2014 Lent 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, thus marking the beginning of Lent.  I try to create and follow a Lenten discipline for myself each year–something I will do, or something to fast from, etc., through the season, always different than last year–as a way to do some introspection.  How have I grown in my faith over the last year, or not?

Anyway, to get to the point, this year I’ve decided to write something each day during Lent, a short reflection on a passage of scripture drawn from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  There’s a lectionary in the back, with assigned daily readings.  We are in year two; so the readings for Ash Wednesday are found on page 951.  My options for contemplation today are therefore psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, and 143; Amos 5:6-15; Hebrews 12:1-14; and Luke 18:9-14.  Surely I ought to be able to come up with something, yeah?

So I’ll do this each day in Lent (Sundays excepted): look at the lectionary, decide on a passage, and write a short reflection.  I have no idea what the result will be.  It’s a small journey within the larger pilgrimage of life, one from which I hope to learn a new thing or two about myself and my relationship with Christ this year.  Consider joining me if you like.

So then, Day 1, Ash Wednesday:

Luke 18:9-14

Two men are contrasted in Jesus’s parable: a Pharisee and a tax-collector.  One prays and thanks God that he is so awesome.  The other is obviously humbled, asking God for mercy.  Jesus then concludes this story with a well-known statement: “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And I think, “Okay, so I need to be humble.  That’s the key!  Then things will go my way.  Then I’ll make ends meet; then people will respect me; then my prayers will be answered; then I will be exalted.”

But here’s the thing.  No one notices the humbled state of the tax-collector in Jesus’s story except God.  Humility is the characteristic Jesus is emphasizing, sure.  But nowhere is there a lesson here that people will treat the humble person respectfully, or that the humble person’s prayers will be answered, or that the humble person’s financial ends will meet, or that the humble person will enjoy good health, or . . .

Nowhere does Jesus say that people won’t push the humble person around.

Since moving to San Antonio I’ve noticed a lot of pushy people.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe it’s because the mountains of Tennessee fostered a slower, more considerate lifestyle; and relocating has brought some hitherto unnoticed observations to the surface.  Maybe the culture of material consumerism around here is epidemic.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been bullied a time too many and I’m now over-sensitized.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  Whatever the reason, there seems to me to be a high percentage of pushy people around here.  And being humble, as Christ encourages, does nothing to alleviate this percentage!

So the temptation, at least for me, is to push back.  Someone tries to push me out of the way and I fight to keep my place.  Otherwise, if I let that person in, three or four others are right there to capitalize on my moment of yielding–three or four others push too and I’ve just lost my place in line altogether.

Get the picture?

So what does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted?  Or that those who exalt themselves (pushy people?) will be humbled?

Yet, true as all this may be, Jesus still encourages personal humility.  And nowhere does he say that the humble person will get his way, or that the humble person will make ends meet, or that she will have all her prayers answered.  So, how exactly will the person who humbles himself be exalted?

I’m not sure of the answer.  But a thought occurs to me that Jesus more than any other person humbled himself.  Pushy people pushed him around.  The mocked him, struck him, and spat in his face.  Then they exalted him: they lifted him up–on a cross!

But look at him now.  Look now at how the whole world views him.  Whether Christian or not, the whole world knows his name.  Despite the fact that he walked the earth 2000 years ago!  He has not been forgotten.  Rather, he has been exalted higher than any other.

If nothing else then, this thought is a good reminder to me to let pushy people go about their business; but as for me, I’ll try to follow the way of humility.

But I said, “If nothing else.”  I believe there’s not nothing else to this thought; indeed, there’s much more–more that I will never see or know.

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