The parable in this week's gospel shows us two men at prayer,
one a Pharisee, assumed to be righteous
according to the traditional religious practices of the day,
and the other a tax collector,
assumed to be unjust, dishonest in his dealings,
disloyal to his country, and unfaithful to his religion.
That's the way Jesus' audience would have thought of them.
The people who first heard this parable
were victims of what we now call “implicit bias,”
the unconscious attitudes
that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions.
We often make judgments about people automatically,
It's called implicit bias
and it has been part of our national conversation about racism
ever since Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald
conducted experiments for their book Blindspot 20 years ago.
Last Monday on NPR
Banaji called attention to mentions of implicit bias
in both the presidential and the vice-presidential debates.
One of the candidates said
that implicit bias is a problem for everyone,
and that, “unfortunately, too many of us in our great country
jump to conclusions about each other.”
Banaji gave a simple example that shows
how we come to have a bias without consciously realizing it.
First, our brains pick up information from what we see.
If we repeatedly see
doctors who are male and nurses who are female,
our brains pick it up and recognize it as a pattern.
Second, Banaji says, we begin to act
in ways that support the pattern,
and we think that's the way it really is.
So men become surgeons and women become nurses.
Today's parable turns the tables
on the implicit biases of Jesus' audience.
The tax collector is justified, not the Pharisee.
What that has to do with us is that,
just like the bias of ancient Israelites against tax collectors,
we all, regardless of the color of our skin
or the size of our bank account,
act unconsciously on faulty assumptions.
We have all learned to be biased.
When we find out that we're biased,
it doesn't mean that we have to stay that way.
Today's first reading, psalm, and gospel tell us one thing:
unlearn our biases.
We are God's people,
called to be holy, called to reflect God's goodness.
Sirach describes God
as a “God of justice, who knows no favorites.”
The Psalm tells us that God hears the cry of the poor.
Just as God has no favorites,
so are we to treat all people equally.
Just as God responds to the cry of the poor,
so are we, the People of God,
called to listen to their cries and work for justice.
The meaning of these scriptures for our times
is rooted deeply in our Catholic Social Teaching tradition.
We are called to work for the “common good”
so that all people have food, clothes, shelter,
medical care, education...
so that all people live in right relationship with others
and with the earth
and with all of creation.
With just two weeks and two days until election,
these scriptures call us to look at our biases
and learn to be just.
They call us to look for the candidates
whose policies work for the good of all,
not just for the rich and the powerful.
They call us to examine the issues
and weigh their impact on the poor.
This is our faith.
As our U.S. Bishops said in their document
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,
“A basic moral test for our society
is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst.”
Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si',
called the preferential option for the poor
“an ethical imperative
essential for effectively attaining the common good.”
He said that wasting food, for example,
takes it out of the mouths of the poor.
An ethical imperative:
if we seek to imitate the life of Christ,
we must work for justice
until the basic needs of all people are met.
It's not ethics as a general idea.
It's a specific ethical imperative for each one of us.
Our own way of life must reflect our values.
We know what that means.
As Gandhi, and so many others, have put it,
we must “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
It starts with an examination of conscience,
ferreting out those implicit biases we hold
and unlearning them.
And it continues with serious prayer that we might—
as our favorite hymn says—
act with justice, love tenderly, serve one another,
and walk humbly with our God.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006