Sir 35:12-14, 16-18 / 2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18 / Lk 18:9-14
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were camping in the forest. They’d gone to bed and were lying beneath the night sky when Holmes said, “Watson, look up. What do you see?”
“I see thousands and thousands of stars.”
“And what does that mean to you, Watson?”
“To me it means that of all the planets in the universe, we’re truly fortunate to be here on earth. We’re small in God’s eyes, but very special in God’s heart. What does it mean to you, Holmes?”
“To me, it means someone has stolen our tent!”
+ + +
From the dawn of civilization, one question has always loomed large: Who’s in charge of this vast universe, and how do we deal with him? People imagined gods like the chieftains and kings they knew: Strong and powerful, but cranky, vengeful, capricious, caring for no one but themselves. Gods like that needed to be handled with kid gloves and lots of presents, bribes, incense, burnt offerings, and especially lots of virgins sacrificed with full fanfare. The point of all this was to tame the gods and get them under control, so that folks could relax and get on with their own lives.
It was all terribly primitive, but that’s where lots of people are still stuck, trying to control and manipulate a very small and not very nice God with bribes, promises, and religious observances that have no core. As W.C. Fields once said, “There’s no there there.”
That’s where the pharisee in Sunday’s Gospel was stuck, on the outside of life, in a nowhere place he thought was just splendid. “Thank God,” he said, “I’m not like the rest of men!” He didn’t have a clue about God, or himself, or the core of life.
But that tax collector whom he so scorned had it just right: God doesn’t need to be coaxed, persuaded, or bought off. He already loves us, already wants us to be happy. And he already knows we’ll never grow whole unless he helps us and forgives us a lot. That poor old tax collector, standing afar off with head bowed, understood what praying and worshiping are really about. They’re about OUR getting changed and transformed on the inside with God’s help. And the price of that change is simply telling the truth (that’s what humility is!): Lord, I need to change, and to do that I need your help and your forgiveness in giant portions.
If our praying and our coming to worship together aren’t transforming us, we should stop wasting our time. That doesn’t mean to stop coming to church or to prayer. It does mean to come with a different heart that’s ready to do business with the Lord at life’s core, ready to speak the words that need to be spoken from the heart:
Lord, I need to change … a lot. And to do that, I need you to take me by the hand and not let go, even though I can’t walk very fast, and even though I keep stumbling. I trust you, Lord. I know you know the way home, and I’m ready to change my course and let you show me the way. Amen.