Good morning! Good morning, everyone! I thought the power outage just happened right then and there.
It’s great to be with you again here on, at 10 o’clock. Haven’t seen you guys in a while, so it’s great to be back at St. Joe’s.
You know, given the state that we’re in right now, with the winds and with the fires, I can’t help but think about what is the Holy Spirit trying to show to us, right? I mean wind and fire are so much a part of the imagery of the Spirit, as through scriptures. And of course we understand that the wind, and the fire, that we are dealing with here is a very destructive wind and fire. But yet, the Spirit may be calling us in this midst of this natural disaster, so to speak, to think about where, maybe, disaster in our own heart, where maybe actually looking at things of this world as being stable, when really nothing in this world is stable. Because we’re made for an eternity that’s yet to happen. when we leave this world to the next.
So even in the midst of this time of great instability, I think the Spirit can be calling us, even in a closer assurance to the home that’s really ultimately being prepared for us.
You know today’s Gospel is very interesting, as it touches on that in a slightly different way. Clearly as is the case with many of Jesus’s Parables, he makes things very, very wide opposites – extreme opposites if you will – so apparently you have this very self-righteous Pharisee and then you have this extremely humble tax collector, right. And it’s important to realize that you know pretty much everyone falls somewhere in the middle, right?
But yet when I think about this tax collector and when he says, “be merciful to me, a sinner”, I’m led to ask myself the question, what was his sin? What was he ashamed of? Why did he identify with being a sinner?
Now just knowing some of the practices of tax collectors during this time, it was very common knowledge that the tax collector, who had a lot of influence in society and worked for the Romans, but were normally Jewish, so they collected taxes for the Romans from fellow Jewish people, they would often collect more than what was required. And of course by doing that, they would hold on to that extra amount of money, almost like a form of extortion.
Now clearly that’s a pretty sinful thing, and I think that maybe we could think that that is exactly what the tax collector is ashamed of, and that’s why he so humbly approached God in the temple. But yet, I think it’s very interesting that the way that Jesus positions this Parable is that he focuses on the actual positions of these guys – what they do for a living, their title: one a Pharisee who is a scholar of the law someone who knows the Scripture well, knows how to interpret it and also knows how to teach it – that’s what this man does. And then the tax collector who like I said works for the Romans and also has a different type of influence in people’s lives.
I think that Jesus looks at the titles here at these positions as really being the source or the root of the sin. And it’s a root sin that the Pharisee, if anything was oblivious to, but yet the tax collector understood.
And what I do I mean by that? Because the sin of the tax collector wasn’t just that he was stealing from his fellow Jewish people. The sin of the tax collector was that knew he identified too much with his position: he identified as being a tax collector, and realized that that was the wrong place to understand his identity.
The Pharisee likewise identified with his position. He identified with it so much, that you listen to what he says he actually excludes himself from the rest of humanity – he says, I’m glad I’m not like the rest of humanity. So his position was so important, so unique that it stood out by itself, so we can say he had a radical dependency on his position and identify with that wholeheartedly.
Yet this tax collector does not identify with his position as a tax collector, and as such says, be merciful on me a sinner, because what is his identity? His identity is simply to be a beloved Son of God the Father, to know that his life is something that has been given to him as a gift, and how he uses the gift of life is ultimately meant to be a continual gift to other people’s lives.
Which is exactly why each of us are given a position in society, given a role, given the title, because the reason why we have these positions in society – whatever it may be – is so that it can be a means of us passing along the gift of our very existence, the gift of our belovedness that we receive from God.
Now, this gets to the very heart of vocation. I remember having a conversation with someone I go to school with who professes to be an atheist, and he asked me, like, what is the most important thing in your life, or what do you identify with the most in your life? I think he was expecting me to say something like a Catholic or priest or Christian. I said you know the most fundamental thing if you will reality identify myself as a beloved Son of God. Because everything else requires me to actually assent to in, a certain sense, I assent to being a Christian, assent to being a Catholic. I had to assent to being a priest. It required me to cooperate with God’s grace.
Yet the one thing that does not require a cooperation, if you will, is the reality that your existence in and of itself is enough, because God willed you into it. And no matter what we do with our lives and no matter how many times we say yes to the Lord, or no matter how many times you say no to the Lord, we can never erase our identity. We just can’t – impossible.
And that’s a very profound fact because that brings us right into the very essence of what humility is all about, because humility is recognizing what we are, and what we’re not. We recognize that we are beloved sons and daughters of God the Father. That’s a humble statement because that’s the reality of who we are. We also recognize the fact that our positions, our vocations, our titles what we do, how we actually find ourselves positioned in society – all of that is also something that is a gift. It is not something that we actually earn.
When I think about the tremendous amount of Mercy that God has personally shown me in my life, they enabled me to become a priest. Sometimes I question if God knows what He’s doing. And I will also continue to say I’m still amazed the amazing amount of mercy that God shows to me as a priest, because there’s absolutely nothing about my priestly vocation that in and of itself has a power that comes from me. At best, I can say my vocation is a conduit of God’s grace, a conduit of Jesus’s presence, which is exactly why I can say: This is My Body. This is My Blood. I absolve you from your sins. I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Absolutely nothing on my end am I actually saying about myself. A conduit of the presence of Jesus, a pure conduit of the grace that I think is what the sinner tax collector came to a realization.
And that’s why he humbly approached God in the Temple. I think that is perhaps the greatest lesson for us to take away from this very, very powerful parable: how much do we identify with what we do? How much do we identify with our position? How much do we identify by how many degrees or how much education? How often do we identify with how much money we have, or what type of knowledge we have.
If you’re like me, I identify with it a lot. I mean it means a lot when I tell people I have a degree from Berkeley. Berkeley. I’m just like, you know, wish I could say I didn’t have that, because all these things are a temptation to take me off of my true identity.
Yet all is not lost when we understand that what we’ve been given as a gift is meant to be given as a continual gift to others, and ultimately a gift for other people’s healing. Yet we ourselves need to approach the source of healing first, and that’s exactly what we do when we come to this building. The broken messes that we are, the pride that we bring with ourselves, our own ego getting in the way, is all laid down at the foot of the altar. And the One who humbles Himself so much to leave the glory of Heaven, to become one of us, humbles Himself even more to become what appears to be bread. Bread that we receive for us to once again affirm our identity in communion with Jesus, the Son of God. Confirm our identity as beloved Sons and Daughters of Jesus Christ, of God the Father, in and through Jesus Christ.
So today let us rejoice in the gift of life. Let us rejoice in how we are called to use our life. But most importantly, let’s rejoice in the gift of humility that we receive through the very Son of God, Jesus Himself. Amen.