In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
How short, and how well known is today's parable, and yet, how intense its
message, how challenging.
Intense it is in its very words. Two men come into the church of God, into a
sacred realm which in a world that is lost to God belongs to Him unreservedly,
into His Divine Realm. And one of the men walks boldly into it, takes a stand
before God. The other one comes, and doesn't even dare cross the threshold: he
is a sinner, and the Realm is holy, like the space around the Burning Bush in
the desert which Moses could not enter without having unshod his feet, otherwise
than in adoration and the fear of God.
And how different the words spoken! Apparently the Pharisee praises God, he
gives Him glory - but for what? Because He has made a man like him, a man so
holy, so worthy of Him, of God; a man who not only keeps all the commandments of
the Law, but goes beyond of what God Himself has commanded and can expect of
man. Indeed, he stands before God praising Him, that he, the Pharisee, is so
wonderful that he is God's own glory, the shining, the revelation of God’s
The Publican does not even dare enter into the holy Realm of God.
And the parable is clear: the man who came and stood brokenhearted, ashamed of
himself, knowing that he is unworthy of entering this sacred space goes back
home forgiven, loved, indeed: accompanied by God Himself Who came into the world
to save sinners and Who stands by everyone who needs Him, who recognises his
need for salvation.
The Pharisee goes home, but he goes home less forgiven; his relationship with
God is not the same; he is at the center, God is peripheric to him; he is at the
heart of things, God is subservient to him. It does not mean that what he did
was worthless; it simply means that as far as he is concerned, it has born no
fruit of holiness in himself. The deeds were good, but they were spoiled,
poisoned by pride, by self-assertion; the beauty of what he did was totally
marred because it was addressed neither to God nor to his neighbour; it was
turned in on himself. And we are told that this pride has despoiled this man,
has taken away from him the fruits of his good works, the fruit of his outward
faithfulness to the law of God, that only humility could have given him and his
action full meaning, that only humility could have made his actions into life,
into the waters of life gushing into eternity.
But then, the question stands before us: how can we learn anything about
humility if that is the absolute condition to be not like the barren fig tree,
but fruitful, to be rich harvest and from whom people can be fed?
I do not think that we can move from pride, vanity into humility in a single
unless something so tragic happens to us that we see ourselves, we discover
ourselves completely bereft of everything that supported our sinful, destructive,
barren condition. But there is one thing which we can do: however much we think
that we are possessed of gifts of all sorts of heart and mind, of body and soul,
however fruitful our action may be, we can remember the words of Saint Paul: O,
man! What have you got which was not given you?!.. And indeed, he echoes at this
point what Christ said in the first Beatitude, the Beatitude that opens the door
to all other Beatitudes, the Beatitude which is the beginning of understanding:
Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are those who know, not only with
their intellect - but at least with their intellect! - that they are nothing,
and they possess nothing which is not a gift of God.
We were called into being out of naught, without our participation: our very
existence is a gift! We were given life which we could not create, call out of
ourselves. We have been given the knowledge of the existence of God, and indeed,
a deeper, more intimate knowledge of God - all that is gift! And then, all that
we are is a gift of God: our body, our heart, our mind, our soul - what power
have we got over them when God does no longer sustain them? The greatest
intelligence can of a sudden be swallowed into darkness by a stroke; there are
moments when we are confronted with a need that requires all our sympathy, all
our love - and we discover that our hearts are of stone and of ice... We want to
do good - and we cannot; and Saint Paul knew it already when he said: The good
which I love, I don't do, and the wrong which I hate I do continuously... And
our body depends on so many things!
And what of our relationships, of the friendship which is given us, the love
which sustains us, the comradeship - everything that we are and which we possess
is a gift: what is the next move: isn't it gratitude? Can’t we turn to God not
as a pharisee, priding ourselves of what we are and forgetting that all that is
HIS, but turning to God and saying: O, God! All that is a gift from You! all
that beauty, intelligence, a sensitive heart, all the circumstances of life are
a gift! Indeed, all those circumstances, even those which frighten us are a gift
because God says to us: I trust you enough to send you into the darkness to
bring light! I send you into corruption to be the salt that stops corruption! I
send you where there is no hope to bring hope, where there is no joy to bring
joy, no love to bring love... and one could go on, on, on, seeing that when we
are send into the darkness it is to be God's presence and God's life, and that
means that He trusts us - He trusts us, He believes in us, He hopes for us
everything: isn't that enough to be grateful?
But gratitude is not just a cold word of thanks; gratitude means that we wish to
make Him see that all that was not given in vain, that He did not become man,
lived, died in vain; gratitude means a life that could give joy to God: this is
a challenge of this particular parable.
Yes, the ideal would be for us to be humble - but what is humility? Who of us
knows, and if someone knows, who can communicate it to everyone who doesn’t
know? But gratitude we all know; we know small ways and small aspects of it! Let
us reflect on it, and, let us in an act of gratitude recognise that we have no
right to be in God’s own realm - and He lets us in! We have no right to commune
to Him either in prayer, or in sacrament - and He calls us to commune with Him!
We have no right to be His children, to be brothers and sisters of Christ, to be
the dwelling place of the Spirit - and He grants it all in an act of love!
Let each of us reflect and ask himself: in what way can he or she be so grateful
in such a way that God could rejoice that He has not given in vain, been in
vain, lived and died in vain, that we have received the message. And if we grow
in a true depth of gratitude, at the depth of gratitude we will knock down,
adore the Lord, and learn what humility is not abasement, but adoration, the
awareness that He is all we possess, all that we are, and that we are open to
Him like the earth, the rich earth is open to the plough, to the sowing, to the
seed, to the sunshine, to the rain, to everything in order to bring fruit. Amen!