By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 13, 2016

What’s My Distance?

I played a round of golf the other day. One of the men in our group was wearing a watch that served also as a GPS. Extraordinary technology! For each hole it indicated the distances to the front, middle and back of the green. I usually try to judge those distances myself, with the help of yardage makers on the ground. Yet seldom am I right! So, it wasn’t long before I began to ask the GPS-touting player what my distance to the green really was. Invariably that day, I was told by the GPS that I was actually much farther from the target than I had thought. It enabled me to adjust my game accordingly.

How far are we from the most important “target” of all, i.e., the kingdom of God? How do we make that assessment? By our own estimation or with the help of a “GPS”, something that can pinpoint with accuracy our position and indicate to us how we are to adjust our lives?

The Gospel for Sunday recounted the story of the visit of Jesus to the home of a Pharisee. While dinner was taking place, a woman entered, and crying copious tears anointed the feet of Jesus. The words of the Lord served like a GPS to position each of these individuals accurately in terms of their proximity to God.

The Pharisee was one who judged himself on the basis of his relation to the law of God. Because he followed the dictates of the law, he assessed himself to be very close to the target, to be righteous in the sight of God. When he hears the words of Jesus, he finds, though, that he is further away, by a wide margin, than he had thought.

Jesus directs his attention to the woman, whose tears were ones of repentance, joy and love. She has been greatly forgiven, Jesus says, and so she is able to love greatly. He is indicating her closeness to God, that she is very near indeed to the “target”, because both her tears and her actions indicate that she has been touched and transformed by the mercy of God.

The Christian life is not one of merely external observance of laws. Of course, there are precepts that we must follow. They are given to us by God and handed on through the Church as a light to guide our path. We draw near to the target, however, when our external observance is reflective of an interior transformation of heart, when, under God’s grace, we realize our sinfulness, our great distance from God, and allow his love to reach us as mercy and forgiveness.

In a world that exalts self-absorption and absolute autonomy, the temptation to self-assessment on the basis of our own perceptions is very strong. But that assessment is likely wrong. We need that GPS which is the Word of God, the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ, if we are to know our accurate position in relationship to God. Let us stay close to Jesus, allow his Word to situate us, and adjust our lives accordingly.