I. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Revelations 1:10).
St. John the Evangelist was on the Island of Patmos when rapt up in the Spirit. In the vision, he turned and saw a man clothed in white with a golden girdle round his breast, and he fell at his feet as though dead. The temple there was “filled with smoke from the glory of God” (15:8). Then an angel declared, “Fear God and give him glory” (14:7) and took John away to a mountain. He “showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God (21:10)…and the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is it’s light” (21:23).
What is glory?
Growing up in Nashville, my dad always knew he was in trouble when his nanny yelled out, “Oh, glory!” I’m told this idiom is used in Texas too, with the same intention. In Greece, you know a monk is in a bad mood when you ask him how he is, and he responds, “Glory to God.” Christians use the word “glory” all the time. We end nearly every prayer with, “Glory be.” The Mass begins with the congregation singing, “Glory to God on High.”
So what is glory?
The most common Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is kābôd, which implies ‘heaviness’ or ‘weight.’ The dark clouds suggesting a storm have their kind of kābôd. The ocean has another kābôd. In the same way, God’s glory implies a gravity and hugeness. Everything next to Him becomes small. The psalter says, “The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of kābôd thundereth” (Ps. 29:3) and Exodus recounts, “The glory [kābôd] of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days…like a devouring fire” (24:16-17). Other Hebrew words for ‘glory’ are: Hôd – ‘a majestic figure;’ Hâlal – ‘radiance;’ Shâbach – ‘a loud voice;’ and tôhar – ‘purifying’ and ‘caustic.’
The Greek word for “glory” is doxa, which implies both ‘splendour and preeminence’ as well as ‘to attribute honor or worship to something or someone.” In a sense, to be human is to give glory. We are homo adorans – creatures who adore. Wherever you heart is, where your thoughts go, whatever you find yourself desiring – whether it’s love, money, alcohol, or anything – that is an act of ‘giving glory.’ The Babylonians gave glory to the god of gold and silver. Modern men give glory to technology, political parties or window shopping.
The message today is this: to give glory to God.
II. Christ tells a parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk. 18:9-14).
These are two ways of glorying. The Pharisee glories in himself. The Tax collector glories in God.
What is the Pharisee’s prayer? It’s an accolade to himself. “I thank you.” “I am not like those people.” “I do this…and I do that.” Have you ever found yourself thinking this way? Sometimes, we church goers are more likely than anyone to fall in this trap. Religion gives us all kinds of opportunities to be self-worshippers. It sets us apart, right? It gives us a checklist, which, if we keep it light enough, can make us feel righteous. Religion can help us feel “not like those other kinds of people…” When this is the case, we’ve got it all mixed up.
Everything the Pharisee prayed was true. He wasn’t a robber or adulterer. He fasted the way all of us are meant to fast. He tithed as God requires every Christian. But to what point? With all of his morality and spirituality, he became lower than a prostitute. Why? He was chocked up with ego.
So what are we supposed to do?
We’re called to become holy, but for a very different purpose.
III. The tax collector shows us another way.
He wasn’t very special. He wasn’t morally upstanding. He didn’t live up to God’s law. As tax collector, he represented a very grimy part of Jewish society. He was a traitor. He made his living by taking money from poor Jews and giving it to the wealthy Romans. He went to sleep at night knowing full well that he had brought a little more poverty, a little more hunger and sadness, to the homes of his own people. He was a broken part of a broken system.
So why did Jesus praise him?
When the tax collector went to the temple, he felt too ashamed to even look up to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast and prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” His prayer didn’t have all the pomp of the Pharisee. He wasn’t there for self-pity or inflated boasting. First, his heart simply prayed: “God.” God. Like a sailor who stares out at sea and forgets himself in the bigness of it all, or the child who first looks through a telescope and discovers how small our planet is among an infinite amount of stars and galaxies: the Pharisee stood before the presence of God and gaped, “God.”
Then he took a second step, and a bold move. He marvelled at the beauty and goodness of God. Then He asked that God to love Him. He prayed for mercy. Mercy isn’t mere acceptance or justification. To pray, “have mercy,” is to say “I am nothing, but you are everything. Take me for you. Make me like you. Adopt me so I can worship you.”
The Pharisee gave glory to himself. The Tax collector gave glory to God.
IV. “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31).
C. S. Lewis has this to say about humility: “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call humble nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody…He will not be thinking about humility; he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
To be humble is to simply lose yourself in God.
Fulton Sheen said this: “How can souls find God? It is a psychological fact that it is only by being little that we ever discover anything big. This law raised to the spiritual level tells us how we can find the immense God, and that is by having the spirit of little children.”
How can you get to God? You have to become small.
V. Everything in the Church exists to help us become small.
Why do we pray? We pray to become a little less self-focused and a little more God-focused.
Why do we tithe? We tithe to kill that part in us that clings to self-preservation and to force ourselves a little more to trust in God’s providence.
The Church teaches that without confession we are dying. Why? Confession isn’t about hearing wise advice. It isn’t about feeling pious. The sacrament of confession is meant to make us vulnerable. The other day, someone told me he met a friend at Our Lady Queen of Peace. The neighbor said he knew me and then asked, “How could you make your confession to someone so young.” This person responded honestly, “It’s hard.” That’s right. Confession exists for the sole purpose of making us humble. Confession does its job simply by making us small. If we’re too big to confess, then we may very well be too big to fit into heaven. Paradise is for the small and the humble.
Why can’t we just shop around for the church that flatters our musical style, our cultural preference, or whatever is hip or fashionable or entertaining? We can’t treat God like our favorite brand of detergent. Worship exists to change us. It exists to make us confident that we are not in control, that we are not righteous, that we are small.
"Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Lk 18:`6).
I read a brilliant line, the other day, about the role of Sacred Liturgy.
“Traditional liturgy is like a cloud in which God dwells, and unto which Moses dares to approach. There is no sense of a meeting with an agenda, conducted by company managers, characterized by a lot of reading of texts and sharing out of tasks. We lie prostrate on holy ground before the burning bush of divine self-revelation” (Peter Kwasniewski).
“Good and true liturgy is like that. It draws us upward and out of ourselves. It is disorienting and uncomfortable in a healthy and joyful way. Holiness, if it is real, should feel disorienting…Embrace it. Let the mystery wash over you and transform you” (Sam Guzman).
VI. Two men stood in the temple of God.
One gave glory to himself. The other gave glory to God.
In our daily Christian lives, we must ask ourselves. Which of these two men am I?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.