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. (from Sirach)
Our first reading reminds us that it is God who calls us to give. To give generously of ourselves and what we have for it is God who repays, who has given us so much. And through such giving, to reach out…
For God will listen to the poor and the prayer of one who is wronged. God will not ignore the supplication of the orphan or the widow…
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 our 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 our Bishop, Ian Douglas, has talked about:
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.
We hear such alienation echoed in our Gospel reading this morning: 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.'
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 the tax collector simply prays for God’s mercy, as a sinner. He is the one who speaks rightly.
As Jesus said, “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?
Lewiston is an old mill town on the Androscoggin River in south-central Maine. Like many small cities in the northeast that once thrived on manufacturing, Lewiston now struggles economically. But Lewiston is re-creating itself - thanks, in large part, to its high school soccer team.
The Lewiston High soccer team brought home the city's first state boys soccer championship in 2015, going 17-0 and outscoring opponents 113-7. The team is ranked 22nd in the nation. But its success extends far beyond the scoreboard.
The team is made up of players from the Congo, Kenya, Turkey, Germany and Somalia. The students on the team are widely credited with building ties among this small Maine city of 36,000 and its 7,000 new residents from overseas.
In 2001, Lewiston became an unlikely destination that offered safety, affordable housing, and low-wage jobs for Somalis fleeing the horrific civil war in their homeland. Word spread from early arrivals, and the African immigrant population swelled. But the first refugees were not welcomed and struggled to establish roots. But the success - and character - of the soccer team has helped bring the communities together.
The team is defined less by its excellence than its example of unity. Building the team has been anything but easy. At first, black and white students rarely sat together during practice. But the coach, Mike McGraw, changed that dynamic by purposely placing blacks among whites and whites among blacks. "I told them, 'This is how you have to be on a team.'" Now black and white players mingle seamlessly on the field and off of it.
The goalie, one of the local players on the team said: "They're just like our brothers, our family. There's no difference." And an assistant coach believes: "The way the world should get along is the way these kids treat each other. This is the best place to be a soccer coach - anywhere."
For refugee families, Lewiston has been a new day after surviving a nightmare - and their presence has opened up a new world perspective for this old-world Maine town. [The Boston Globe, August 20, 2016; Portland Press Herald, November 7, 2015, CNN.com, November 19, 2015.] also Real Sports on HBO!
The Lewiston High soccer team possesses the humility and generosity of heart of the tax collector that bridges the chasms created by such divisive attitudes: each member of the team, black and white, realizes their equality and the value of each member's gifts to the good of the team and school.
Their perspective stands - or kneels - in sharp contrast to the Pharisaic attitude of moral and cultural superiority over others. God is not just "ours"; God has not breathed his life into us solely for our own happiness and satisfaction. Humility that compels us to treat others with respect and generosity will be exalted in the kingdom of God, a reign that is realized, here and now, on our own soccer fields and schools, and marketplaces and churches and our dinner tables too.
In this season, as we remember the offerings we give to God, through what we give here at St. Peter’s and beyond, we are called to be generous and humble to help our alienated world become reconciled.
For if our lives are marked with such generosity and humility, then we will be living our lives as St. Paul said, as “ambassadors for Christ” and through such generosity in how we give and humility in how we live, we will “be drawn more deeply into God’s passion and the mission of the Church to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Amen.