by Blair Odney
"God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11).
Recently, I have been having the liveliest of conversations with the outreach worker from Canadian Mental Health who works most closely with the homeless population on the North Shore. The most startling of information is that her case load has gone from about 170 homeless to 472 homeless in one year. 300 cases. A 75% increase - in one year. Five families are included in this list, two 2-parent families with teens, and three single moms with infants and toddlers.
I'm told many of them couch hop, staying with friends for a day or two and then moving on to another couch. I'm told they sleep in tents in parks. I'm told they spend their days in malls, at the food bank and at the bottle depots. I'm told they receive our sandwiches as a "tide-me-over" until they receive their social service income or disability pension. I'm told most live with some kind of health, mental or physical disability.
How often do I catch myself in the position of saying "they," about a group of people who are not like me? Now what do you suppose those homeless people would say about clergy? Maybe nothing. Maybe "they" know something of our sameness that we have yet to learn.
The text we explore on Sunday ends with the well known line, "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." I love a definition of the word humble that begins with the word "humus," which means "of the earth." I"d like to think that to be humble means to be grounded. Another definition says that to be humble is to have an honest assessment of oneself.
I'm pretty sure the author of Luke isn't really using "honest assessment of self" as a measure for being exalted or humbled. But I think if we lived with a true and honest understanding of ourselves, we'd be way less quick to put down or build up. We would see each other as an expression of the Divine.