Sunday Homily for October 23rd, 2016
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
We all have ideas about what humility is and what it looks like. An old Oblate often quoted the last line of today’s gospel thus “Those who humble themselves will be exhausted.” If humility means always being at everyone’s beck and call and being a doormat, that version would certainly apply!
In the gospel, Jesus portrays two attitudes and invites and challenges us to reflect on which attitude best describes our relationships with God and one another. When Jesus uses the example of the Pharisee, we must not stereotype the Pharisees and make them all bad. The Pharisees spirituality and faith response were probably more in line with Jesus’ thinking and teaching than that of many others in the society and culture of the time. The tax collector also gets a bum deal in our minds, because the tax collectors get lumped into the general category of degenerate and unredeemable.
So let’s look at the parable Jesus tells.
First of all, the Pharisee. Pharisees were concerned with living the commandments and being faithful to the covenant that God made with Israel. The issue is that often the Law became the be-all and end-all, and following the letter of the Law became more important and central than responding to the spirit of the Law which calls us to love God and our neighbour. So now this Pharisee comes to pray. What is the prayer? Really, it is a progress report. The Pharisee basically lectures God, reminding God how the Pharisee is so unlike most others, and that he not only avoids all those ugly sins, but also gives a tenth of his income and fasts twice a week. His prayer is basically him telling God how well he has done, and now he will have his gold star or A+, thank you very much. The message to God is that the Pharisee really doesn’t need God, he can do it all on his own. How can God work in such a person? God can only work in our lives when we welcome God to do so.
Then we have the contrast of the tax collector, who comes into the temple to pray, knowing that he probably hasn’t been there is quite some time, but feeling compelled to come before God. He recognizes his need of God’s help in his life if anything is to change. His prayer is simple; “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” With this openness, God is able to enter into this man’s heart and life and give new life. The tax collector is open to atonement and reconciliation, which are actions on God’s part in response to our request for these gifts. The tax collector knows in his heart that he is not worthless (which is often a definition we use for humility) and he trusts in God’s promise to love and care for him. He knows that God will work in him if he only allows God to do so and so he comes and asks. This is humility: to recognize that God has given us the gifts of life and faith and then gives us other gifts to help us live our lives and faith well and then to open ourselves to those gifts.
St. Paul gives us a wonderful example of that in his farewell letter to Timothy. He reminds Timothy that he is coming to the end of his life, he is facing execution and so he reflects on his life and mission. He says that he has “fought the good fight, he has run the race.” Then he goes on to remind Timothy that Jesus called Paul to this ministry of evangelization and that it was through the gifts that God gave him along the way that Paul was able to accomplish the mission. He may have made mistakes along the way and certainly wasn’t perfect, but he did the best he could and he can rest secure in the knowledge of God’s love for him, grateful for all that he was given during his lifetime.
Where am I in my relationship with God and with others? Am I totally self-reliant, trusting only in myself, in my ability to do things on my own, or am I like Paul and the tax-collector, knowing that God has given me all these gifts, beginning with life, and that God wants to continue to work in my heart and my life, leading me to fullness of life?
Remember that God cannot go where we do not allow God to go. God will not enter into our lives, if we tell God we have no need of God’s presence. But when we open ourselves, we are filled with gifts of love and grace and we can become great disciples.