Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel makes it pretty clear that exalting yourself is not the way into the Kingdom. So it might sound strange to hear Paul saying he competed well and finished the race and now expects the winner’s crown. So why is he any different from the Pharisee in the Gospel?
The Pharisee probably was being honest about himself. Sure, he fasts and tithes, is not greedy or adulterous, but he misses the point. He thinks that justification, being right with God, comes from a person’s accomplishments. He feels no need to ask for God’s mercy. Yet if he relied on that mercy, he wouldn’t boast about his good deeds. Instead, he would ask for God’s mercy and then thank God by doing good or being generous. In other words, he put the cart before the horse. He thinks that God is waiting to be bribed with good deeds (or at least a lack of bad ones) so that he can be justified. “After all,” thinks the Pharisee, “what else are good deeds for if not to make me look good?”
St. Paul, on the other hand, looks at his life as a Pharisee and is amazed that God forgave his “good works” of keeping the law and persecuting Christians. He is so grateful for God’s mercy that he can’t wait to tell everyone about Jesus and how he loves us. His boasting is not about what he has done for God; it’s more about what God has done through him. In verse 17, he credits God, who gave him the strength to preach the Good News.
Maybe you have examples of what God has done in your life: the people God sent to love you, the talents or abilities God gave you, the times God forgave your sins. Are you so grateful for what God has done that you want to do more for God? Or do you go to church, put your offering in the collection, and work a booth at the parish picnic so that God will be grateful to you? It sounds obvious when put that way, but it is tempting to think that God loves us more when we do good things. Remember that God loved St. Paul while he was still persecuting Christians, loved him enough not only to forgive him but to make him into a great apostle. Why waste your time trying to earn that love, when you could be doing whatever you can to thank God for it?