who beginning a two thousand year old tradition in the Catholic Church, chooses to sit in the back of the congregation, dares not to raise his eyes to heaven, beats his breast and prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  And his is the prayer that justifies.  He is the one God exalts because he has named precisely what we need from God.

Mercy is far more than just the forgiveness of our sins.  It is the way God relates to us.  It is the promise of unending and permanent attachment to us by our God. It is the inexhaustible gift of divine love.  And it is always free.   We cannot earn the way God loves us so it is never in danger of disappearing.   Our God abides.  God will never lose us.  There is nothing deeper than an experience of God’s mercy. That is why it has emerged as the primary theme of Pope Francis who reminds us to go back to God time and time again and ask for mercy.

When we are aware of God’s mercy and how deeply it penetrates, suddenly and inevitably, our lives are transformed.  The most sinful have a way toward a new life, the loneliest know they are not abandoned, the frightened are given courage and the desperate are given hope.  After all, isn’t that the only thing that has ever mattered – to know we are loved?  The mercy of God means we have been loved beyond all measure, beyond our imagination, beyond even our wildest dreams.  It is the foundation of peace in our lives.

God’s mercy gives lie to doubts about our goodness, our dignity and our worth.  If we hold the most precious thing, the knowledge that God loves us, we must be strong, capable and beautiful.  If God is calling us to friendship, we are forever and permanently blessed.

Compare that experience to the Pharisee who justifies himself.  He has a position of greater authority, surely is more “holy” and probably even lives a moral life than the tax collector.  Yet, it is a perilous life since he is just one sin away from it all crashing down.  If he is not better than the other guy, he has no justification because he counted on himself and not on God.  When he falls, it will be like through a trap door.  We will sin – it is what we do.  But when we fall, we will fall into the arms of God’s mercy. We will stumble, but we stumble into grace.  And our every failure and sin is another opportunity to bring us closer to our God. 

Do whatever you have to do to say yes to the endless mercy of God.   If it takes a few extra minutes of prayer in the morning, it is worth it.  If it is simply doing Pope Francis five finger prayer, Google it.  If it is worth simply remembering, “Lord have mercy” during the day, whisper it.   I know on lazy days when I don’t pray in the early in the morning, the whole day seems random until I give myself some time to remember how I am loved by my God.

There is nothing more than I could want for each one of you than to know God’s mercy.  It is always there for us in rich abundance, we need only access it.  It is the difference between fear and courage, emptiness and joy, isolation and love.

The truth is about mercy is that, like love, it cannot in vacuum.  Unless we show mercy, it will wither and die within us.  Next weekend, with the Works of Mercy Initiative collection in the Schenectady Deanery, we will share the very mercy of God. There is no other program like it.  It is the result of all the local parishes marshaling their forces to ensure that we will feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, rally for the oppressed, console the grieving and accompany the lonely.  It is giving our neighbors a sign of hope. It is showing our neighbors the face of Christ.

And yet, the works of mercy should mean even more to us.  It should be at the heart of our parish. We should be known as the place where needs are addressed, where no tear goes unheeded, where no matter what your history is, no matter have you have lived or the choices you have made, you could say that at St. Kateri Tekakwitha I belong, they will fight for me and I am wanted.  Here they light a beacon for justice.  Then our whole parish will be a work of mercy. Then will the face of Christ shine most brightly in our people.