Homily for November 8th, 2016: Luke 17:7-10.
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” The closing words of our gospel reading today tell us that we never have a claim on God. Even when we have done all that God commands – and which of us has? – we can never sit back and tell God: “I’m waiting for your reward, Lord.”
That was what the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story of the two men who went up to the
to pray. In his prayer the Pharisee tells God all the good things he has done.
And he really has done them. He was a genuinely good and devout man. His good
works went far beyond anything that was required. Jerusalem
The tax collector, on the other hand, knew that he had few if any good deeds to appeal to. He could pray only for God’s mercy: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Yet, Jesus says, it was the tax collector who went home justified – which means “put right with God” – rather than the devout Pharisee. His mistake lay in assuming that his good deeds gave him a claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us, and it is an absolute claim
Does that mean that there is no reward for faithful service? Of course not. Jesus speaks often of God’s reward. To experience his reward, Jesus is saying, you must appeal, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s mercy. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”