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Yeah, don't do that . . .

In Sunday's (October 23, 2022) Gospel reading (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus tells the disciples a parable, contrasting the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector.

Today was the first time I noticed that the Pharisee "spoke this prayer to himself" (emphasis added). What did he say to himself? "I fast." "I pay tithes". This parable reminds me of a Gospel reading few weeks back - Jesus says, "When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" (Lk 17:10). The Pharisee did nothing more that he was obliged to do by God's law. Yet, his "prayer" was nothing more than reassuring himself that he did what he was supposed to do.

This Gospel made me think about how it is not uncommon for schools, corporations, and other organizations to require students and employees to perform community service. Students and employees have to report their hours spent volunteering, or provide information about past service on admission and job applications. Some are rewarded for their service. Some promote themselves by displaying their service on social media.

When we volunteer in our communities in these contexts, there is a risk that we end up praying to ourselves if we are focused too much on what we do, and are not focused enough on whom we serve. When we focus on how we give back, we risk thinking that others should be grateful for our service and we should be rewarded, and risk failing to recognize the inherent dignity of others and our duty to love them. When we focus on how we bring Christ to others, we risk thinking that Christ is not already with others, and risk failing to see Jesus is already there, with them, in them, and loving them already, looking back at us through their eyes. We risk being the Pharisee and not the tax collector.

In that light, when it comes to serving our neighbors, especially in volunteering in our communities, consider these challenge questions for this week:

Why are you volunteering in your community?

What do you expect to get out of it?

Have you considered inviting someone to join you in your service as a way to invite them to encounter Jesus, in those whom you serve?

Finally, when we reflect on ways we served and loved our neighbors this week, let's try the tax collectors prayer: 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

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