Monday, October 29, 2007

Close to the earth.

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 28, 2007
Mass Readings:
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Not too long ago I saw a t-shirt that has stuck with me. It was one of those with a saying plastered on the front of it and it read: "My Attitude? Your Problem!" I was sort of taken-aback by it. What struck me most was that it was worn by a child no more than five or six years old. Today I wonder about how we cultivate and celebrate a culture of arrogance and a sense of superiority at the expense of others. I think that t-shirt reflected an idea that many of us believe that we can do and say whatever we want and other folk just have to put up with it, an "it's all about me" attitude.

Our readings today are about an attitude of humility. We often view humility as being a state of being where we have a low opinion of our self and walk around with a "woe is me" attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our word humility comes from the Greek word humus which means close to the earth. Humility is about being grounded, knowing who we are and more importantly, whose we are.

Our Gospel text is a glaring example of how not to treat God. The Pharisee comes in and seems to think that he is doing God a favor by spending time with him and God should feel honored to be in his presence because he is so good and holy instead of the other way around. The way we pray reflects on who we think God is and our relationship with him.

The tax collector, a tool of the Romans, used to extort money from the people is painfully aware of his dependence on God. He prays out of his desire to know God instead of trying to prove his holiness to God. The two men pray in very different ways. One prays out of a sense of superiority, while the other prays out of the need to know God and hear God. Jesus tells us that it was the cry of the needy and not the arrogant that was heard. The tax collector went away justified while the Pharisee went away with what he walked into the Temple with, his ego.

Our reading from Sirach instructs us that God hears all of our prayers but it is the prayer of the one who seeks God's will that is answered. In other words, God isn't merely a celestial department store where we just get what we want by going down a request list. Prayer is about drawing close to God so that we can be one with him and do his will. The prayer of the humble is answered while the prayer of the arrogant is heard but doesn't get a response. It is about being grounded, "close to the earth".

Close to the earth. I think this is an important term for me to remember whenever I get too full of myself. I came from the earth and to the earth I will return someday. We all are alike in that we were created by God from the earth and some day we will all return to the earth and we will all have to face God. No one is better than anyone else when we are standing and facing God. So much for arrogance!

So I find myself pondering why we seem to always gravitate to an attitude of arrogance, sense of entitlement, and self righteousness. Why do we do that? All these things give us are broken relationships with one another and with God. We may look like a big deal in the eyes of the world but what we should be concerned about is how we present ourselves to God. God doesn't care about how important we are in society. Our social status doesn't mean squat to God. Our level of importance in our jobs doesn't mean squat to God. What matters to God is that we give our all to be close to him and do his work in the world. Everything else is nothing but our own egos.

Being "close to the earth" is about setting aside our selfishness, arrogance and sense of entitlement so that we can be open to God's call to serve him and one another. We are all in this together. We all came from the earth in Creation and we will all return to it and we will all have to face God on equal footing. In God's presence, none of us can hold to our ego for it is an even field and we have to answer for how we treated one another and how we treated God.

Let's face it. We are in this life together and we should be striving to draw closer to God and with one another. Everything else is just ego. I pray that I can remember this. I pray that I never adopt a sense that my attitude is someone else's problem. It will always be my problem because I will have to answer for it alone.