30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – October 23, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
How do you see?
Have you ever seen those pictures that you can interpret it in two different ways? The famous one is the outline of a fancy cup in the middle, but it could also be two faces looking at each other? Or it is the image of either a young woman looking away or an old woman looking down? Depending on how you look at them, it looks like different things to different people, or even different to you depending on how you look at it.
Or think about those moral dilemmas: Would you kill baby Hitler? 42% of people say they would. Or there is a famous problem called the “Trolley Problem” where the trolley is going down the tracks and is going to hit five people, but if you pull the lever to switch the tracks the train would only hit one person on a different track: what would you do?
With these pictures, with these questions, when people answer them, the reason people ask them is because you begin to understand how they think, how they interpret the world around them—how they see.The way we see, the way we see and interpret the world around us, is very important. And sometimes we don’t even recognize the way we see! I like to think about it like glasses, lenses. We all see the world through a set of lenses. It’s how we make sense of the world and our place in it, and how we are to act. And usually, there are more than one or a combination of lenses we use. Everyone sees the world through a set of lenses! You know this because I can ask you, “How’s your day?” And you’ll respond, “Good” or “Bad” based on how you see the world.
For many people, the world is “seen” through a very economic and financial set of lenses: life is good when the market is good, when I’m making good money at my job, when I can pay my bills. Life is bad when the market is tanking, when my investments are falling apart. For others, life is interpreted through the lenses of “leisure” and “comfort”: life is good when I can have fun, go on vacations or go to concerts and games; life is good when I have a good house and a nice car, when I have things that make life comfortable. For others, life is interpreted through a lens of career success. Other see life through ecological lenses: unless we are doing something about global warming, everything is going wrong. For others, life is good when the Chiefs are good. Life is good when my kids are good.
We all have lenses! Every one of us has particular ways of looking around us, seeing the world around us. And our lenses—listen, this is the key—our lenses, how we “see” reality, how we see the world around us and our life determines our response to reality. I mean, think about literally any situation in life! As a kid when your parents told you to be home by 10:00, you saw it as an oppressive rule. But when you grew up, you realized (and maybe even know the statistics) that when teenagers are out after 10:00pm the probability they do something stupid goes up dramatically. How you see yourself and the world around you determines how you respond.
Self-Righteous vs. Humble
So one of the primary things Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today, but really what Jesus is often getting at, what he preaches about time and time again—Jesus is trying to help us see, to see things as God sees them, to see the world as God sees the world, to see ourselves as God sees us. What are Jesus’ first words, the first words of his public ministry I should say (yeah, not “mama” or “abba”). Jesus first words are: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repent is a fancy Greek word (metanoia) which doesn’t mean, “Stop sinning!” Repent, metanoia, means, “Change your way of thinking. Begin to see in a new way!” Jesus’ teaching isn’t so much about, “Do this and don’t do that.” It’s, “Begin to see things in a new way!” Why? Because how you see, how you see the world around you, how you see yourself and your life—this determines how we respond.
So here is this scene of the pharisee and the tax collector—classic scene. And the pharisee is praying, listing all of the ways that his life is in such perfect order, how great of a guy he is, how he follows the rules so well. And yet, Jesus is helping us to see that there is something missing with him. A lot of externals that we value are in place, but something is off. The tax collector is not that way; he is actually stealing from his own neighbors. And yet, Jesus is helping us to see that this guy is in a much better spot. A lot of the externals we value are not there, but he is seeing things more clearly than the pharisee.
And what is Jesus’ point? Humility. Humility is the key. And like we talked about a few weeks ago, what’s humility? Humilitas veritas. Humility is truth. Humility is truth—living the truth of who we are, living reality for what it is! In other words, humility is seeing things as they are, seeing ourselves as we are, and living the truth of that reality. Remember my dumb example of how I thought I was some rugby star? And how that didn’t go so well?
This tax collector was seeing more clearly than the pharisee! Why? Because he saw himself in the truth of who he is: a sinner, imperfect, in complete need of the mercy of God, completely dependent on the merciful response of God! Jesus isn’t saying it’s ok to sin. He’s saying that the tax collector is in the better position because he recognizes his complete and total need.
Great Lie vs. Great Truth
If you put on the lenses that we are given by the world, the lenses given to us by the news, or even by our parents—if we put on these “lenses,” we’re succeeding and life has meaning so long as things are good financially, and we have the comforts of life, and our career is going well, and so on. And again, there is nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves. But—but, if that’s all there is, we’re not seeing things clearly. This is how the pharisee sees the world: “I am doing all of the things I’m supposed to be doing, I’m successful, I’m being a good person.” But he’s missing something! We have been wearing the lenses that world gives to us for a long time, and the results aren’t neutral. It’s not like you can just pick the one’s you like and it doesn’t matter, no. The lenses we wear, the lenses we choose matter. And the lenses so many people are choosing, these lenses lead to ruin, to people being so sad, so heartbroken, so isolated and alone; married with a good job and kids and everything, and yet feeling an emptiness. I mean you just need to take a quick look at the stats for depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol, and so on. These lenses betray us.
It’s only when we put on a different set of lenses, the lenses of humility, of truth, seeing the truth of ourselves and the world around us—only then do we see clearly. That’s what Jesus is driving at! “Repent! Metanoiate! Change your way of seeing!” This is the great proposal of Jesus, this is the Christian proclamation: see the world in a different way, see your life in a different way!
The Gospel Proclamation
And what is this way of seeing? Well, that’s what we call the “gospel.” Not the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. No, the gospel, the good news, the news of who we are, what condition we’re in, and what God has done about it in and through Jesus Christ. Paul sums it up well in our first reading: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:17-18). We have been rescued. And we will continue to be rescued. This is what Christ offers us! Rescue.
But this rescue only makes sense if we first see ourselves through a humble lens, if we see the truth of ourselves. We don’t need rescued if everything is fine. We don’t need rescued if we have everything we need already. No, we can only be rescued when we humbly acknowledge the truth of ourselves: we are in need.
Over the next several weeks as we begin the renewal of our Stewardship Way of Life, this will be the central topic we are exploring: the rescue Jesus has brought about in our lives. That’s our theme this year: “I have been rescued. How will I respond?” We don’t typically see Jesus this way! We don’t. We were given a completely different set of lenses through which to see Jesus. We see him as a nice guy that taught us to be nice people; he just gave us a bunch of rules that are hard to follow, so we don’t; he doesn’t seem to be around any more. On and on and on. And all these lenses do is obscure Jesus Christ. We don’t see him clearly. We don’t see him as one who rescues us. We don’t see clearly. And remember, the way we see is going to determine how we respond. So we need to beg to be able to see. This is what we will be exploring the next several weeks: how can we see him clearly? how can we change our way of thinking, repent? Only when this change happens does our response become so much clearer, and so much more freely and joyfully offered.
Today at this Mass, begin to ask for this, begin to beg for this: Jesus, help me to see you. Help me to see you as you are. Help me to see myself as you see me. Help me to see. Set a reminder on your phone every day, three times a day, to ask and beg: Jesus, help me to see you, help me to see myself as you see me. Begin to ask, begin to beg. Jesus, help me to see you.