Thirtieth Sunday in the Ordinary Time.
23rd October 2016.
Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-19; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14.
The root of pride is the denial of our mimetic nature. According to Rene Girard, ‘our neighbor is the model of our desires’.[i] We desire an object by imitating the desires of our models. We are not the originators of our desires, rather each one of us at one time imitate another’s desire for an object. We must imitate our parents or significant others in order to grow within our cultures. Human relationship is characterized by mimesis. Conflicts results when the object of desire is what cannot be shared. Pride is the denial of this human mimetic nature. The denial of the mimetic nature automatically sets us apart from others. But the affirmation of it promotes our being towards openness to the other and to God. Today’s readings remind us of the need to be humble in prayer, mindful of the fact that God is a just judge.
The gospel presents the parable of ‘the Pharisee and the tax collector’. Both went to pray in the temple. The Pharisee prayed to himself, while the tax collector asked God for the forgiveness of his many sins. The scenario is charged with the human mimetic nature; the Pharisee denied it, and the tax collector accepted it. The ‘words’ of the Pharisee, (for they do not qualify as prayers), did not betray any human relation. The phrase ‘…like the rest of mankind…’ is a denial of the mimesis that characterize human action. They expressed self-sufficiency, an attribute of God. By setting himself apart, he has become the judge of his character before God, hence he did not pray. He entered the temple to sing praises unto himself- this is pride. The tax collector mindful of the many times he failed to open up to the other in love rather than hate, asked for forgiveness. His prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ is a recognition of the mimetic human nature. Without our mimetic nature, openness to God is not possible.
The justice of God is expressed in the first reading. God the just judge is not attracted by sentiments. Poverty is not an advantage before God. According to the reading, ‘He shows no respect of personages to the detriment of a poor man, he listens to the plea of the injured party’. Divine justice always unmasks guilt dressed in victimhood. The beauty of divine justice is that it depicts the unique approach of God to each person. Our mimetic nature does not have the capacity to express our uniqueness, rather it is the approach of God that tells us how unique we are. Each time we trace our uniqueness inwardly, we run into the danger of pride. The Pharisee failed to recognize that his ‘righteousness’ was a product of mimesis, mediated through the model of his desire. According to divine justice, it is the tax collector who went home at rights with God.
There is no doubt that we are unique as no two person are ever the same. We encounter conflict each moment we define our uniqueness from within. Our mimetic nature abhors this kind of judgement. It leads to pride. Rather God grants us our uniqueness through his relationship with us. This why St. Paul expressed in the second reading, ‘I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing’. The sin of pride is a denial that we are related to each other. Our prayers will not reach God each time we deny our humanity.
Anthony Ekpunobi, C.M.
[i] Girard, R. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. New York: Orbis Books, 2001. P. 10.