On Being the Tax Collector

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

Let us be clear—to fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that we get are not at all bad things. In this season when we reflect on stewardship and reflect on our giving of ourselves to the Church in terms of our time, our talent, and our treasure, fasting is a good and holy practice, for it supports the deepening of prayer: prayer and fasting together is one of the primary ways we give our time to Church, and tithing (that is to say, giving 10% of our earnings to the Church) is the primary way of offering our treasure to the Church. The Pharisee is held up as the example of what not to do in prayer. That is clear: yet let us not regard necessarily the activities he lists as in and of themselves negative examples as well. For that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So, then, what is the bathwater? Saint Luke makes it clear that the bath water is the tendency we have to trust in ourselves and despise others. That is, to think we are uniquely held in God’s favor—to think “I, I am special”—and at the same time to be judgmental towards others as a result of our personal specialness. The bathwater is this whole attitude. This attitude moves God lower that He is. Rather than exalting God, this attitude exalts the self. Every one, Our Lord says, who exalts himself will be humbled. Every one who exalts himself will have a hard and difficult road. And not only individuals, but perhaps moreso parish communities. Saint Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians demonstrate this unrelentingly. Because the church at Corinith is not living in humble recognition of the Cross, is not living in humble embodiment of the gift of baptism, is not living in humble holy fear of the Sacraments—because they are not being stewards of God’s holy mysteries, the Sacraments including the Sacrament of the Cross—things are not going well for their parish, their parish is not healthy, their parish is not growing. Saint Paul’s whole teaching in the two epistles to the Corinthians can be understood as him trying to teach them to be more like the tax collector, and stop acting like the showy Pharisee.

What does it mean to be more like the tax collector? It begins in the recognition heard in Jeremiah, the words: “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.” Righteousness means right-relationship, and these words from Jeremiah express right relationship. God is in the midst of us. God, the maker of all things, maker of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, is in the midst of us. And the baptismal and eucharistic mystery is that He is in our bodies, and our bodies are in Him. Our baptized bodies are God’s temples. He is closer to us than our own breath. God is always watching us, God knows our thoughts, God knows our desires, God already knows our faults and sins. He sees us when we are sleeping; He knows when we are awake; He knows when we’ve been bad or good. He is in the midst of us.

And we are called by His Name. We are called to Him; He calls us into existence, and desires to call us continually into His love. He, through the work especially of the heavenly host of angels including our guardian angel, guides us, protects us, forms our conscience. Indeed He allows us to screw up; He allows us to fall so that in falling, we are reminded that we must turn to God to properly stand up and walk again in newness of life.

And why? Because He is God, and He is a jealous God Who craves our trust in Him. Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord, we recited. And it is the biblical faith to entirely trust God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind. Because in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, He upholds the universe by his word of power. And by His word only do we enjoy His mercy. By His word only are we healed.