“The Goal of a Humble Heart”
October 23, 2016: The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 25)
Jeremiah 14: 17 – 22/ Psalm 84/ 2 Timothy 4: 6 - 8; 16 – 18/ Luke 18: 9 – 14
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
There is a legend about Jesus who was walking with His disciples and they saw a dead dog. The disciples commented on the grossness of it – its smell and with worms around it. Jesus said, “Look at its teeth, how perfect it is.” Maybe, Jesus smelled and saw what the disciples did, but He saw the good out of the many bad.
In today’s parable, Jesus told the story about the Pharisee and the tax collectors. The purpose of the parable was to teach us that people should not trust in their own righteousness and see others as lower than themselves. The Pharisees trusted in his own righteousness and he viewed the tax collector as a sinner, somebody who was bad. The Pharisees during Christ’s time was looked up to. They were honored and got respected places in gatherings. The attitude of the Pharisee in the parable was seen in what he said. “Lord, I thank you. Buti na lang, Lord, You have chosen me and I am blessed. I am not a sinner, I am not a swindler, I am not unjust or an adulterer. Buti na lang, Lord, pinabait Mo ako. Ginawa Mo akong mabait. I fast, I tithe and I thank You that I am not like the tax collector. How dare he even come to Church.” He is saying, “Mature ako, immature siya; holy ako, sinner siya; tama ako, mali siya; matalino ako, wala siyang alam; may pinagaralan ako, siya wala; may pera ako, siya wala.” The Pharisee sees himself as spiritually superior and others belong to different classes, so he cannot join these people.
On the other hand, the tax collector simply asked for mercy and called himself a sinner. The spirit of accusation comes from the devil. The devil, Satan, is called the accuser of the brethren in the book of Revelation. He points fingers, he accuses and he holds the sin of others against them. This is very opposite to the attitude of the tax collector who said, “I am the sinner.” St. Paul, who did a lot of missionary work and contributed a lot for the kingdom of God and suffered a lot for it too, called himself the chief among sinners.
Jesus said to consider the sins of others as a small speck of dust and consider yours as logs. It is not the other way around. The condemning spirit comes from the devil and has a double-standard. When somebody says, “Let us deal with sin. We should take care to avoid sin and deal with it.” When they say that, they actually mean, “Let us deal with other people’s sin, not mine. His sin is greater than mine. I am not a swindler and unjust.”
We are all sinners, and we all fall down. What is the difference between a sinner and a saint? A saint gets up because he understands the grace and mercy of God and he knows he gets up not by his own strength, but by God’s grace and mercy. This was even taught in the Church that being blessed is a result of our being good and obedience. The reason others are sick and have problems is because they are sinners. In the culture of Israel, the lepers were looked down because they might have committed a very serious sin and God is punishing them.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned that this man be born blind? He or his parents?” They thought this was a result of sin and the man was being judged by God. Worse, I have heard it taught in Church that when God is punishing somebody, we don’t interfere and get in the way of God. It was said that when you are blessed and others are in need and having a miserable life, we don’t reach out because if we do, we are being contrary to the punishment of God. However, the reason we are blessed is because we are to be a blessing to those who are in need of a blessing. It is not to hoard it for ourselves and say, “To those who are being punished, it is their fault.”
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it may be that the thinking of the Levite and the priest who passed by the man who was robbed was that he committed a big sin, and if they reached out to the man, they would go against God’s justice so they did not do anything. Understand that we are all sinners.
I quote someone, “It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved. To look upon another - his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects - is to look upon one who is suffering. He is suffering from negative passions, from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer. This is very important: do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison, noting the sins you assume you would never commit. Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer, a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need. Help him, love him, pray for him, do unto him as you would have him do unto you.”
Peter said, “Lord, I would never leave You, even if these others would leave You. I would even die for You.” For this, Jesus called him Satan. At the Last Supper, Jesus said “One of you will betray Me.” The disciples, including Peter, in their humility, did not say, “I would never do that to You, Jesus.” They were humble enough to say, “Lord, let me not fall into that temptation.”
