When we examine the meaning of the reading today we can clearly see that it applies to all of us in one shape or another. Here we have two people who have come for the same purpose to the same place and yet they seek different outcomes.
One, the Pharisee, thinks very highly of himself for tithing his income and fasting as an outward display of his devotion to God; the other, a tax man, humbly admits to being a sinner and is looking for truth and absolution.
We make the mistake of seeing the sinful tax man as “bad” and the devoted Pharisee as “good” but is that a true valuation? Are you instantly a good person because you tithe your income to the church?
Are you less of a Christian if you can’t always give monetarily?
Or is it that God wants us to live in that ultimate state of mind of loving ourselves and our neighbours with our whole hearts?
If we always live in this way with open hearts and open minds then we are able to see in people the variety of gifts that they bring to a group.
As a school teacher you would think it unreasonable of me to walk into a class of 30 children and expect each one of them to be experts in Math or have excellent punctuation in their writing but yet as adults we take it upon ourselves to be constantly judging others against what we bring as our gifts.
We buzz around in the hectic mess of today’s world judging what we have or don’t have from an outside, or surface, perspective. We have it backwards, we should be starting at our core at what we know to be true of ourselves and then accessing what we know to be the true gifts of others.
Why not look at the group as a whole? Evaluate ourselves first and decide what things we don’t enjoy or would rather access from someone else and then search the crowd.
For example, I don’t like housework so I choose to pay someone else to do it and she is great at it. I don’t find joy in housework but I do find joy in coming home to a clean house on Fridays, knowing that I chose to pay for that service and help that person’s family.
My teaching colleagues and I were recently asked to sum up our goal for the teaching year into one word and then asked to explain that word and our goals to our administrative leaders. While many others were choosing words such as success, literacy, peace and joy I chose the word enough.
My leaders were taken aback thinking that they were dealing with a teacher that wasn’t going to give a lot to her students or someone who was happy to settle for mediocrity.
I explained that I had once seen this poem shortly after the sudden death of my sister that was called “I wish you enough” and it resonated with me.
As a member of generation X I am strongly linked to my facebook world, which is where I first saw this, and when I read this it made me cry, it made me thankful to be alive, it made me appreciate the people in my life and it deepened my faith.
The story attached to it on social media was that it was overheard at an airport when a mother who was terminally ill was parting ways with her daughter knowing that this may be their last meeting.
It goes like this:
“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”
As someone who lives a very full and busy life, constantly juggling the needs and desires of others at work and at home I wish myself enough.
I tell myself daily that I am a caring enough teacher, a loving enough mother, a trustworthy enough friend and confidant, a valuable enough employee, and worthy enough wife, and many more important things. Sometimes we need to be content that we have given enough and saved some of ourselves for us.
So you may ask, how does this relate to the topic at hand?
How can this help us to understand why Jesus chose the tax man in the reading to be the exalted and justified?
Wouldn’t Jesus hold in high esteem the person who fasts and tithes?
This is where we all need to stop and think…who would each of you be linked most closely to in the story?
Do people see you as the tithing Pharisee or the sinning tax man? Or maybe someone in between those two extremes.
Who do you want to be? Do you have a path laid out to get there?
Can you envision your giving as being enough?
Why do we beat ourselves up and compare ourselves to the person in the pew next to us? Is baking the cookies for the next tea any more or less important than the person who tithes or the person who gives faithfully to the foodbank each month or gives of their time to volunteer their enthusiasm in Children’s church or their organizational skills to mastermind a church event?
We all have such different gifts to share but yet we choose to waste our energy demeaning our gifts like the tax man undervalued his gift of humbleness in comparison to others who overinflate their gifts like the Pharisee in the reading. Where do we draw this moral compass from that establishes this sliding scale of assigning importance? Because it is clearly laid out in this reading that it does not come from Jesus.
When children are young we teach them to accept everyone for their differences or despite their differences and we explain that God makes each of us with unique talents to share.
Somewhere along the way we forget that lesson and we strive to be more like someone else than like ourselves. If we are truly loving ourselves then we will allow ourselves the contentment and revelry to enjoy and embrace that we are, in fact, enough.
My sister that I spoke of earlier in this message was a world traveler and a humanitarian aid worker. She traveled to areas of great poverty and saw things that she could not unsee.
Whenever she returned to North America she usually entered through a major center such as Houston or Chicago to be re-routed to Canada. She was always taken aback by the overt display of privilege that you see in an airport. Generally speaking an airport is a place filled with wealth and privilege so imagine stepping on a plane in a war torn, poverty stricken place and within that same day taking in the sights of Vancouver International Airport.
This always caused a re-entry period where she had to adjust to being in North American culture with all of our conveniences. I once expressed that she should be thankful for all that we have and can access and she, in turn, urged me to acknowledge that as a Caucasian Anglo-Saxon person living in a developed country it was like I was wearing this back pack of privilege and she hoped that I didn’t wear it too proudly when I was working with the children in my classroom.
Her message hit home, this idea of wearing all of my privilege on my back and needing to unpack my backpack of privilege to be able to relate to all of the different personalities and backgrounds of the children in my classroom was an ah ha moment of clarity.
So I pose to you the same scenario, do you walk through the Narthex with your backpack of privilege on or do you leave it at the door and enter ready to be open to valuing yourself and everyone else as one value? Human.
Thank you and I wish you enough.
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