Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
It was a great opening night for our Art Show on Friday night. The Mayor, Joe Natole bought five paintings! Over 30 were sold all weekend. About 300 paintings were entered. I had no idea the event would be so big when June McCotter first offered to run an art show as a fund raiser. I envisaged a simple thing here in the parish! But thanks to the generosity of the Shire Councillors, Jenny McKay and Paul Tatton we were able to stage it in the Civic Centre. Thanks to June for her energy and enthusiasm in making it happen.
Originally, I suggested a theme for the show: Faith in Art or Faith in an Age of Conflict. Because it seemed a good opportunity not just to raise money but to engage in a reflection on an issue critical in our day: conflict around religious identity.
I was impressed with the results. Some artists gave a literal response describing a world of belief. Others have offered a challenge to us asking us how do we respond. Others again have imagined a world where people of faith live together in harmony. Many have given us works that depict the natural world and environment in which we all must find our home.
Some people have suggested that much of world conflict is a direct result of religious intolerance. We need to acknowledge that there is truth in that. But should people of religious faith be content to be part of the problem? We need to be able to contribute to its solution.
The parable in the gospel today (Luke 18:9-14), gives a simple insight into how religious ideology can be at the root of division and conflict. This parable follows on from the one last week about being faithful in prayer. Here we learn about the heart of prayer.
It has been said somewhere that prayer is not just the way we relate to God. It is our relationship with God. The Pharisee of the story is often thought of as a hypocrite. Yet like devout Pharisees his life has been one of scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses. He is doing all that is asked of him. He must have been seen as a reasonably good person. His description of himself we can assume is pretty accurate. As he speaks, however, he has one eye on the tax collector standing some distance away. A tax collector by definition is not law abiding according to people like the Pharisee.
The tax collector in his prayer gives what we can also assume is an accurate description of himself. He knows he is a sinner. He needs God's help. That is the content of his prayer.
The difference between the two men is simple. The Pharisee does not ask for any thing. So he does not receive any thing. The tax collector asks for mercy and he receives mercy. The Pharisee's words are not a prayer at all. They are self praise. He does not need God. He has done everything required. The tax collector on the other hand, knows that his salvation comes from God, not from anything he has done. His attitude is the epitome of one who is "poor in spirit" as described in the beatitudes.
Jesus does not say that the Pharisee was a sinner. It is just that God can do nothing for him. His heart is blind to his real need. Love of God can easily turn into love of oneself. And the gifts we receive from God we easily make our possession to keep as if we can claim credit.
That self justification of the Pharisee holds within it the seeds of conflict. From his self made position he can take on God's role and pass judgement on everyone else who does not measure up to his standards: thieves, rogues, adulterers, and tax collectors. From there it is a short step to exclude such people from one's life. Then, rather than tolerate such people in the world you can take steps to get rid of them. That is what happened to Jesus. Good people like the Pharisees condemned him, excluded him, and ended up killing him!
The evidence of such ideological conflict is all around us.
For me then, to look at a painting at our Art Show which confronts us with the reality of injustice and division can help me look to my own heart and see if my prayer is real.