Early on in my priesthood, I participated is something called Liturgy camp. It was a program designed to teach high school kids some of the basics about liturgy and liturgical planning. There was a lunch conversation where I playfully threw a little tidbit out there, that was absorbed without comment by one of the kids. I didn’t think much of it until 2 weeks later, when I get a phone call from a woman who is laughing hysterically on the other end. “Father, just wanted you to know that one of your time bombs went off. At lunch today, toward the end, my daughter paused and asked me in all seriousness – ‘hey mom, did you know that they took the word gullible out of the dictionary?’” “Boom” It went off. And at least one mother and one vocation director got a huge kick out of it.
Time bombs. Little sayings or bits of humor in this case or catches of wisdom that plant themselves into the psyche only to appear at the right time. Little bits of insight that we may not always be ready for, but that lodge themselves into our consciousness, waiting for the right moment to explode our understanding and growth.
Jesus was pretty good at planting time bombs, wasn’t he? Except that he called them parables or stories or images: The Good Samaritan; The Prodigal Son; The lost sheep. Images that kind of work their way into our hearts and minds, and hopefully, explode when the moment is right.
He planted today’s time bomb not with a two week fuse, but 2 thousand year one – as one of his little time bombs exploded in my world. Most people know the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is one that we can retell the gist of from memory. And most of us get that Jesus is holding up the tax collector for us to emulate – acknowledging that we are sinners and that all we can do is trust in the mercy of God.
But as I was praying and reflecting on this during the week, the time bomb went off. Because one of the reflections that seems to always surface in my mind is something like: “O God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee, so self-righteous, so self-assured, so full of himself that he says the word “I” four times in 2 sentences!” Then Jesus turns toward me and says: “Gotcha!” For when I hear the first part of the parable, I start judging the Pharisee, much as the Pharisee was judging (and comparing himself to) the tax collector. “Boom!” goes the time bomb.
It is such a toxic world, this world of comparisons. This world of judging where you stand by comparing who you are in relationship to someone else’s choices. It is the world that Jesus, who told this parable to those who believe in their own self righteousness while looking down on others, wanted to keep us from. Instead of comparison, he wanted Pharisee and the tax collector alike to see that they really were both the same: sinners, imperfect people, precious to and loved by God! Is that how I see myself? Is that how I see others?
It is so easy to judge others, even from a stance of right behavior and holding up a dream of what you value. We’ve made a profession of it in Washington ALL sides of the aisle. In painting their respective visions for the values our elected officials cherish – we can’t seem to refrain from judging as evil or stupid or out of touch those who hold an opposing set of values. Those obstinate House Democrats! Those intractable Tea Party Republicans. Those… fill in the blank… And hopefully, as often as we think or say those things, Jesus’ time bomb from today will go off in our hearts.
You see, Jesus tells this parable to all of us who don’t even see that we unconsciously are judging others and ourselves… And the invitation is to live in a world where our worth is not found in the comparisons we make, the harsh judgments we form, but the love that is in our hearts.
You know, the good news is that they didn’t take gullible out of the dictionary. However, if we work very hard, perhaps we can get them to take the words COMPARISON and JUDGEMENTAL out…