Everyone knows how important it is to pack for a journey — but I also think it’s important what you unpack.
This Sunday is a good opportunity to unpack the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, especially what we have heard over the last three weeks. What Luke is telling us these weeks are a vital part of Jesus’s legacy. These are some of his last encounters, his last parables, his last lessons to the world.
What does these episodes tell us?
A lot of it, we know, is tied to the idea of prayer — how we give honor and glory to God.
But that’s just the beginning.
This morning, I’d like to propose three lessons from these Gospels — along with a fourth that lies at the heart of the Christian message and that recurs repeatedly in Christ’s parables.
It may be the most important lesson, but one we easily forget or ignore.
So, a quick recap on the subject of prayer.
First, pray with gratitude. Remember the story of the 10 lepers who were cured. But only one turned around and went back to Jesus to fall at his feet and give thanks. He knew where the healing came from. He realized the source of his new life. And because of that, because of his faith in God, he was saved.
Live with an attitude of gratitude. Live in an awe and wonder. As one of my favorite hymns puts it, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” And give thanks. Always! Blessed Solanus Casey, used to tell people, “Thank God ahead of time.” Live and pray with that spirit!
Secondly, pray with persistence. Think of the widow we met last week, who never gave up and never gave in. Or Moses, who held up his arms to God, even when he was tired and didn’t think he could go on. Persist in prayer — in faith, in hope, in trust. Even when weary.
Last weekend, I was leading a retreat in Portland, Maine and the priest who celebrated Mass Sunday had this insight: like the song puts it, Moses got by “with a little help from his friends.” He didn’t have to go it alone. He had help when he needed it most — a support system to literally hold up his arms and help him persist in prayer.
None of us needs to go it alone, either. It’s one reason why we gather here every Sunday in community, to uplift one another and worship together in praise and thanksgiving as the Body of Christ. It is a weekly reminder to us all: no one makes this journey alone.
Thirdly, as we just heard in today’s Gospel, pray with humility.
Consider the tax collector, who knew how much he depended on God. Do not forget where we came from. And do not forget this, either: we are all works in progress. God isn’t finished with any of us yet.
I think of the words we hear on Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” The tax collector understood that. He grasped this essential truth: God’s grace makes us who we are — and makes it possible for us to be better than we were, despite our weaknesses.
Living and praying with humility keeps us grounded — literally. The word humility comes from the word “humilis,” meaning lowly. It’s also tied to the word “human,” which comes from “humus,” meaning the earth.
Remember where we all began, at the dawn of time.
As one writer put it: “Being human means acknowledging that we are made from the earth and will return to the earth.”
Praying with humility, kneeling before God with a contrite heart, means we don’t have all the answers. And it gives honor to The One who does — and who made our being possible.
Finally, we need to remember that Jesus’s journey isn’t over yet. Next week, he meets a man many despised, the tax collector Zacchaeus. Which brings up of one more critically important part of this journey, another item we need to unpack.
Again and again in these readings we discover that those who are disliked, criticized, shunned — often, the ones who are not like us — they are often the ones who have the most to teach us.
Think of the grateful Samaritan. The persistent widow. The tax collector who was humble and holy.
This is a recurring theme in Luke: often it is the outsiders, the ones who are not like us, or the ones we easily criticize and judge, who have a lesson to teach.
How often we are often blinded by our biases.
But people can surprise us. Be prepared to have expectations turned upside down.
I think of those who heard these stories for the first time 20 centuries ago. How often, in hearing the parables, did Jesus’s audience think they knew who the villain was, and who the hero was, only to have the roles reversed?
Part of Christ’s message to a doubting and judgmental world is simply this: People are more complicated than we may realize. They aren’t easily pigeon-holed.
Sometimes the ones we think are most at fault may actually be the ones doing God’s will.
And they may have the most to teach us.
About being God’s instruments in the world.
All of us can be that — not just the people we like, or admire, or agree with. God is endlessly creative.
This day, nourished by the Eucharist, uplifted by God’s Word and by one another, may we leave this sacred space as God’s instruments — continuing our own journey with fidelity and wonder and hope.
May we carry these lessons to a cynical and broken world, lessons that can help us truly live out the words I proclaim at the end of every Mass.
May all of us go in peace, with open hearts and open minds, to “glorify the Lord with our lives.”