February 17, 2008
"Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself, shall be exalted!" Luke 18:14
With this exhortation, the Lord concludes His teaching the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. To be sure, we must have heard this Parable many times over the years. The Holy Fathers of the ancient Church, purposely placed this Biblical excerpt, as an introduction to the Great Lenten Period, when we are called to submit to a self appraisal, and thereby make any necessary adjustments.
We all recognize that we are creatures of habit. The true Christian actively seeks to follow as closely as possible God's Commandments. Consequently his, or her life has greater fulfillment. But, there are too many Christians, who literally do not take the time to appraise their actions, and thereby they tend to slide, or minimize their short comings. They tend to excuse themselves if they do not measure up, and seem to go through life without any check points. Consequently, they tolerate their actions, even though they know that they do not conform with the Lord's Commandments.
Self discipline is a great attribute, which exalts, whereas the lack of discipline destroys. Thus, the Church seizes the opportunity during periods of Fasting and Prayer, to admonish people to return to the principles of true life. The 40 day Lenten Period, so closely upon us, calls us to a self examination, and to imitate the humility of the Publican, as we heard from today's Gospel reading.
How vivid is the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. It presents two people living on the opposite side of the spectrum. We view, as in a play, two people who entered the Temple to pray.
Now, look at the other man - the tax collector. He felt so sinful that he wouldn't even raise his eyes upwardly, but would beat his chest constantly, and repeating over and over: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This of course came to be known as the "Jesus Prayer!" Then Jesus remarks that the Publican went home justified, rather than the Pharisee, and concludes the Parable by saying: "He who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself, shall be exalted!"
What a transformation would be achieved by society, if most people adhered to the soul-saving phrase, which the Lord uttered in concluding His Parable!
As I remarked last week when I spoke on the Parable of the talents, people refuse to learn that all gifts come from God, and in receiving these gifts, we should seek to multiply them for the general welfare. But, a feeling which is generalized is saying to ourselves, as long as I'm O.K. who cares? Let each one fend for themselves! Without realizing it a person becomes self-centered, egocentric and arrogant with a superiority complex.
Some may be sailing in the heavens of wisdom, and never think that one moment because of an accident they may develop amnesia. Others may brag about their bravery, and if they are not subdued by some illness, surely the years of aging may humble them. A glorified politician is often lost and forgotten in the shuffle. A wealthy individual, may become a pauper, because of abnormal economic conditions. These people and others in parallel, living distantly from God, become despondent and often commit suicide.
That is why the Lord emphasized, "those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, and those who humble themselves shall be exalted." Thank God for those wonderful Christians, whose cloak is humility. There are so many examples of famous people, who exemplified humility in their life. One of these was the famous mathematician Copernicus, who lived in the 16th Century. He deeply believed in the wisdom and the power of God.
His humility speaks volumes, a small example of which is the words he selected to be inscribed on his tombstone. It read: "O God, I do not ask for the great gifts You gave St. Paul, neither the grace You gave St. Peter, but I beseech Your forgiveness, just like the one You gave the thief upon the cross. I pray for this forgiveness!"
The Publican was justified because he truly humbled himself and sought the infinite mercy of God. He humbled himself, and cared not in the least who would see him beating his chest and calling him a hypocrite. He rather cared what God thought.
There is a parallel didactic anecdote of two brothers who stole some sheep. According to their local law, they would be branded on the forehead so that everyone would know that they were thieves. The one brother could not stand the shame and left for another land, but even there they would ask him what that branding was on his forehead. He became so miserable and sick that very soon he died.
The other brother decided to stick it out. To prove that he had truly repented for his act. He decided that he would one day become an example for many in that he submitted himself to study and become learned. It wasn't long that he became the area's philosopher and people sought him out for advice to their problems. By this time he had become so famous and loved, that no one paid attention to his brandied forehead. He was the wise and respected Teacher, the source of wisdomand kindness. Thus, we have two categories of individuals. Those, who think that departing and trying to hide, and those who gain strength to have the courage to face life squarely, humbling themselves to emerge victors in life.
My Beloved Friends, no matter what material possession we lose, our life should not change if we have the Grace of God in our heart. When our life is in consonance with the Commandments of God, the Grace of he Lord is the armor, which ultimately saves us. We receive the Lord's Grace when we recognize our sins and are humbled like the Publican. It should never escape us that a person becomes great, when he is supported by the Power and Mercy of God. That is where the Publican placed himself and thus gained his salvation. Indeed, the Publican is a model for all faithful Christians. Amen.
“Therefore brethren stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or our epistle.” - Thessalonians 2:15