October 23, 2016
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income. But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
“Oh, God, thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or even like the tax collector. Oh, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
So, we have the tensions of these readings, this basically an argument if you will. And what a totally appropriate set of readings for the season that we have entered into – the election season where we get to go to the poles and choose the person who will lead the country for the next 4 years as President of the United States. And yet, why do I feel so uninspired?
This is a very interesting election because I hear so many people who are against both candidates, and yet, neither candidate seems to be able to become a truly desirable alternative. To be young again, with the zeal of idealism and being able to believe that whatever you perceive is actually what’s right.
My youngest, Rebecca, has been in a Fall break from her University. We’ve had a really nice visit. We had decided not to discuss politics because it has caused arguments in the past. You see, she truly believes that her views are what’s right. I, on the other hand, knew my views were right. [Laughter] Neither one of us were ever going to win the other one over to our side. That is when I had an epiphany. You see, its that argument, that overriding desire when we argue, to be right, that drives the argument. It’s what sustains us during the argument, and what ultimately is our real downfall. Rarely will we ever admit that we didn’t win an argument. Often, we agree to disagree. Its what gives us our sense of superiority that the Pharisee was speaking from this morning. Now either way, we have become the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, thanking God that we aren’t ignorant, that we aren’t greedy, dishonest, or any form of weakness that we see in others that we can use to prop up our perception of what we believe is right.
It helps us to justify living our lives without accepting the basic minimal responsibility to care for others. We do good deeds, but we do them out of a sense of superiority. We are better than others for having done these things, we believe. But very often, we ignore the cries of the poor and the disenfranchised, saying things like “If they wanted a job, they could get one. Why should I help them if they aren’t willing to help themselves?”. Not bothering the learn the true story behind what we believe to be the real story. And I agree that not every person who says they are in need are truthful. But not every person who says that they are in need is deceitful.
As a great teacher, Judah ben Sirach, wrote in the first Scripture reading today, though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. He goes on to say that the Lord isn’t deaf to the cries of the orphans and widows, and that if we aren’t, if we listen and serve the Lord, we will be heard also.
So, we need to learn to look, not so much with our eyes, but rather with our hearts. And especially, not with our desire to be superior to others. Everything that we have is from God, and we are required to be good stewards of that.
Our inclination to be the Pharisee is overwhelming sometimes, and especially in the society of such plenty that we live in. And our children learn from us how to approach others. And if they see us always with the need to be right, then they will form their relationships accordingly.
It affects teams when the star player runs the team – not the coach. It affects our classrooms when the students run the class – not the teachers. It affects our friendships when one friend completely overshadows the other. Our school communities are affected when we have bullying of a less assertive young people.
It affects the Universal Church when she splinters into so many different faith communities because the Church, as built upon Peter, is too strict, so we go out and start our own faith communities, so that we don’t have to answer to the authority handed down by Jesus to the Apostles, to the Fathers of the Church, and so on, and so on with an unbroken line to the men who sit in the Chair of St Peter. But luckily for us, the Church doesn’t argue. She stays strong in Her commitment to the Gospel by allowing us to hear the message. She stands with Her head bowed and asks simply that God forgive Her the shortcomings of Her humanity and teach Her to be better. She doesn’t change, so much as She grows. But the message stays the same.
But nowhere do I believe that this desire to be right causes more damage than in our homes. In the marriages of today, where each person feels the need to be right, or one has to be right so much, that they don’t allow the other one to be heard. That our perception of what is right then makes it so easy to walk away when things become difficult. We no longer listen to one another so much as we argue that we are right. We aren’t so much partners any longer as we are principals paired to go to battle. Just because we have the might doesn’t make us right. Just because we are right doesn’t give us the leave to harm others, whether physically or mentally.
Our marriages aren’t just a civil contract made with the state with all its penalties if we should break that contract. Our marriages should be the covenant that we pledge to one another before the priest or deacon and along with our witnesses. The same covenant language that God made with the Jewish people.
Sometimes its okay to be wrong, even if we believe that we are right. That was my epiphany with Rebecca. She is so full of life and light right now. It isn’t my place to bring her to my perception of what is right. It is for me to guide her to become the best person that she can be. And that is now my perception – to be a loving father, a faithful friend, and hopefully, a model on how she should help those around her.
I pray going forward in this election season that we be more like the tax collector and acknowledge where we fall short. Ask forgiveness and guidance so that we can form better relationships with one another. I truly fear that that is the greatest need of our country at this time.
At least that’s what I heard Him say…