In the blessing before dismissal, I say, “God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry at you. God will never leave you nor forsake you.” This is addressed to “you” – to a second person; to your neighbor. These are people whom you had in mind whom you think are the tax collector, the adulterer, the swindler, the unjust and saying they are not like you. God loves them; God has forgiven them. God is not angry at them and God will never leave them nor forsake them, just like with you.
God chose us all and His love is everlasting and endures forever. What about your neighbor, your officemate, your classmate, your relatives or your in laws? Do we look at anyone with contempt? Jesus wants us to have a humble heart, not a condemning heart. In fact, Jesus said that it was the tax collector who was justified. It was the Pharisee who had a résumé. St. Paul, who also had a résumé. said that what he has done is all trash as compared to his knowledge of God’s grace and mercy, which is what counts.
Jesus told the Pharisees that prostitutes and the tax gatherers will get ahead into the kingdom of God before them because they understood the mercy of God. The kingdom of God is all about the mercy of God. The prostitutes and the tax gatherers will enter the kingdom of God and see it before those who are proud.
In the prodigal son’s story, the youngest squandered the father’s wealth and he came back repenting. The father accepted his sinful son who has repented, and the father held a feast for him. The prodigal son entered into the feast. In the beginning, he said to his father that he was not worthy of what his father was doing, but the father accepted him and gave him his robe and his ring and told him that a feast was waiting for him. Who did not enter the feast? It was the faithful older brother. His faithfulness did not matter; it was his attitude that kept him from going in. It was not that the father prohibited him from coming in and going to the feast; in fact, the father pleaded with him. However, the older brother did not want to join the feast because of his brother whom he considered a swindler and a squanderer of his father’s wealth. He thought that they did not belong to the same place. Showing the father’s love, the parable ended with an open invitation from the father.
This is God’s love. This is what we need to proclaim. It is not condemnation. Sin will be taken care of by God's mercy and love. The prodigal son remembered the father’s love and this is what drew him back to his father and away from his sin. He even condemned himself saying that he was not worthy of his father’s actions.
This is the same metaphor for Israel and the Gentiles. Israel thought they were the chosen people. What happened is that the Gentiles got ahead of them into the kingdom of God. St. Paul said, “We are turning to the Gentiles because you rejected God’s justice and promise.” Israel thought they were the chosen race and the Gentiles are like tax gatherers – swindlers; adulterers; and unjust.
God wants to deal with us in this attitude. He is love and He wants us to have this love, to have this humble spirit, and not to have a condemning spirit. He doesn’t judge; He doesn’t count our sin against us. The one Person in Jesus Christ who did not have any sin in Him and in His life had the right to condemn but He doesn’t. The adulterous woman was brought before Him and the Pharisees told Jesus to stone her. Jesus told them, “He who has no sin, be the first to cast the stone on her.” When they all left, Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either.” Jesus had the right to condemn because He did not sin, but He didn’t. He is not willing for any to perish.
God has created us in His image and likeness and He wants us to be like Him. As I earlier said at the start, Jesus saw the good in the dead dog. Even if it died, there was still something that God place in it that was good. This is the same with human beings. We were created good - in God’s image and likeness. No sin, no death will ever eradicate this completely. The goodness of God remains in man, even if he is the most sinful, because there is an inherent good in man because God put it there. It may have been marred, put on hold, and blurred by our sins; but it will never completely be gone because God, in His power, put it there. Nothing can thwart the good creation of God and God is working toward the restoration of this.
