He is hardly noticed. Waves of students and faculty move in and out of the building every day. He makes sure the floors and bathrooms are clean, that broken furniture and equipment are repaired and replaced without missing a beat. Some of the professors who have been around a few years will say a quick hello when they walk by, a couple of them actually know his name. During his time, more than forty graduating classes have been educated in this hall that he takes such conscientious care of, hardly noticed, taken for granted . . . like the tax collector.
They spend most of the night driving around the city ready for the call. An accident, a bar fight, a “jumper.” They’re the first ones there to stop the bleeding, talk the poor soul down, clean up the mess. They get the victims to the hospital, often with just seconds to spare – and then they’re back out on the streets. They stay on the edges, in the distance, doing their jobs, unheralded, never recognized . . . like the tax collector.
She is one of hundreds of nurses working in a large hospital. Every shift, day or night, she works countless small miracles of compassion and mercy for the patients on her floor. To her, they are more than numbers and charts in the massive hospital system: they are the terrified child, the desperately-ill woman, the confused senior, the overwhelmed family. For her, mercy is something real, something that love makes possible . . . as the tax collector understands.
What would we do without these good and dedicated souls? But, often, we don’t even see them or acknowledge them; we don’t appreciate their presence in our lives; we seldom realize how much our community and society depends on them.
Maybe because there exists in each of us a bit of the Pharisee.
In our own time and place, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is played out not so much as a lack of humility before God but as a lack of awareness of the gifts and contributions, as well as the needs and hopes of those around us we have come to take for granted, whose work is considered of less importance or consequence than our own. The Gospel of Jesus challenges us to embrace the humble, God-cantered faith of the tax collector, not the self-centred and self-absorbed claims of the Pharisee. We give thanks for God’s love for us by returning that love to one another, by accepting one another as God has accepted us; we honour God as Father of us all by honouring one another as brothers and sisters.