Written By Rev. Kris Russell
Today’s short but to the point scripture is about being human. Jesus covers a couple of items in a short amount of time. Humility and exaltation, organized religion, humanness, right mindedness and more. Today I’d like to talk briefly about his views on organized religion and on humility and being human.
Asceticism is the practice of being overly and rigorously strict in your religious ways. Self denial, self punishment, practices of humiliation and the like. Listen to what Thomas Merton, a 20th century monk and mystic had to say about asceticism and humility:
Asceticism is utterly useless if it turns us into freaks. The cornerstone of all asceticism is humility, and Christian humility is first of all a matter of common sense. It teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are. If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God. And so supernatural humility adds much to our human dignity by integrating us in the society of other men and placing us in our right relation to them and to God. Pride makes us artificial, and humility makes us real. …
It is supreme humility to see that ordinary life, embraced with perfect faith, can be more saintly and more supernatural than a spectacular ascetical career. Such humility dares to be ordinary, and that is something beyond the reach of spiritual pride. Pride always longs to be unusual. Humility not so. Humility finds all its peace in hope, knowing that Christ must come again to elevate and transfigure ordinary things and fill them with His glory.
Now hear the scripture from the message translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson:
He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
I just love the message translation because it makes things so real. This is exactly what Jesus was talking about, what Merton was commenting on and what I’d like to discuss today. Simply being yourself.
My AA sponsor, a person who helps guide you through the program of Alcoholic Anonymous defined humility as an honest sense of one’s worth. Being right sized. I like that definition. As Christians we need to know that we have worth in the eyes of God. We are worth much, children of the King, worth a king’s ransom, worth a savior. And that worth is determined not by the outside world but by a loving and omniscient creator who created us in its own image and likeness and gave an abundant creation to live in.
I think we balk at humility because we equate it with humiliation which it isn’t connected to at all. Humiliation has nothing to do with being humble. Of course humiliation may humble you but being humble, again, has nothing to do with humiliation. As the message translation states so beautifully it is simply being yourself.
As humans we are wont to fail. We make mistakes, we fall, we get up, we fall again. But our story isn’t in the fall, it’s in the transcendent healing that gets us up time and time again. It’s in the gathering of souls into all sorts of venues and all sorts of souls. We are all gathered into the love of God despite our shortcomings.
What shortcomings do we have to deal with? What are our foibles and fears that define our days and haunt our sleep? Are any of them a match for God’s power and love. We might think they are impossible to overcome but they are not. All things are possible for God including the beautiful opportunity of simply being ourselves, of being human.
Pharisees and Tax collectors. Which one are we. I’m often like the Pharisee, making judgments and decisions without benefit of compassion. But on special days I try to be the tax collector and simply fall on the Grace of God. Grace is an unearned gift and it is the secret to the Holy Spirit gathering us in and healing our human mistakes. We are made to be alive in spirit and alive in God, alive in our humanity, alive in our humility. Again don’t confuse humility with humiliation, the two are quite separate and the Holy Spirit is available to make you look human not foolish.
Finally our scripture takes a short look at Jesus idea of organized religion. All during his ministry Jesus was questioned for hanging out with Tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were especially hated as they worked for the enemy and they often took advantage of people. Jesus was asked more than once why he hung out with him. And one of our Gospel writers, Matthew, was a tax collector. Jesus saw more light in the repentant tax collector than in the posturing Pharisee. Jesus calls us to dine with the sinners and loudmouths. To gather all together, the rich and the haughty, the blind and the lame. We are called to a humble service of one another. Called to take the hand of the tax collector and humbly ask for mercy. For ourselves and those around us.
So let’s take this scripture into lectio divina this week and ask where we stand on the issue. Are we more like the publican or more like the penitent? Are we a little of both? I think we are because we are simply ourselves and that is what God ultimately wants from us. To be simply ourselves in the work of spreading the Kingdom of Love. Amen
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;