We enjoy late Lauds during retreat, beginning at 8 a.m., then gathering afterward in the dining room for the morning’s conference. Sister Anne’s finches and cardinals pass through dappled sunlight to visit her feeders, wings glinting as they catch the sun’s rays. A vigorous, young river birch waves its leaves in the warm summer breeze just overhead. Abbot John begins.
Today’s parable is of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14): Jesus told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We discussed this in relation to Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation. As in Jesus’ parable, the main character considers herself to be better than everyone else. Indeed, she takes up quite a chatty inner dialogue about her goodness, about how she takes care of others, attends church, is pleasant and smiles at others. She chatters constantly in her mind, shutting out any chance for hearing Truth.
What happens? She is humbled, all right. You’ll have to read it to learn how – and please be aware of the unacceptable language you’ll find in the story. Written in the 60’s in the south, it reflects the prejudice that we (and the author) revile.
The title of the story – Revelation – is truly great. Rich in imagery, metaphor and points of deep reflection, this short story can keep you thinking and wondering and discovering for a long time. What was revealed was God’s Word, pure and simple. Or, in Jesus’ words, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And lest we are tempted to think, Ah, I never see myself as better than any other … I am humble!, we would do well to take another look at the story and ourselves. In thinking they are not we, we become they in every sense. And now, as yesterday, back to nothing. 🙂