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Homily for 1/13/11 - P&P - Examples, good and bad

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  • Fr David Moser
    Luke 18:10-14 When I was raising my children, it was very important to me to find for them good examples to follow. It was important to show them someone who
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2011
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      Luke 18:10-14

      When I was raising my children, it was very important to me to find for
      them good examples to follow. It was important to show them someone who
      exemplified in their lives the qualities that I wanted to teach my kids
      so that they could see how to do things. Inevitably it seemed for every
      good example I could show them that there were dozens of bad examples –
      people who showed in their lives the exact opposites. These bad
      examples, however, became just as important because they demonstrated
      the kinds of characteristics to avoid. This patchwork of good and bad
      examples helped my children learn not only what kinds of things to
      pursue in their own lives, but also what kinds of things to avoid. In
      our spiritual lives we have the same need – to have examples to show us
      how to order our lives in order to acquire the virtues and so attract
      the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Church gives us many good examples in
      the lives of the saints. Each of the saints is held up for us as an
      example worthy of imitation of some aspect of the Christian life. In
      this way we have the chance to see the teaching of Christ applied to a
      real life and so will learn then how we can apply it in our own lives.

      In the Gospel parable today our Lord also provides for us examples – a
      good example to follow and a bad example to avoid. The publican is our
      good example for he exhibits for us true humility and repentance. We are
      drawn to this example because in his actions we see all that is good and
      grace filled. For this reason, when we consider this parable we most
      often think of the publican and how we should be like him. It is easy to
      look at the publican because he is the kind of person we want to become.
      This is a good thing, however, it is also important to recall that the
      publican isn’t the only one described here. There is also the Pharisee
      whose actions stand in contrast to those of the publican. The Pharisee
      is our “bad” example – showing us the kinds of things to avoid. It is
      much harder to look at the Pharisee because rather than being like the
      person we want to be, he is usually like the person that we know we are.
      Looking at the Pharisee is like looking in a mirror and seeing those
      things in ourselves which are ugly and which we wish were different.

      It is necessary then, to force ourselves to look at the Pharisee so that
      we might see what in ourselves we need to cut out. Now it is a natural
      thing to look at the Pharisee and find all the ways that he is not like
      me: He lived in a different time and place. I never said those exact
      words in prayer. I don’t know any publicans (but if I did I would surely
      treat them differently). Any difference between ourselves and the
      Pharisee are the first things we emphasize so that we can justify
      ourselves saying, “I’m not really like that” and therefore overlook all
      the ways that we really are like that. But we know that it really isn’t
      true – we are like him.

      This selective blindness, seeing only what we want to see to make
      ourselves look good, is one of the things that the Pharisee shows us. He
      tells God all the things he is not, imagining that by pointing out what
      he is not that God will overlook what he is and so assume that the
      Pharisee is good. Even in looking at the Pharisee, don’t we also do
      this? We point out all the ways that we are different from him, hoping
      that by focusing on the differences, that somehow we can overlook the
      similarities. But this doesn’t work for the similarities remain, glaring
      at us.

      The Pharisee says, “I thank Thee O God that I am not like these other
      men, —extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector”
      See how he has picked out all the things he is not to point out to God,
      and then turns his attention to the publican to somehow negate the good
      example that is right before him. How often do we do this in our own
      minds thinking. “Well, I don’t have any sins, I don’t steal, lie or
      murder.” And then we say “and I’m not like those other men” We may think
      such things as: “I’m not like this rich man, greedy and dishonest” or
      “I’m not like this poor man, lazy and a spendthrift” Perhaps we say “I’m
      not like this American, proud, ignorant and self absorbed” or “I’m not
      like this Russian, superstitious and unable even to speak our language”.
      Perhaps we might say “I’m not like this woman, silly and driven by
      emotions” or “I’m not like this man, brutish and bullheaded”. Perhaps we
      might say, “I’m not like this democrat, a bleeding heart liberal who
      wants to give away everything to those who are too lazy to earn their
      own way” or “I’m not like this republican who is heartless and cruel and
      enjoys watching the suffering of others less fortunate.” Perhaps we say,
      “I’m not like this common man…” or “I’m not like this criminal…” and so
      on. We are like the Pharisee because we do this continually – we try to
      justify ourselves in our own eyes by pointing out the errors and
      failings of others and then saying “I’m not one of those,” when in fact
      we are just like one of those.

      The Pharisee, in his self justification is contrasted to the publican
      who does not look at others, but only at himself. He does not compare
      himself to anyone else, but looks into his own soul and sees there
      things that need to change. This contrast is the key for us for if we
      truly wish to become righteous and filled with the grace of God we have
      to turn our focus inward to see those things in our hearts which prevent
      the grace of God from working in us. Avoiding the “bad example” of the
      Pharisee who does not look at himself, but only at others and embracing
      the “good example” of the publican who does not look at others but only
      at his own soul, we will then be able to move ahead in our spiritual life.

      This is the first lesson that we are given as we prepare for Great Lent.
      Lent is a time that is especially set aside as a period of intense
      spiritual effort, setting aside as much of the distractions of this
      world and the temptations of our fallen nature as is possible to focus
      solely on our spiritual growth. The first lesson in how to have a
      profitable Lenten journey is to turn your attention inward to your own
      heart and to avoid looking at others. Especially at this time it is
      vital to see our own sins and not the sins of others – it is necessary
      to judge ourselves and not to judge others. As we look into the depths
      of our own souls, it will be tempting to turn aside and look at the
      exterior of others and so avoid seeing the truth about ourselves: our
      own lacks and deficits and sins.

      To see ourselves with all honesty and truthfulness requires humility –
      that is the setting aside of our own proud self image, the false
      “self-esteem” by which we create a false picture of who we are that
      makes us feel better but which has no real foundation. This is the core
      of self denial – to deny our own self image and accept instead the image
      of ourselves that we see in the mirror of Christ. Rather than compare
      ourselves to others, we compare ourselves only to Jesus Christ. Only in
      Christ can we see our own true image; only in Christ can we perceive our
      own sins and failings; only in Christ can we see this and yet not fall
      into despair. Jesus Christ shows us our sins not to condemn us but that
      we might be healed. He reveals to us our own failings so that we will
      work with Him to heal those faults, correct those errors and to be
      restored to spiritual health. In doing this we build up an esteem built
      not on self delusion, but rather built on the solid rock of the truth of
      Christ.

      Humility, the characteristic modeled for us by the good example of the
      publican, is the key to our own spiritual growth and development. The
      elder St. Ambrose of Optina Monastery spoke of humility saying, “One
      visitor asked Abbot Anthony (another of the Optina Elders). ‘Tell me
      batiushka, what is your rule?’ Fr Anthony answered: ‘I have had many
      rules – I lived in the desert and in monasteries and there were
      different rules. But now I have only the rule of the publican: God, be
      merciful to me a sinner!’
      “A man only has to humble himself” said the Elder, “and that humility
      immediately sets him at the doorway of the Kingdom of Heaven…”

      This then is the lesson of the parable of the publican and Pharisee – to
      avoid the bad example of the Pharisee, looking at others and hiding from
      oneself and instead imitate the good example of the publican, with
      humility seeing only our own heart and crying out to God, “Lord have
      mercy on me a sinner.”

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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