Homily - Sanctify the Moment with the Publican
Release Date: 02/09/2020
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Homily – Publican and Pharisee
Fr. Anthony Perkins
All of creation is pregnant with potential – less full of lifeless atoms or particles than of seeds just waiting to be brought forth into fruition. And here I speak not just of literal seeds (although it is almost time to start working with those and getting them ready for transfer into the garden come Spring), but of everything.
All of creation is ready to grow, made that way by its Maker, just waiting for our attention – the attention of its stewards – to bring it from possibility into realization. When sown by stewards of pure heart and understanding, these seeds will be nurtured into beauty, offering the best possible fruit, [and] manifesting the glory of God in very tangible ways. When sown by stewards of ill will, apathetic spirit, or twisted rationality, these seeds will grow into something much less savory, twisted testimonies to pride and carelessness. Think of these examples:
- The relationship of the newly wedded couple contains so much potential. Will they be good stewards of that seed, nurturing it into a marriage that will be a blessing to themselves, their families, and their communities? Or will they warp it with the waters of their own pride, forcing it to grow into a noxious and bitter weed with reeking flowers that foul the air and harm all those who rub against it? The seed could grow either way – it is up to them; it is their decision.
- Starting even earlier, take the example of the literal seed within the womb. There is so much potential there. What will it become? A child of light or a spreader of darkness? Or, like a quarter of such perfect seeds, will it be sacrificed to the false gods of irresponsibility and liberation long before it sees the light of day?
- Take the first interaction between strangers – will this potential relationship manifest itself as an application of love and friendship, or as a selfish transaction between a hustler and his mark? Or will the potential remain just that as the two strangers remain just that – strangers – and the possibility for the incarnation of perfection through what could have been a powerful friendship remains unrealized.
Perhaps these are too abstract – we are not used to thinking about relationships in these terms. Americans tend to be more practical – so let us turn to the building blocks of this society: money and time.
- Each dollar within our wallets, our purses, and our accounts is a seed. It has such potential to change lives – will it grow into a beautiful fruit that feeds and heals, or a stunted sacrifice designed to slate our selfish addictions for a moment longer. It has such great potential – what kind of stewards of that dollar – that talent, to use Biblical language – will we be?
- And what will we do with our time? Every moment is so pregnant – what will it become? How will it be redeemed? In idleness or action? In prayer or prelest? As an offering to love or selfishness? Today we have a great lesson in the use – and misuse of time. Will we work the moments we are given in a way that brings us into closer union with perfection, or will we work it in a way that moves us only deeper into our own delusion?
Let’s look at the lesson from the Creator Himself that describes this very dynamic.
- Let’s start with the Pharisee. He was praying. How could he go wrong? He had tended his garden so well… but then poisoned it with his pride. The moment wasn’t just wasted, it was polluted.
- How about the Publican? He was praying, too. No matter what a mess he had made with all the previous potentialities, in this moment – he was pure. And God moved within the seed of that moment, that pure offering, and it became like the mustard seed – growing to crowd out all that had been grown before.
Another way to think of this is that there is a seed of perfection within us all, ready to manifest itself through every moment and action of our lives. But we can pervert this possibility with our willfulness and pride.
Let's not do that; that would be bad!
Instead, let us look at every moment as an opportunity to do something good and to do something beautiful so that we and this world we are meant to care for will become good and beautiful.
The Gospel lesson today shows us that the way to bless the moment in this way begins not with memorizing the scripture or mastering the rigors of fasting or of tithing everything we have. The Pharisee did all those things in a way that closed his soul off from grace. No, we begin as the Publican: with humility.
On our own, we have nothing to offer the moment that can help it. We have nothing to share with our neighbor that can benefit them. We have nothing fitting to offer God that can match His glory. And so we offer him our humility.
And this humility becomes an opening through which the grace can flow, and as long as we keep it open – as long as we keep pride at bay and remain attentive to the actual needs of the moment - that grace will transform us and bless everyone around us. The imagery given to the prophet Isaiah will then be fulfilled: the desert places will become fruitful gardens because we will have watered them with the teats of our repentance and with the Living Water of grace that flows from the open heart of Christ and all His people.