Our life spans, brief whatever length they are, are spent in the grand trajectory of historical and social context that brands who we are, why we are here and what should be happening. Wriggling free of all that implies something new founded, broadening while beginning and bleeding some rejuventating life into the worn and weathered. And yet, as we grow old and wisdom’s first embers allure, there is a newer truth: each generation must carve for itself purpose and truth, establish a narrative that justifies and fosters actions and beliefs, defines an identity all its own. And so change is an inevitable part of being human and defining self is at least in part about recognizing and defining differences among persons, their preferences and their patterns. Judgement seems inherent in the process; to be inclusive meaning identifying the exclusive. To be exclusive necessitates inclusivity. The point is not actually about the differences themselves but about the recognition of it, the perceptions that creates and the actions the taken. The Gospel epitomizes this and carries a pithy message to be kept in mind as life churns all about us.
For each generation, there is the stark temptation to embrace a sense of superiority, a consciousness of self that negates and denies others the dignity of their journeys and to fuel an undeniable egotism in the process of living. Jesus encapsulated it in the parable of the tax collector and Pharisee. While the two are often perceived as distinct and separate, there is another inference to be made. At various times in our lives, each of us plays both roles. There are the times when we are honest and brave and see the foibles, flaws and fallacies that characterize each of us. We stand then with the tax collector, conscious of the messy stream of the life we live. Confiding that reality to God, the tax collector seems the unlikely hero of the story and the Pharisee a dishonest villain. The Pharisee might represent the sense of self-satisfaction that can deprive us of vision, of the bigger picture, that sense of accomplishment that might justify emerging superiority, one above others. For there are moments each of us breathes with that Pharisee with the sense of deserving better, deserving more. The parable is a reminder of how complicated it actually is to simply be human. It resounds with the inevitability of perceptions, self-centeredness and circumstances. And it is an invitation to think carefully about who we are and who we want to be before God and before each other.
In a world of jagged edges, the parable reminds us that we are made to be in relationship with others and that it will not be easy. But it is also a stinging reminder that God sees us for who we are, understands why we are and that our purpose in being is hardly self-serving. Despite who we are and what we are, God welcomes ech of us to the temple of being. It is up to us to choose to reflect, to consider actions, to make connections and to dare to see ourselves as we really are, caught in time and yet loved.