I have a Halloween riddle:
What does a skeleton say before he eats his dinner?
“Bon (bone) appetit!”
1) I would like you to use your imagination for a moment. Imagine a little ant scratching your toe and saying, “Hey, let’s you and me be friends.” An ant is so small. How can it be a friend to a big human person? Or imagine not an ant but an amoeba, a one-cell organism, and it wants to be friends with a human being. The human being can’t even see an amoeba because it is so minuscule. How could a friendship ever develop? One more example. Imagine a little grain of sand saying to the vast ocean, “Let’s you and me be friends.” A vast ocean and a speck of sand.
All these comparisons help us get some perspective on little human beings, you and me, trying to relate to an infinite God.
All we have to do is go outside on a dark starry night and look up to the heavens. We see hundreds, maybe thousands of stars. There are billions of stars, and billions of galaxies, that have existed for billions of years. How big, how infinite must be the Creator of all this. And how small we are. How can we possibly have a relationship, a bonding with God? Why would God even care about creatures as small as we are?
Herein lays a great mystery. Our faith tells us that God the Father so loved little us that he sent his Son to become one of us, and lift us up to Himself.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we read, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
God doesn’t hear our prayers because we shout loud or sing on key. God doesn’t hear our prayers because we are seemingly perfect, as the Pharisee today thought he was. God hears our prayers because we are baptized, members of the Body of Christ. Our prayers are in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ. The Father hears the Son. It is our faith in Christ that makes our prayers powerful.
2) Secondly, recall these famous words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “To thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day thou can not then be false to any man.”
The problem with the Pharisee in today’s gospel is that he was comparing himself to the tax collector, whom he didn’t know. Oh, he knew external things about him. But he didn’t know the inner person. It is very difficult to know the inner life of another. So we are cautioned not to compare. In fact, the Lord tells us not to judge the heart of another. Only God can judge the heart. It takes enough energy just “to thine own self be true.”
Be true. We need to admit to our littleness, our weaknesses, and faults. We need to admit our sins and ask pardon. That’s what the beggar in today’s gospel did. Sorrow leads us to forgiveness and a strong bond with God.
Be true. We need to admit not just faults but also all the goodness, truth and beauty that God has placed within us, all the talents and accomplishments we have, -- and give thanks. As St. Paul reminds us, “What do you possess that you have not received” (1 Corinthians 4:7)? Gratitude leads us to a strong bond with God.
It is false humility that leads a person to deny gifts and talents. True humility admits to gifts – and gives thanks.
We are like little grains of sand that have been loved into greatness. We have been loved into being members of the body of Christ and given many gifts so we can do great service.
Then, with gratitude in our hearts for all we have received, we can turn to God with confidence. As it says in Proverbs, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).