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Luke 18: 9-14 presents a parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector "to those who think they were righteous and despised others.” On its face, it looks like a warning against spiritual pride/arrogance but actually, a model of prayer that highlights a religious issue as serious as it was in the past. The plot starts with two people, one a pharisee and the other, a publican, who went to the temple to pray. They represent a group of people said to be extremes in the entire spectrum of society differing mostly in their respective religious and spiritual wavelength. Pharisees are well-known religious people leading moral and decent lives. They are the top of the class, the cream of the crop, active and dominant in religious and social affairs, people who know the law by heart, ‘Torah’ is everything to them. They wake up early enough to pray before the whole world does, strive hard to follow the minutest details of the letter of the law and generous with their money. Exactly, the type of parishioner, your pastor wishes to have.

....with head held high and outstretched arm, he gives his best shot, brags before God by proudly reciting this prayer, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity –greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or even like the tax collector hiding at the corner. I fast twice a week and give ten percent of my whole income to the temple." 

O God, I thank you that I am not like other Catholics who stay in bed until noon and make no effort at attending the Eucharist, except maybe on Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Easter. I never miss Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation and go to confession on a regular basis even without being aware of any real and serious sin. I might watch my favorite TV shows but that's only after I'm done with my obligations. I strictly follow the rules. I may have questions (all of us have) and struggle with some teachings but in the end, abide by it, unlike my other Catholic friend who always pokes fun at me. I pledge faithfully. A simple of note of thanks is enough. I've served in many parish capacities for years and still, actively involved in a  number of ministries. Lord, would you allow that fellow standing at the back who came late, yes after the homily, to sit in the pew with me?

Let's turn our attention to the so- called, public enemy number one, the publican (the tax collector). They are crook, detestable, despicable, conniving and betrayer of their own people for acting as collaborators with Roman authority. They accepted bribes and engaged in the dirty business of pocketing poor people's hard-earned money. No wonder, they are at the bottom of the social scale. In the temple, the publican stayed in the shadows, “stood afar off and would not even lift his eyes to God,” to the Holy of Holies, no reason, by the way to do so, but “beat his breast and prayed, O God, be merciful to me a sinner!”.

O God, a TV commercial inviting lapsed Catholics back into the church was aired sometime ago. I actually stumbled upon it and felt that it spoke directly to me. I'm a public sinner in the eyes of many. I didn't want to show up today as I'm deeply ashamed of myself. I've been away for decades without excuses and broken the ten commandments not once but multiple times. It sounds funny that I bend my knee before you. My future is hanging on a balance and my life hit rock bottom. With candor, simplicity of heart and absolute trust, I beg for mercy for my past and resolve to straighten things out. 

Jesus entered the scene, “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.”

Perhaps, we are a mixture of both, sometimes a Pharisee when we seek applause and recognition for our hard work, to name just a few and sometimes, a tax collector, when we humbly and sincerely pray to God, acknowledge our sins and failures, laugh at our mistakes and ask forgiveness for those whose feelings we’ve hurt and offended. Yes, the story went awry. It made a lot of us feel terrible. But, over all, this text clearly shows that since God declares the publican justified, so are we. Amen.

This Sunday has been designated as World Priesthood Sunday, a golden and blessed opportunity to create awareness in the vocation to the sacred order of priesthood (from the latin, presbyter) to serve Christ the Teacher (proclaim), the priest (offer sacrifice) and shepherd (to govern) through the laying on of hands. Priesthood is a divine gift, a calling to tailor and fashion our lives in the priesthood of Jesus Christ’s, once and for all, sacrifice on the cross. Amen.