- Proper 25 Year C, track 1
- October 27, 2013
- The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
“I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
‘cause I get better lookin’ each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a heck of a man
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doing the best that I can
When I read today’s Gospel, I was reminded of this song by Mac Davis. Seems like Jesus’ world was not all that different from our world. The self-righteous Pharisee was doing everything right according to the law…praying in the Temple, fasting twice a week, tithing his income. He was definitely closer to God than all of those other folk in the room, especially that tax collector.
Tax collectors were reviled in Jesus’ time, even moreso than today. You see, each tax collector had an amount they needed to collect to turn over to the Roman authorities who occupied their country. They could collect it any way they wanted. And of course they needed to collect a little extra for themselves. A tax collector was not someone you wanted to be in relationship with. And certainly, the tax collector was not following God’s laws.
Yet Jesus tells us the tax collector was more right than the Pharisee. How can that be? What is Jesus trying to tell us?
Jesus is teaching us that humility is necessary in our relationship with God. The good steward is humble. Notice, this is not humiliation, but humility.
One of the best discourses I know about obtaining humility is in the writings of Alcoholics Anonymous. From The 12 Steps & 12 Traditions the definition of humility is “a desire to seek and do God’s will.(pg 72)” Humility in action is a “clear recognition of what and who we really are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. (pg 58)” The tax collector seems to demonstrate humility. He knew he had done wrong. He was confessing his sins. Now we don’t know what happened next…whether he changed his practices at all. We only know he made a beginning by asking for God’s mercy.
On the other hand, the Pharisee took all of the right steps…live by the law, and his motivations were clearly wrong. In essence, he was playing God, wasn’t he? He was being the judge, saying that his behavior made him not like the others in the room. How did he know what behaviors God would judge as worthy and righteous? That is for God to decide. In essence, the Pharisee was a control freak. He acted like he was in charge, not God. In the process, he acted as if he did not need God, because he was already perfect in every way.
And that is the crux of the matter, you see. We want to be God, because to trust in God is really hard for us. Some of us know without a doubt that God is with us. We feel God’s presence. Some of us aren’t quite sure. Some of us have times when we just don’t feel God’s presence. The one thing we all share, I believe, is how hard we find it to truly trust in and lean on God. We want to be in control. We want to rely upon ourselves. We reduce our relationship with God to rules to abide by and we pronounce judgments on ourselves and others about how well we are adhering to the standards that we’ve created.
It’s not the behaviors or actions that are problematic – the tithing, or fasting of the Pharisee – it’s the motivation and intentions that are problematic. The motivation to be better than… to judge others…to be in control… to not need God.
Over these past few weeks until next Sunday, you are being asked to make a pledge to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Pledging is an opportunity to let go of control of an important resource in our lives…money. It is to give to the church, trusting that we together as the community of St. John’s, will be guided by the Holy Spirit about how to use your precious resource of money to further God’s Kingdom.
We’d rather be in control, wouldn’t we? We’d rather play God. Keep tight control over where and how our precious resource is spent. I’ve heard that at St. Johns, if there is a special project, like putting the floor in the rectory, or fixing the roof, the money appears…there is tremendous generosity. But getting people to pledge or give weekly for general operating expenses is a hard thing. We, like the Pharisee, think we know better. We don’t trust that God and the Holy Spirit will guide our parish in the best use of the resource we give.
I know, I know, people can’t always be trusted and people make up the church. We work to be as transparent as possible and open as possible…to discern the best use of the resources provided, but we are human and we will fall short…. The important thing is to let go…let go of the control…let go of trying to be God…be humble. Give freely so that we as a community are free to do the work God has for us to do.
It is in the humble act of pledging… of letting go… that we will be exalted.