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October 27, 2019

XXX Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

 

To understand today’s Gospel passage (Lk 18:9-14), we start with a small detail that we find in v.13 which tells of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Jesus says that the latter does “not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, but he beat his breast…”

That gesture of beating one’s heart, occurs two more times in the Gospel of Luke, both in Chapter 23, during the account of the Passion.

The first occurs on the way of Calvary (Lk 23:27), where it says that a great multitude of people and the women who were following Jesus, mourned and lamented Him. Jesus rebukes these people that they are not to cry for Him: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me…”

The second happens after the death of Jesus: the Roman centurion, seeing how Jesus died, gave glory to God and recognizes Jesus as a just man (Lk 23:27), and “When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts” (Lk 23:48).

After seeing the death of Jesus, the people that first cried for Him, cries for themselves, and beating their breasts no more recognize the misfortune of Him Who climbed Calvary to be crucified there, but recognizing their own misfortune, their sin.

Returning to today’s Gospel, it seems this link is important to understand what prayer is.

We saw, last Sunday, that it’s important to pray always, with persistence. But what is prayer?

From today’s parable, as well as from the Calvary episode, we draw some considerations.

The first is related to seeing.

In the parable we see that the two protagonists, both go up to the temple to pray, have two different looks.

The gaze of the Pharisee is on himself (Lk 18:11-12): he lists with confidence all his talents, his spiritual performances, and in so doing remains closed on himself. He looks at himself and likes himself a lot, and therefore doesn’t need anyone else and feels he has the right to look on everyone with contempt.

The Publican’s gaze is different: he does not dare to raise his eyes to God, he sees himself, in his own truth, a sinner and he beats his breast.

We also find a gaze on Calvary: it’s that of the crowd that saw Jesus dying as a just man. And from that gaze, it changes the way we see ourselves; it changes everything.

We could say that, on Calvary, the people feel gazed at by this innocent man who gives His life, and then – only then – recognize their sin.

This is Christian prayer: above all, not seeing but letting oneself be seen, letting oneself be gazed at by the good gaze of the One who is dying for us. It is a recognition that this Man is dying for our sins, and in that moment receiving the compunction of heart expressed in the gesture of beating one’s breast.

The Publican, in the parable, does this and prays. Not so the Pharisee.

The second indication it related precisely to the Pharisee. Here also connecting with another Gospel passage can help us. In Matthew (7:22-23), Jesus speaks of the end times, and says this: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.”

Hence, there will be “many” who will think they have done many good works for the Lord, just like the Pharisee of today. But, these good works, Jesus never saw, He does not know them.

Because it is not a question of doing good works, but of recognizing what He did for us by dying on the cross, by contemplating with amazement that gesture of love with which He has loved us. It is allowing oneself to be encountered by the gaze of the Lord that changes the heart and, therefore, life.

Then we will no longer be self-satisfied enthusiasts, but humble proclaimers of the mercy of God, like the Publican of today’s Gospel, like the Samaritan who was healed, in the Gospel of two Sundays ago (Lk 17:11-19).

+Pierbattista

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