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Gospel for Sunday, October 23: Luke 18: 9-14

XXX Sunday C

9He also spoke this parable for some who presumed themselves to be righteous and despised others: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing, prayed thus among himself: O God, I thank you that I am not like other men, thieves, unjust, adulterers, nor even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all I have. 13The publican, however, standing at a distance, did not even dare raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest saying: O God, have mercy on me, a sinner. 14I tell you: this one went home justified, unlike the other, because whoever exalts himself will be humiliated and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18: 9-14

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector has always been read as a praise of humility, and even the ending of the text seems to confirm this interpretation: “He who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18,12-13) . But on closer inspection this parable presents a broader theme: it deals with the theme, specific to Paul’s theology, of justification by grace alone and not by observance of the works of the Law. In fact the premise is: “He spoke this parable again for some who presumed to be righteous” (Lk 18.9): the real issue is who is righteous before God and who is a sinner, it is how to be “justified”.


“The Pauline concept of justification presents itself as something totally new… Paul always gives the same meaning to the verb «justify»: «to declare righteous»… God’s judgment, far from recognizing a reality already in place, creates it. Through divine judgment, sinful man becomes righteous…. Consequently in the Pauline writings the term «justify», when it has God as its subject, means «to make just»” (H. Seebass).

The gratuitousness of God

“Underneath the law-faith antithesis, Paul discovers the existence of two opposing codes of human life, the code of what is due and the code of what is gratuitous. Those who rely on their own observances interpret the religious relationship according to the principle of the exact correspondence between human performance and divine reward; while the believer turns to God with empty hands open to receive the gift of salvation free of charge. Therefore justification by faith alone is equivalent to justification by grace, the antithesis of law/faith corresponds to that of law/grace” (G. Barbaglio). The apostle Paul announces to us in the Letter to the Romans: “But now, independently of the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested… through faith in Jesus Christ, for all those who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-25).

The joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification explains it well: “Justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent the Son into the world for the salvation of sinners. The incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ are the foundation and presupposition of justification. Therefore, justification means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we participate, according to the will of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Together we confess that not on the basis of our merits, but only through grace, and in faith in the saving work of Christ, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts, enables us and calls us to do good works.”

Pope Francis writes: “The beginning of salvation is openness to something that precedes, to an original gift that affirms life and safeguards existence. Only by opening ourselves to this origin and recognizing it is it possible to be transformed, letting salvation work in us and make life fruitful, full of good fruits. Salvation through faith consists in recognizing the primacy of the gift of God.”

“Sola fide”

Benedict XVI stated: “Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And that’s enough. No further observances are necessary. Therefore Luther’s expression “sola fide” is true, if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, attaching oneself to Christ, conforming oneself to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ is love; therefore to believe is to conform to Christ and enter into his love for him. Therefore Saint Paul in the Letter to the Galatians, in which he above all developed his doctrine on justification, speaks of the faith that works through charity (see Gal 5:14)”.


The letter of James has often been read as an opposition to Pauline theology on justification. In fact, the “brother of the Lord” writes (Gal 1:19): “What does it profit… if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Maybe that faith can save him…? Man is justified on the basis of works and not only on the basis of faith… For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2,14.21-24.26).

But Paul and James do not contradict each other, but rather complement each other, they who in Jerusalem exchanged “the right of communion” (Gal 2.9). Regarding their possible controversy on the role of works, Augustine clarifies well: Paul speaks of the works that precede justification: they do not save us, redemption is free and undeserved. James of the works that must follow justification, which are its sign, which demonstrate its authenticity. In fact, James says: “Faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself. On the contrary, one could say: “You have faith and I have works”; show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith with my works” (Jas 2:17-20).

Works, fruit of Faith

The true meaning in James of “works” is “fruit”: faith must produce fruit, it must be manifested concretely, it must become orthopraxy. Ravasi writes: “Are the right works eliminated? No, they are not the ultimate cause of our salvation, but they are the necessary “fruit” that flows from our justification…, the sign of the authenticity of our justification and of our true faith.” Paul already said it when he stated that being justified means entering into such a profound relationship with God that we identify with him: (“It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”: Gal 2.20), becoming a new creature : “You must be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man, created according to God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4,23-24); “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, behold, new things have come into being” (2 Cor 5:17; cf. Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22).

The Catholic-Protestant Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification further states: “Good works – a Christian life in faith, hope and love – are the consequence of justification and represent its fruits. When the justified lives in Christ and acts in the grace he has received, he bears, in a biblical way of speaking, good fruit. This consequence of justification is also a duty to be fulfilled for the Christian, as he struggles against sin throughout his life; for this reason Jesus and the apostolic writings exhort Christians to carry out works of love”.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at


Spazio Spadoni

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