Humility is essential for there to be true hospitality. In order to truly welcome another one must know and accept the truth of oneself and not live with an overinflated sense of one’s ego. In other words, the more we grow in humility the better we become at welcoming the other.
This, I believe, is one of the lessons given us in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk. 18:9-14). Both men go to the Temple to pray but only one leaves being “set right with God”. Only the tax collector is able to receive God, to welcome God into his heart. What allowed him to do this was his humility. The tax collector knew the truth of his sin. He knew his condition before the throne of God. Not even daring to lift his eyes to heaven, the tax collector beat his breast saying, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In his humility, this man opened his heart to God. He allowed a space for God to come in. In a combination of hospitality and humility the tax collector welcomed God and by so doing was “set right with God”.
The Pharisee could not do this. Whatever the reason – whether it be arrogance, pride or fear or a combination of all three – the Pharisee could not admit the truth of his need and therefore his heart remained closed. The Pharisee, so proud of his religious observance, allows no space for God to enter. He leaves neither knowing God nor even his very self, for that matter.
Humility allows for hospitality. Humility enables us to open the space in our hearts needed in order to welcome the other, whether that be God or our neighbor.
It is a good thing to learn the wisdom of the tax collector.
In a reflection on the gospel parable of the persistent widow (Lk. 18:1-8), Bishop Vincenzo Paglia writes that the widow, “was certainly a victim, but not one resigned to her condition. Insistently, she went before the judge demanding justice.” Yes, she was a victim – an injustice had been committed against her – she knew it, the judge knew it and the people of the town knew it. But what is striking here is that she is not resigned to her condition. The widow was persistent in her demand for justice. This persistence is all the more striking in considering the context of the time when women had little to no room for any appeal to justice, especially widows. The question is worthy of being asked; what enabled this woman to not resign herself, to not be merely a victim?
I believe an answer to this question may be found in Jesus’ own further reflection on the parable. The Lord says, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” In fact the answer found here is threefold: 1) God, 2) his chosen ones, 3) calling out to God “day and night”.
God. Known or unknown, acknowledged or not acknowledged – there is a God and because of this fact (to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) there is an arc of justice to the universe, it may move slowly but it does move surely. And it will not be denied. The judge may not have feared or believed in God but the widow did and she knew that God’s justice surpasses any injustice.
His chosen ones. Not only is there a God to this universe but God chooses to enter into relationship with His people. God the great clock maker who builds and sets the machine running but then steps away is not the God of our Bible. The Scriptures – contrary to the clock maker image – demonstrate that God does not step away from His creation but, in fact, steps further and further into His creation – even to the point of the incarnation, even to the point of death. God is present here. God is a friend to call upon. The widow knew this. She knew when she stood before the judge that she was not standing alone. God stood with her.
God hears those who call out to Him “day and night”. The widow was a person of prayer. By her very need, by the very fact of literally having no further recourse, the widow embodies the weak strength of prayer. This embodiment is not the resignation and imprisonment of victimhood that is one of the deadening tumors of a worldview that allows no space for God. No, this embodiment is the very essence of strength – a strength that acknowledges that there is a God, that God chooses to enter into relationship with us and that, therefore and by God’s choice, we are never merely a victim. Through her prayer, the widow knew herself to be a child of God.
This is the widow’s faith, the faith that Jesus holds up to us as a model. And Jesus asks us, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Ten lepers were cleansed (Lk 17:11-19). At some point all ten had to have known that they were cleansed of their disease but only one returned and fell at the feet of Jesus and only that one heard the words, “Stand up…” spoken by the Lord of Life. There is a difference between “knowledge of” and gratitude and the story of the one grateful leper demonstrates this for us. Further, the story verifies that there is a specific growth in the awareness and understanding of the human person that comes only through gratitude. Here it is important to remember that only the one who returned and thanked Jesus heard the words, “Stand up”.
We can live life with a “knowledge of” God and there is certainly a level of good in this. We can know God is in heaven and that we believe in Him but in this secure knowledge; God remains separate, God stays “up there”. Gratitude (different from “knowledge of”) allows no room for separation. Gratitude by its very nature implies an open heart, it implies a desire for relationship. Gratitude means falling at the feet of the other, heart open and vulnerable, and saying “thank you”. It is a healing thing to be able to honestly and sincerely say “thank you”. In his gratitude the one leper who returned did not only acknowledge his cleansing and he did not only demonstrate his desire for a continuing relationship with the Lord but through this return he also came to a deeper awareness of who he was (an opportunity unfortunately passed over by the other nine).
“Stand up” says Jesus to the one who returned. When God speaks to us and says “stand up” it means be freed from the burden of sin – all its weight and its lies and its false understandings. To “stand up” means not to be bowed down to the earth with our eyes averted from heaven but to stand erect, to return to the posture in which we were originally made by our Creator – feet on earth and eyes to heaven – in all of this coming to a deeper awareness of the truth of who we are.
Gratitude and relationship are what lead to this realization. This is the lesson for all disciples of the one leper who returned. “One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” And to him alone, Jesus said, “Stand up.”
Now, is it just me or does it seem that our modern world is consumed with time. I would even go so far as to suggest that probably never before has there been such an obsession with time and the unrelenting demand to manage it and make every moment memorable and productive (according to a specific criteria though).
One might assume that this is the way things have always been; but Charles Taylor, in his book A Secular Age, demonstrates that the “homogeneous, empty” approach to time of our age has developed out of the disenchantment of the world and the birth of the secular. In other words, time has not always been viewed as it now is and further (of important note), time does not always need to be understood as it now is. Things can change – individually and even as a society.
With the removal of the Sacred and the defining of human fulfillment solely to an exclusive humanism that does not allow for anything beyond itself, time loses its thickness. When time is held in relation to eternity there is a depth dimension to the movement of our days. When time is separated from eternity we are left with just one minute falling after another … after another … after another … In this ticking of the disenchanted, secular clock we rush to fill up the space with experiences. We rush to “make productive” every moment. God forbid that one second slip away! In the secular backdrop, time is found to be an merciless tyrant and the supreme irony is that as we ourselves seek to master every single moment of time we are the ones who end up in fact becoming mastered by the click of the clock.
This does not have to be. With the Sacred and the awareness of eternity, time (rather than being a tyrant) becomes a friend. When I pray before the Blessed Sacrament there is a different depth to time. When we gather in worship around the altar heaven and earth unite – the eternal and the finite. When we gather as Christian community or in Christian service we witness to a different time. To be a Christian in our secular age means, literally, to run according to a different clock – a clock where time and eternity interpenetrate. For the Christian, time always has the potential to be thick.
My belief is that on an intuitive level we all know this, we all experience this and we all yearn for this. These are the moments in life when it all comes together, when it fits, when beauty reveals itself and insight is gained. It might be a moment of life changing epiphany or a simple daily awareness, either way time witnesses to eternity.
I think that the desire of the younger generations for something “more” (which I witness again and again in my ministry) is in part a desire to break free of the secular world’s limited, empty and homogeneous march of time. We, as Church, would do well to listen attentively to the yearnings of the younger generations. Like the young Samuel and the elderly Eli, the intuitive yearnings of the younger generations can awaken in the older generation an awareness that it has wisdom and guidance to impart. The Church has a different notion of time to give to the hearts of those who yearn for something “more”.
At heart, it is a radical act to live according to a different time frame but following Jesus – the incarnate, Eternal Word – has always tended toward the radical I suppose.