You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous.In the days of the OT, the Hebrew Scriptures reminded farmers that after such a bountiful crop, to leave some on the fields for the poor to glean. The most famous story of such gleaning we might remember is from the story of Ruth who would meet her soon to be husband (Boaz) after she gleaned his field. Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus. Such generosity to remember the poor was to be practiced by all. You hear those words echoed in our first reading from Sirach…
Through the generosity of God, God expects us to reciprocate, to be generous not only to God but towards others too, to remember the orphan and widow, the poor, those on the margins of society. For God will hear the cry for justice from the orphan and widow, the cries of the poor, and God looks to us to help from the abundance we have been given. But we struggle with such help and we struggle because we live alienated from one another, as Bishop Douglas talked about at convention:
Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
We hear such alienation echoed in our Gospel reading this morning:
In our country, it seems that everywhere we look we are increasingly alienated from each other in ever more distorted human and political relationships…
there is no lack of incivility and even hate in our society today as we scapegoat the “other,” the marginalized, the one who is different, in an attempt to alleviate our fears, our insecurities, and our sense of loss.
Jesus short little parable this week is his commentary on humility, on how we put down others to make ourselves the righteous ones. The Pharisee does not see himself like the others. And yet, the tax collector is the one praised and the Pharisee is not, Jesus again shakes things up and wants us to see our place as with other people. For it is the tax collector who doesn’t give thanks for not being others or praising his own works, but simply prays for God’s mercy, as a sinner. He is the one who speaks rightly. As Jesus said,
And the Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
“for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."We need to practice such humility, never putting others down to build ourselves up, always looking towards God’s mercy and love. Generosity toward others and humility towards ourselves is a good start for our lives as Christians. What does this look like today? How might we tell the parable today? One might use a story from The New York Times’ "Metropolitan Diary." In a recent diary (June 21, 2010), a correspondent reported observing this scene:
As one author put it after reflecting on that story:
While waiting for the neighborhood parking garage to open one evening, the writer saw five young men hanging out. On the trunk of their car were two large pizza boxes and five Snapple bottles. The guys were having a great time - but their horsing around was getting out of hand. The extra pizza slices were being thrown around and the empty Snapple bottles were smashed on the pavement. The observer wrote that he was getting angry at the mess and noise, but did not want take on five rather large young men alone, so he remained in his car.
That's when the clown appeared. A real clown - greasepaint, a big rubber nose, baggy clothes, big floppy shoes - the whole clown bit. He looked as if he had just stepped out of the Ringling Brothers circus tent. Apparently he was on his way to entertain at a child's birthday party.
When the clown came upon the scene, he said nothing. He walked to the trunk, picked up one of the boxes and stooped down to pick up the broken glass and pizza globs on the street. The clown then walked to the corner and deposited the mess in a trash container. The young men were dumbfounded. When he had finished, the clown walked up to the five and passed his hat. The five sheepishly dug into their pockets and gave him their change. The clown bowed and went on his way.
If our lives are marked with such generosity and humility, then we will be living our lives as St. Paul [and our Bishop at convention talked about], living as “ambassadors for Christ” and through such generosity and humility “to be drawn more deeply into God’s passion and mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Amen.
“We are not the center of the world, that realization that we are part of a much larger "circus" than our own little "sideshow." That is the Gospel value of humility: to realize that all the blessings we have received are the result of the depth of God's love & grace and not because of anything we have done to deserve it.” (Jay Cromier)