We fell; He saved us because this is who God is. Psalms 113:7 says, “He lifts the poor from the ash heap.” God did not abandon us when we sinned. He partook of our humanity to restore the privilege of us partaking in His divine nature so we would be like Him again. This is salvation. At the Great Thanksgiving, when the water and wine is mixed, it is said, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.” Not only were we restored, but He made us ambassadors to spread and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom that we represent. We were made ambassadors to proclaim that sin is not counted against man. This is the good news of great joy for ALL men. It is not only for those who are good, who tithed, and who fast, but even for the swindlers, the unjust, the adulterers and even for those who are proud.
We were formerly sinners, but now we are part of the building whose foundation are the apostles and the prophets and Jesus Christ who Himself was the Cornerstone. They, in their divine nature, undergird the sinners. Leaders and mature Christians should follow Jesus’ example of undergirding sinners, so they can be part of God's family and be oaks of righteousness in the planting of the Lord, in the building of the Lord, in which He dwells. The reason we are blessed and given gifts is to build up those who are in need, to be a blessing. It is not to exalt ourselves and look down on others.
In the book of Jeremiah, God said, “If you extract the good from the bad, the holy from the profane, you will be My spokesman.” If you look at the good nature of each person that God has put in our lives, God will use us to be His spokesman. In 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, St. Paul is talking about offering and giving, but the principle is much deeper than giving. The principle is that, “There may be equality among brothers.” Why is it equality? Sometimes some have and others don’t have. The reason for your abundance now is for you to bless those who have a lack now. Someday, they will have abundance and you will have a lack. The strong are to help weak; the rich are to help the poor; the abundant are to help those who are lacking.
I have shared that, “Ang mabagal, hindi pinagtatawanan, ngunit inaakay. Ang bumagsak, hindi sinisipa pero hinihila pataas; ang mahina, tinutulungan.” There is quality because we are all brothers and children of God. With great patience, endure, instruct, and do the work of an evangelist who proclaims the good news of God. In our great patience itself, we are proclaiming God’s mercy for people.
In Hebrews11, after all the deeds of the saints did before were mentioned, it said, “Apart from the rest, others won’t receive promise.” The great names, those who did very well in the kingdom of God, will not receive the promise apart from Jesus’ brothers because God intended for all of us to arrive at our destination together. Apart from the rest, others would not receive the promise.
Knowing this, why do we need to get ahead of others, why do we need to compete with each other, and why do we need to say that we are good and the others are not? We all need to wait for each other.
In a short while, we will start building our very first Church and we are all excited. Let me emphasize that our goal is not to put up a structure. It is not to beautify; but our goal is HOW we do it. On one big wall of the university gym that I graduated from, it says, “When the Great Scorer pens your name, He writes not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.” God is concerned with our attitude. Let us build this Church, but not leave out anyone. Let us get to the Promised Land lifting up the slow, helping the weak, strengthening those who need strengthening. As one Body, we will build this Church. The building itself is part of our greater responsibility to be a witness to the world of how we take care of each. We are not putting down each other; we are not pointing fingers at each other, but building each other up that there may be equality; that there may be equal opportunities for all of us to be witnesses to this generation and to the next.
Someone told me, it is to my credit that the building of the Church will happen at my time. No, somebody started this before and had this original vision. We happened to be blessed by God for this to happen now. This is just the beginning. We have concern and love enough for our children and their children for us to start this so that they can build on this something bigger, something greater and something that is a more powerful witness to their generation. We build as one! This is the Lord’s doing and we all humbly and gratefully participate in it.
Jesus ended the parable by saying, “Everyone who humbles himself shall be exalted and everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” It is not punishment, but equality so that each one would understand that one can be the mountain and the other can be the valley, and so, the latter can be lifted up. When the mountain and the valley reaches the same level, when one takes care of the other, then, we have prepared the way of the Lord, then He will come. When the valleys have been lifted up and the mountains are leveled, then, will come Christ, our Lord. Then, we would have fulfilled Psalm 133 that says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together, and to love each other, to take care of each other, not to condemn each other and not to point fingers at each other. Then, there is life forever in that place, which is Zion!” It is the very way it is in the kingdom of our God.