October 27, 2019
Dear Followers of Jesus,
Luke 18:9-14 reflects on our approach to God with the tax collector and the Pharisee. We learn much about our prayer, our lives and our relationships with God by pondering this story of two very different men who go to the temple to pray. These two approaches to prayer speak to us about how to approach God with the stirrings of our own hearts.
The Pharisee brings his pride to prayer. He first compares himself to others. He claims he is not like the tax collector. In fact he is grateful he is not like the rest of humanity. He claims he is not greedy, dishonest and adulterous. His comparison to other people is the first sin of the spiritual life. The mystics teach us to compare ourselves to others is the death of the spiritual journey. We hold the gifts God gives us. We do not possess the gifts of other people. To compare our gifts to is neglect God and the life-giving love of the Trinity. The Pharisee is living well beyond the gifts he has been giving, by comparing himself to other people. His pride is over the top.
The tax collector understood his place in his community. He was not well liked. It seems he did not really care for his decisions and life either. He knew the corruption of such a profession in his day. His face was cast down in prayer. He asked for mercy. He knew his sinfulness. The tax collector reserved space in his soul for God. He models that space, that simple opening for us as well. Humility is that space we allow in our hearts, our souls for God to work within us. Humility is the place in which we admit we don’t know all of the answers and that we know only God can fill us up. Humility becomes the journey in which we know that God is God and we are not.
In our society, humility is hard to come by. We live in fast lanes with much expertise about life. We are trained to control things. We are even trained to control other people. We might be trained to control God as well. Our education is vast and we are quick to spout out all the answers and more. Humility only finds a home within us when we have reached a brick wall of some sort.
We may crash into such a wall when our child is sick. Perhaps we will not know what to say when our spouse approaches us for a divorce. Perhaps when our daughter is diagnosed with autism or cancer our lives may become silent enough to hear God. All of these walls become moments of suffering that may silent our arrogance and create the space within our hearts for God to truly change us and mend the lives and situations here on earth. God invites us to surrender, through nature, love, good times or bad.
The first place we can look to enhance our relationship with God is in the silent spaces of our humility. We may not want to look there, but those are the places in which something new happens. These silent spaces of humility actually frighten many people. To shift from attitudes of power and control into letting go of quick answers requires us to become patient and more loving. Humility means that we live close to the earth. Humility requires us honesty and openness. Prayer has a way to open up even the most stubborn.