30th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
There is a story – and it is just a story – about a woman who went to Confession. She confessed a few of her sins, and then went on at great length about her husband’s failings.
When she finished, the priest said to her: “Madam, for your sins your penance is to say three Hail Marys. And for your husband’s sins, three rosaries.”
And that is the spirit of today’s Gospel. The Pharisee went to the temple and began to pray proudly, reminding God of all the good that he had done and how rotten everyone else was, including the tax collector.
The tax collector with his head bowed just beat his breast and said, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
And Jesus said that the tax collector went home right with God, while the Pharisee did not.
When the standard fare of our conversations is about “all the good that I am doing, and doing so well,” we tend to forget about God in our lives.
A writer coined the phrase, “the gift of inadequacy.” We all can feel inadequate in life: wondering if we are up to the task, fearful that someone will find out how inadequate we feel. Yet this author talks about inadequacy as a gift. That realizing my own inadequacy leads me to depend upon the strength that only God can provide.
A woman always believed that God had called her to be a teacher. But as she became more and more busy she felt that she was accomplishing less and less and was enjoying very little any more.
She discovered the reason: she was increasingly relying on herself and forgetting about God in her life.
So she started every day praying for her students, their families and the school faculty and staff. She asked the Lord to teach through her. And she began finding that she was more effective as a teacher, that her relationships with others were becoming stronger and that she was even happier in her calling. And how did this happen? She had accepted “the gift of her inadequacy.”
The Pharisee looked respectable. He probably was a good neighbor and would have been a fine member of a committee: he got things done. He believed in God, but he did not think that he really needed God. The Pharisee had no place for “the gift of his inadequacy.”
The tax collector knew that he was a great sinner. He regularly had charged people too much for their taxes and then pocketed the surplus. Now in the temple he bowed his head and admitted his inadequacy. He prayed, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
The tax collector went home right with God. The Pharisee went home full of himself.
There is a story about a professor who had to leave the university because of a personal scandal that he admitted to. And he continued to go to his church on Sunday as he always had.
At the coffee and donuts after Mass, Miriam went up to the pastor and said to him, “Well, I certainly was surprised to see you-know-who here this morning.”
And the pastor replied, “We are lucky to have him here. We need him.”
To which Miriam replied, “I beg your pardon, Father?”
The pastor then responded in his pulpit voice for everyone to hear, “We are lucky to have him here, Miriam. In every church we need at least a few sinners. Because it says in Scripture, ‘I have come not to call the self-righteous but sinners.’ And, Miriam, You-Know-Who said that.”
The Church is not a museum for saints. It is a hospital for sinners who want to grow stronger in Christ. “The gift of inadequacy” makes this growth possible: when we admit our need for God.
“O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And God does – for those who will accept “the gift of inadequacy.”