October 23rd 201
The first reading is from a wisdom book (Sirach 35:12-18 passim). The prologue to it was written by someone in Egypt after 132 BC, who was translating into Greek a Hebrew book of his grandfather (whose name was Jesus). The book presented the thrust of the teachings of the Bible about the Law and the wise way to live. Manuscripts of parts of the Hebrew book itself have been found but it is not part of the Hebrew Old Testament. Despite the book’s enthusiasm for the Law, in our passage it speaks of a God who treats all people fairly; it quite poetically depicts God as particularly drawn to the poor, orphans and widows, like a Judge who responds quickly to prayers after judging what is asked for and what is right. The same thoughts are expressed repeatedly in the Psalm that follows this reading.
In the second reading we have some words from the second letter to Timothy which seem to genuinely come from Paul himself. He is clearly at the end of his tether and near the end of his life. He speaks of the sacrifice of his life as a libation – a drink poured out as an offering to a deity. He uses his favourite metaphors for life – a race, a competition. Some of his friends seem to have abandoned him at the difficult times of his trial or when he was in prison. He is willing to forgive, and trusts that God will reward him with entry into the heavenly kingdom. It seems from the use of “we” in Luke’s book The Acts of the Apostles that Luke was often a close and loyal friend to Paul.
In the gospel Jesus tells a hard hitting story. We need to realise that the Pharisees are generally depicted in the New Testament as being self-righteous; they are externally good living if judged by the religious laws that they keep and the public worship which they offer, and this was frowned on by the followers of Jesus. Yet the Pharisees were clearly not all like this, but it is typical of human attitudes to make inaccurate generalisations. However, in the parable we do have such a self-righteous, fictitious character. The other person in the parable is the tax collector. The Romans controlled the country but, perhaps because of difficulties for themselves, they had local Jewish people to collect the taxes for them; people who knew the language and those they were dealing with; they were perhaps glad of a job that was protected by the occupying forces; it is thought that they were expected to collect more than was actually required to provide a salary for their work. Obviously they were not liked by everyone else, but Jesus, as was his custom, did not follow this attitude – he had invited Matthew as one of his followers although he was a tax collector. And in this parable the humble and self-effacing tax collector has the role of an example for us all.