Reflection for 23rd Oct: The Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)

Two men went up to the temple to pray; the reading contrasts two starting points for prayer.  The first, the Pharisee, starts with himself.  The tax collector starts with God.  The first begins with ‘I’, the second with God.  A well loved and popular mantra prayer, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner, comes from this insight into who God is and who we are.

Unfortunately all history including our religious history is handed on with baggage and distortions.  Mainline theology is underpinned with messages of sin and judgment and these, in turn,  have caused people to feel guilt and shame, at so deep a level, that even fresh and positive understandings of the human condition, and an emphasis on the unconditional love of God, cannot shake it off.

It is first necessary to understand the difference between shame and guilt.  Guilt is a focus on behaviour, ‘I did something bad’ or I made a mistake and can make amends.  Shame, on the other hand, is focus on self: ‘I am bad’, I am a mistake.  The effect of guilt is to make amends, apologise and be sorry.  The effects of shame run deep; they are addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, eating disorders and suicide.

Two men went up to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee, looked with contempt upon the other and judged him to be worthless.  His attitude is quite shameful.  Rather than judging the Pharisee we can seek to understand him by reflecting upon how he became the person he is.  He is obsessed with the keeping of the law, to the extent that any variation from the law, by him or others, is met with punishment.

The ideal of all law is to challenge us to reform and to renewal, but in practice it is imposed through threat and violence.  Those of you who have been brought up by parents, who were strict and punished you as a form of correction, will have experienced a measure of shame.  This will have extended to other authority figures in school and society who sought to exert their power and control through the threat of violence, actual violence and humiliation. 

My sense is that the Pharisee was as much a victim as anything else and suffered from deep shame.

The tax collector, on the other hand, had plenty to be guilty about and was to open to reform and renewal, where the message of repentance could find a home.

I want to conclude with a quote from Gandhi.  He said, ‘I abhor violence, the good it appears to do is temporary, the evil it does is permanent.’

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Reflection for 16th October: Non-violence. Parable of the persistent widow.

All of us have been, at some point in our lives, violent in our attitudes, gestures, words and actions.  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Strongly agree?  Strongly disagree?

The unjust judge gave the widow what she was demanding out of fear that he was pushing her over the edge and she would become violent to him.  Is this how you get your needs met?  By threatening people? Indeed you may be so accustomed to behaving in a particular way that you are unaware of it’s violent undertones.

Here in middle England I don’t suppose we see ourselves as inherently violent, racist, or bigoted.  We are polite after all; as the song says, ‘no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.’ How much more what goes on in our minds.

All of us have been, at some point in our lives, violent in our attitudes, gestures, words and actions; maybe like the widow in the Gospel, if pushed too far we react with violence.

A non-violent approach to all of life’s situations demands that we are attentive to our attitudes, so that our gestures, words and actions do not lead us into violent behavior.

It is knowing the difference between reacting and responding.  When we react we lose our temper; when we respond we take time to listen; to seek understanding.

Paul, in his instruction to Timothy, and the early Christian community says at the end of the reading, ‘as for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.’

Jeremiah, in the first reading today reminds us that the covenant with God is written in our hearts; in the pew-sheet today I quote what people have been saying about non-violence throughout the ages.  Please follow it with me as I read in aloud, after which I will invite you to read aloud the one that struck you.  (please see below)

At some point in our lives we must choose non-violence as our way of being in the world.


What Peacemakers have said throughout History

·      Lord make me an instrument of your peace, Francis of Assisi.

·      I will not permit any person to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him, Booker Washington.

·      When I am angry I have the right to be angry but that does not give me the right to be cruel, Anon

·      The first duty of love is to listen, Paul Tillach

·      Anyone can become angry, thats easy.  To be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, is not easy, Aristotle

·      This is a cause for which I am prepared to die, but there is no more a cause for which I will be prepared to kill, Gandhi

·      Hope, not anger must direct non-violet approaches, moreover, that hope in the power of the resurrection is not a feeling or a mood, it is a necessary choice of survival, William Stringfellow

·      The habit of love, like all habits is something we learn, Mother Teresa

·      The Reign of God depends on God; What we can do is speak for life, offer hope and be to be led where God wants us to go, Michelle Balek O.S.F

·      All shall be well, all things shall be well, all manner of things shall be well, Julian of Norwich

·      How does non-violet love become the foundation of our lives? Prayer, meditation, simplicity of life, service to others, especially the poor; non-violent actions against injustice, building of human community, a commitment not to harm any living things. Michelle Balek O.S.F

·      The way to change minds is with affection not anger, Dalai Lama

·      Love in action is a harsh dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams, Doris Day

·      If you dont find God in the very next person you meet, it is a waste of time to look for God any further, Gandhi

·      Do not let the sun go down on your anger, St Paul

·      You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist, Indira Gandhi


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Reflection for 28th August - Humility

Of all the quotes and insights on humility my favourite is from C.S. Lewis; ‘humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less’.  It is worth our time taking this on board and reflecting upon it.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself; knowing what we know, we know the importance of having a strong sense of self esteem; it is not having an inflated ego but seeing ourselves realistically.  Humility begins with thinking of yourself less.  It is not saying we are unimportant in any way, especially in the eyes of God; it is because we know our importance in God’s eyes that we look out o the World differently, from God’s perspective.

Peter Scazzero, in his book ‘Emotionally healthy spirituality’ (pg 149) adapts St. Benedict’s Ladder of humility from 12 to 8 steps. You can judge for yourself where you are on this ladder.

Step 1. Mindfulness of God:  we often forget the presence of God, acting as if God were not present in our world or in our lives.

Step 2. Doing God’s will (not our own or other peoples’): We recognize that surrendering our self will to God’s will for our lives touches the very heart of spiritual transformation.

Step 3.  Willing to subject ourselves to direction of others:  We are free to give up our arrogance and all-powerfulness and are open to accepting God’s will as it comes through others, and we do it without grumbling or with an attitude.  To be at ease with following as with leading.

Step 4.  Patient to accept the difficulty of others:  Life with others, especially within communities, is full of aggravations. This requires we give others a chance to figure out their weakness their own way and in their own time.

Step 5. Radical honesty to others about our weaknesses and faults:  We quit pretending to be something we are not. We admit our weaknesses and limitations to a friend, spouse, parent or someone else who cares about our development.

Step 6.  Deeply aware of being ‘chief of all sinners’: we see ourselves as potentially weaker and more sinful than anyone around us.  We are the chief of all sinners.  This is not self-hate or an invitation to abuse, but is meant to make us kind and gentle.

Step 7.  Speaking less:  Purposeful to speak less (with more restraint).  This is near the top of the ladder because it is seen as the outcome of a life that seeks God and is filled with wisdom.  As the Rule of St. Benedict states ‘the wise are known for their few words’.

Step 8.  Transformed into the Love of God:  Here there is no haughtiness, no sarcasm, no put downs, no airs of importance.  We are able to embrace our limits and those of others.  We are fully aware of how fragile we are and are under no illusions.  We are at home with ourselves and content to rely on The Mercy of God.  Everything is a gift.


If you wish you can download this reflection here.