In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel relating the story of the blind man,
Bartimaeus (St Luke XVIII :35-43), and last week that of Zacchaeus (St
Luke XIX: l-10).
Bartimaeus had been blind, perhaps all his life, or perhaps at a certain
moment he had lost sight of all the beauty of the world, of human faces,
of everything that related him directly through the created world to God
who made all things. He was a blind man. One day a crowd passed by him,
a strange crowd - not just a noisy crowd of passers-by, but a crowd that
had a centre, and the centre was the Lord Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus
perceived the uniqueness of this crowd and asked who it was that made it
into a whole; and then he began to cry for help, to be freed from his
How many times have we been blind, or how many years have we all lived
blind? Blind to that revelation of God which the created world is
offering us; blind to beauty, not to its external quality but to the
shining of the divine wisdom and the divine beauty through it. How often
have we looked at faces and never seen that they are icons of God that
should relate us to God, and not stand between God and us as a
temptation. How often has Christ passed quite close to us and we have
never noticed His presence and His passing?
Let us reflect on ourselves and ask ourselves not only how often we were
blind in the past, but how blind we are at this present hour. Christ is
in our midst. Are we aware of it? Christ meets us in every person. Are
we aware of that? One of the Desert Fathers said: "He who has seen his
neighbour has seen his God". Yes, an image of God, a real image. Damaged
indeed like so many icons, desecrated or damaged; damaged to the point,
at times, of being unrecognisable, and yet, a divine image.
Last week we heard about Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus overcame another temptation which is very familiar to us, that
of vanity; vanity that consists in attaching ourselves to things of no
value and trying to derive through them the admiration of other people
who have no right to judge, because they also are prisoners of the same
smallness of mind and smallness of heart. Vanity, in the words of St
John Climacus, is arrogance before God and cowardice before men; a
desire not to be judged, not to be condemned, but to be admired, to be
praised, to be approved of, even for things that are not worthy of
approval, just to be approved.
I suggested last week that we must concentrate our attention on that
particular sin of ours and ask ourselves how dependent am I on the
judgement of men, how indifferent am I to the judgement of my own
conscience and beyond it, through it, of God Himself? How much do I look
for approval and admiration of things that are unworthy of me, not only
to speak of God?
Today we are confronted with a third image; we are confronted with the
story of the Pharisee and of the Publican (St Luke XVIII: 10-14). The
Publican was aware of his unworthiness, he was aware that he was
unworthy of presenting himself before the face of God, but also of being
admitted into the company of respectable people, people of whom God
would approve. He came to the door of the Temple and could not cross the
threshold because he knew that in this world вЂ“ soiled, polluted,
desecrated by human sin, by blood and evil in all its forms, the Temple
was a place which was devoted to God alone. All the rest of the world,
to use a phrase of Satan tempting Christ, all the rest of the world "has
been betrayed into my hands by man". But the Temple is a space which men
of faith, frail indeed but believing in God, cut out of this realm of
horror to be a vision of divine beauty, a dwelling place for the One who
has nowhere to rest His Head in a world that was stolen from Him and
betrayed into the hands of the adversary.
As the Publican stood on the threshold he knew that he belonged to the
realm of evil, and had no access into the realm of God; and yet, he felt
the difference, he felt horror at himself and a sense of worship, of
adoration with regard to the Divine Realm. He beat his chest and asked
for mercy because there was nothing else he could hope for and count on.
And the Pharisee stood right in the middle of the Church; he had walked
in and taken his stand there as one who had the right to be there. Why?
Not because he was a man of pure heart, but because he was faithful to
every one of the formal rules established by the Synagogue, as a number
of us are faithful to the outer, external rules of life that do not
penetrate even through our skin, which do not reach our heart, which do
not give a new shape and meaning to our thoughts.
So, again, we are confronted by two men and asked by Christ: who are you?
Are you one who is so deeply aware of the sanctity of God that he knows
that, apart from a God who would step down to us to heal and save, there
is no access to Him. Or are we like the Pharisee who would say to God,
throw it in His face: I have done all that is prescribed. You have
nothing to ask of me!.. We are not that arrogant because we have not
even the courage of being arrogant as the Pharisee was, neither have we
got the constancy of courage to be as faithful as he was to the full of
the life of the law.
Let us ask ourselves then: do we emulate the Pharisee in deed, outwardly
faithful to all the tenets of our Christian Faith? And beyond this, do
we allow our faith to transform our heart, to rule our will, to
enlighten our mind?
This is the task which the Gospel offers us. Think about it. It will be
one more step to pronouncing upon ourselves a judgement so that we are
not condemned. Amen.