On the Gospel of Luke (18:9-14)
To enter into a relationship with God we need to know ourselves and recognise God simply for who he is. He knows we will have trouble understanding Him, so he makes use of parables, which work like vivid picture-books revealing a God we can know and love. Like children, however, we ourselves are often confused as to who we are. Today’s Gospel calls us to look upon ourselves and our fundamental attitude to God.
Like the little ones of Mark’s Gospel who will inherit heaven, this Gospel shows us it is the little in society who teach us how to be. Unlike the boasting Pharisee, we are invited to approach God as a little child – with spontaneity, a spirit of dependence and a real humility. St.Thomas is thought to have derived the word humility from ‘humus’ – the earth beneath us. This image evokes the truth of our being; that we are vessels of clay whose life and salvation are a pure constant gift of God.
In todays’s fast world it’s tempting to place ourselves at the centre of our lives. Pursuing our own needs and wants, we often indulge in a self-reliance that blurs our awareness of the reality of the world and God. Despite the fact that as God’s creation we are in desparate need of His love, forgiveness and Grace, we, like the Pharisee create a precarious world of our own choosing. Placing our trust in ourselves, we fail to acknowledge God as God. In the words of the great Theologian Yves Congar, “Man has gradually lost the awareness that he depends on another. Yet salvation essentially consists in this awareness of dependence. Man cannot save himself by his own efforts. Another saves us.”
God, being God, has a habit of exposing our vunerability in the patchwork of crisis and failures that knit into the drama of our lives. We realize the regimental self-assuredness of the Pharisee never fully satisfies, and is unearthed in the end as a house built on sand.
It is in such moments, when our earthiness is laid bare, that God pierces through our consciousness. He “calls upon our deafness” for us to enter into a living relationship with him. He desires us to be humble- open and aware of our weaknesses. We need to empty ourselves so that he can see our need and fill us with His Grace- becoming a real presence to us and demanding a re-orientation of our lives. Unfortunately we’re often like a glass filled to the brim through our self love and preoccupation- there’s simply no room left for God. “God resists the proud but gives His Grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
Through recurring parables, God constantly calls us as a loving parent to His wayward children. Again and again, humilty is revealed to us as simply approaching God, aware that His ways are right and that we may have got lost or fallen through sin along the way, but fully conscious now that he is our answer. We go on to express the reality of this renewed friendhip through our faith; in our moral decisions, our prayer and in charity.
With each Parable, God gives us another telling glimpse of himself, hoping to shatter our human misconceptions of an overbearing Master seeking judgement. Our God is not some faceless deity to regimentally acknowledge and joylessly serve, but the loving father; calling us to empty our glass and make space for our need of Him.
For me, the Tax-collector’s humilty and self-awareness strikingly evokes that deeply personal encounter we make with Christ in the mercy and forgivenss of the Confessional. Going alone, we too must swallow our pride and self love that blinds us to the awesome reality of a loving God. We acknowledge ourselves as we really are, in God’s eyes. After this difficult, humbling process we are freed from sin’s burdens, remembering that “the infinite mercy of God is never slow in coming to the aid of those who humbly call upon Him and he acts as he truly is – as God Almighty,” (St Josemaria Escriva) we are restored to wholeness as only God can do. Christ loves us passionately, and wants us to join Him in a truly intimate relationship, one where we can experience the joy and peace of his friendship. He awaits us in scripture, prayer, in the Blessed Eucharist on the Altar and in the Confessional, all ways He expresses his eternal love. He only wants us to approach humbly and sincerely. His Grace flows abundantly – all we need is an empty glass!