Historical Marker at the Corner of 4th. and Walnut in Louisville, KY
This gospel parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector is one more of those parables only found in the gospel of Luke. It’s a great story. Two attitudes are portrayed one by the Pharisee and the other by the tax collector. At the end of the story only the tax collector goes home “justified” in contrast to the Pharisee and those represented by his attitude who are convinced of their righteousness and critical and despising everyone else.
At times we can be a little like the Pharisee seeing sin everywhere around us while absolving ourselves. It’s like saying: “Let me get that spec out of your eye all the while overlooking the beam in my own eye.” This led the Pharisee and can lead you and me to that attitude of holding all others in contempt. There is a classical rule in spiritual direction that reminds us to be careful about judging because what you despise in others is probably part of your own behavior.
The lesson from today’s gospel is that we are all sinners. It is the tax collector who humbly acknowledges that and is the one who stands justified before God and can go home with a peaceful conscience. Even Pope Francis made more news lately in one of his interviews when the reporter asked the first question. “Who is Pope Francis?” He answered: “I am a sinner.” Yes, we are all sinners. It is an important reminder from Luke in today’s gospel.
I’d like to end this reflection this morning by going in a slightly different direction to a different time, place, and person for an example of taking these words and the attitude of the Pharisee that he is better than everyone else and turning them, well upside down.
The time is March 18, 1958. The place is a busy and crowded street corner in Louisville, Kentucky. The corner of 4th. and Walnut. The person is Father Louis or as he is better known, Thomas Merton, a monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani near Louisville.
There is now one of those historical markers put there by the State of Kentucky to commemorate the event. It is called a "A Revelation". Here is the text from that historical marker, put up around 2004. “Merton had a sudden insight at this corner Mar. 18, 1958 that led him to redefine his monastic identity with greater involvement in social justice issues. “He was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that he loved all these people…” He found them “walking around shining like the sun.” The experience is related in his book: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
Merton at this time had been in the monastery for about sixteen or seventeen years. He had gone there to find God and become holy through a routine of prayer and discipline by taking himself out of the work-a-day world of everyday life. Then Merton has this Revelation on this busy street corner on a late winter day. Merton in his description of this moment says that he almost blurted out: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” He adds that we do not know it, but we all are going around shinning like the sun. Merton adds if we could see that in one another: "There would be no more war no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed." Yes, we are sinners. We are also, you and I, going around shining like the sun.
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