Saint Patrick’s Church
Sunday, 2nd August, 2015
1 Cor 12 : 2-11 / Luke 18 :9-14
We have heard in the first reading, the Corinthians seeking assurance that they are in communion with Jesus through the gift of his Spirit. St Paul assures them that there are many ways in which the Spirit is manifested in people’s lives. Whatever way they have been gifted by grace, St Paul assures them that it is one and the same Spirit that they are experiencing. Moreover, we too can take this is an assurance for ourselves today.
Furthermore, as St Paul explains, we can all be sure that it is the risen Lord, Jesus himself, who is giving us his Spirit, and that whatever gift we receive it will always be to assist us in execution of Jesus’ ministry. His ministry, as we know, is that of carrying out the will of God.
St Paul is speaking here of the variety of ways in which the gifts of grace enable Jesus’ disciples to continue this service. Some thought there were "diversities" in the operations of the Spirit, but Paul tells us that however various were these operations; they all proceeded from the same Spirit. He cautions the Corinthians not to expect precisely the same influences or works; nor were they to suppose that because there were various works, that therefore they were not all influenced by the Spirit of God.
Notice the Trinitarian dimension of St Paul’s teaching. Each member of the community has a special share in the communion of love, which has its source in God. It is mediated to us through Christ, the Lord, by the gift to us of the Spirit of love. There is only one Spirit and so all who experience God’s gift of grace should experience being bonded to others who are enjoying the same communion. Since God is the almighty Creator, if we open ourselves to the will of the Lord, and if we allow his Spirit to fill us and to activate us, we can be sure that the will of God will be done through us.
Since God is love, from our communion in the triune life of God, and according to the unique gifts of the Spirit with which each of us is graced, God’s all-powerful love will bear fruit in our lives.
St Paul gives examples of various gifts of grace, which manifest the Spirit. He begins with wisdom, the gift which enables us to receive God’s self-revelation. It is wisdom which enables a person to see in Jesus’ dying on the cross the revelation of who God really is. Then comes ‘knowledge’ – whereby we are able to grasp the meaning of revelation and its implications for living. The Corinthians have been priding themselves in their knowledge, but forgetting that true spiritual knowledge is related to both wisdom and love. Then comes ‘faith’, the gift which enables us to hear the gospel, to recognise it as God’s gift, and to open our minds and hearts to accept it and to base our lives upon it.
Not unrelated, in the Gospel, St Luke uses the story of the Pharisee and tax collector to contrast pride and humility. This parable deals with prayer, but here the issue is the content of the heart as one prays. The parable is one of contrast and is unique to Luke.
The parable takes place at Israel's most holy site, the temple. The two visitors are on opposite ends of the social spectrum. The Pharisee is a respected religious member in a most honoured social group, while the tax collector belongs to one of the most hated professions possible for a Jew.
The two prayers also make a contrast. The Pharisee is sure that he is a blessing to God: He makes no request of God; he offers no honour to God.
In contrast, the tax collector senses that he approaches a holy God, a great and unique being. This man comes with timidity, from a distance, not lifting his eyes to heaven. While the Pharisee had stood right at the front and addressed God, the tax collector beats his breast in an obscure corner to reflect his contrition. This practice indicates an awareness of one's humble position before God.
The tax collector knows he is a sinner; the Pharisee is confident of his own righteousness. The contrast could not be greater.
The tax collector asks for mercy. He desires to improve his spiritual health, not rest on any personal laurels. He is aware that the only way he has access to God is through divine mercy. Such access is not earned; it is the product of God's grace.
Jesus paints a vivid story of two men at prayer. What's the point or lesson he wants us to learn? Jesus' parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God. It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer. The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others. Absorbed with his own sense of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, his prayer consisted of prideful boasts of what he did and of disdain for those he despised. The Pharisee tried to justify himself; but only God can justify.
The tax collector, who represented those despised by the religious people of the time, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. God heard his prayer because he had remorse for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride. This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to illusion and self- deception. Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it inclines us to God's grace and mercy.
"Lord, may your love control my thoughts and actions that I may do what is pleasing to you. Show me where I lack charity, mercy, and forgiveness toward my neighbour. And help me to be generous in giving to others what you have so generously given to me."
Bishop Leslie Tomlinson