Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; (or Sirach 35:12-17; or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; Psalm 84:1-6); 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln
Most people want mercy for themselves, and justice for others. That means we want to be forgiven, rather than receive what we deserve in strict justice. Then we want others to be punished for their crimes. It’s only just. Today’s Gospel tells of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. Both are believers, yet there is no community between them. The Pharisee has a self-deluded prayer of bragging about himself (see Greek below), and a judgmental prayer of scorn for others, especially for the tax collector who is far off in a corner of the temple. The tax collector has a prayer of humility. He knows that if justice is done, he is screwed. What would happen to any of us if we got our “just” deserts? So here we have the good guy who never breaks the rules, and the sinner (see Greek below). What stand does Jesus take? Who does he favor? He says the tax collector went home justified, rather than the other one (Luke 18:14). Jesus seems to agree with Abraham Lincoln that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. (Or is it that Lincoln agrees with Jesus?) One lesson today is that we would do well to be humble, rather than arrogant and judgmental like the Pharisee. Perhaps we are critical of others because, deep down, we do not feel good about ourselves. We protest too much. A more challenging lesson is to have mercy on those we might think deserve a stricter justice. God is not the only one who can show mercy. Jesus tells this story so that we can do likewise. Why not? After all, we never know what is in another’s heart.
Luke 18:9 says that the Pharisee was confident of, or trusted in, his own righteousness. The Greek word used here has a root meaning of “persuaded” himself. It connotes self-deception. In Luke 18:11 the Pharisee is presumably addressing God. However, the Greek literally says he was praying “to himself.” Rather than praying to God, he is still trying to persuade himself how good he is.
Most translations of Luke 18:13 say the tax collector prays “have mercy on me, a sinner.” However, the Greek literally says “the sinner.” He considers himself the worst.
Night tears mercy cry.
God wrath of justice holds back.
In kindness lifted.