The reading for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time again presents with Judaism’s Baal Teshuvah/The Master of Repentance. The Gospel focuses upon the Pharisee, a Hebrew word meaning the Separate One. He is of the middle class. In the first century, he was the craftsman who had time to study Torah and learn all of its intricate details. He took great pride in knowing the wisdom of the fathers. They had adequate food, clothing, shelter, and transportation and they looked down on those who did not. They were part of the great flight from the inner cities and villages to their own enclaves. They were much like our middle class with the great white flight out of the inner cities.
Being separate from the masses, he says, “I am not like the rest of humanity.” Not like the rest of humanity, he says. “Faith” comes from the letters, “Aleph,” the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Mem,” the middle letter, and “Tav,” the last letter. “Aleph,” stands for leadership. “Mem,” is in the shape of waves and stands for Baptism, and “Tav,” is in the shape of a cross. It stands for not being separate, but part of total reality.
The Pharisee brags that he is not grasping, uncharitable, or adulterous. He is like the great mass of, all too often churchgoers, who brag about the 1.5% of their income they give to charity. They brag that they have more than 2,500 local agencies that serve 10 million people annually. Their 18,000 parishes spent an average of $200,000 on the needy every year beyond what they contribute to any of these charitable organizations. Their affiliated charity amounted to 17 percent of the funds spent by nonprofits on social services.
The homeless, the poor, the tax collectors who felt compelled to go elsewhere for a living than to their established brothers and sisters for a living are the Baalim Teshuvah. They are the masters of repentance who are constantly trying to find their way back into established community. As individuals, they cannot brag about the billions of dollars they give every year. Many have nothing to give at all. They are the ones who stand with the tax collector begging for repentance for the money they could not give, because they did not have it.
They are the ones who say with St. Paul, “At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf. Everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! The NAME stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the nations might hear it.” Unlike the Pharisee who separates himself from the common masses, the Baal Teshuvah comes from the common masses and knows he cannot escape from them. The Baal Teshuvah cannot help but follow Jesus’ command in Luke 7:44, “Simon, do you see this woman? He cannot help but see her, because, all too often, he is her.
Mark 7 tells us, ““Are even you likewise without understanding? Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot make common/vulgar, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine?” “What comes out of a person, that is what makes common/vulgar. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All this rot comes from within and makes common/vulgar.”
Read a couple of more passages to understand how God sees things. The first is our first reading for this Sunday. “Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The NAME is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the NAME will not delay.
Of our leaders it says, “You may set over you a king whom the NAME, your God, will choose. Someone from among your own kindred you may set over you as king; you may not set over you a foreigner, who is no kin of yours. He shall not have a great number of horses; nor shall he make his people go back again to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the NAME told you, Do not go back that way again. Neither shall he have a great number of wives, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he accumulate a vast amount of silver and gold.” Deuteronomy 17:15-17
There are no excuses. We have an obligation to pick leaders at the local level who will move on to the state and federal levels who are part of us. They are rich. If they are rich, that disqualifies them from public office. They are not like us. They are not to have multiple wives, as one of our candidates for public office has. He has three. God does not recognize his divorces unless the wives are unfaithful. He was the unfaithful one, not his first two wives. Both candidates for public office are rich. Both are disqualified under this rule.
Our definition of the proper role of government is found in Psalm 72. This begins, “Le Solomon/to Salomon. It ends, “The end of the psalms of David, son of Jesse.” This is King David’s definition of the proper role of secular leaders. It includes looking to the needs of the oppressed, defending the oppressed, saving the children of the poor and crushing the oppressor, he rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. From extortion and violence, he redeems them, for precious is their blood in his sight.
The king does these things, not because he is merciful to those not like him, but because he knows that he is part of them. He is Amen. He is faith incarnate. He is Emeth, faith, seeing God as the great leader, remembering his baptism, and looking to the cross and his resurrection in the Eucharist. The same applies to presidents, congressman, senators, assemblymen, C.E.O.s and Union Chiefs. It also applies to priests and Bishops. God calls us all to be Baal Teshuvah, remembering our own faults and that we are human, from humus. On Ash Wednesday we put humus on our foreheads and remind ourselves, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.” We all have our faults. We all need to see ourselves as Baal Teshuvah. We are all just a few steps from living the life of the homeless. Let us strive to save the homeless from their fate. God does feel free to give refresher lessons.