Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily - 30th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

30th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
(The World Mission Sunday)

First Reading: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18       Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18       Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14

In an interview she gave just a few years before she died, Blessed Mother Teresa (of happy memory) told a reporter that she required her Sisters to spend at least one hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer prior to beginning their daily tasks or fieldwork. The reporter asked Mother about HER prayer - after all, readers would surely be interested in knowing how a then living-saint prayed. Mother simply answered. "Each day, I spend this time in front of Jesus in the tabernacle begging him for the grace to stay out of the way of the work of the Holy Spirit." The reporter was shocked. Who would ever believe that someone like Mother Teresa would actually get in the way of God's work? We marvel at Mother Teresa's humility.
Today is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is also 'The World Mission Sunday,' when we salute all those men and women who witness to the Gospel in so many developing countries; and we ask for God’s grace to witness to the Gospel in our homes, workplaces and communities.
Now, prayer has a prominent place in the Christian religious practice. The Liturgy of today discusses some aspects of prayer and its application to life and teaches us something about how we should pray and live. The readings tell us that God listens especially to the sinner and the humble. Often we wonder why God is partial in his dealing with human persons. The First Reading taken from the Book of Sirach tells us that the prayer of the humble man will always be answered and the best prayer is that of willing loyal service. Sirach reminds us that God knows no favorites except towards the poor, the powerless and the oppressed. In his Second Letter to Timothy, we see Paul´s humility expressed in his confidence in God´s presence and action in the face of sufferings and imprisonment. He tells us that our entire life itself is a prayer and we offer to God all we have including our lives. In the Gospel Reading, from Jesus, we learn through 'The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector' that we should approach God in humility when we pray.

Today’s First Reading taken from the Book of Sirach tells us of God’s care for the lowly and their prayer reaches the courts of heaven. Those who serve the Lord can expect the Lord to heed to their prayers. The reading tells us that our prayer life is inevitably connected with the rest of our lives. The Lord is the judge, and within him there is no partiality. He will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. The Lord will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when they pour out their complaints to him. The ear of the Lord is inclined towards the needy, the poor, and those who are abandoned. The prayers of the faithful are pleasing to the Lord and are heard before His Heavenly Throne. But the prayers of the humble touch the Lord and they pierce His Heart until the Most High responds by executing judgment to bring justice to the righteous. Sirach speaks of prayer as an arrow reaching its mark where it remains until God takes note of it. The weak and the humble gain a hearing with God the Almighty. When speaking of humility, it is important to understand the proper meaning of this word. Genuine humility is the middle ground between being arrogant and having a false humility where a person is not proud, nor self- assertive. The Lord calls his people to be humble and tells that true honesty reflects real humility which is pleasing to God.

The Pharisees really get a bad rap in Luke’s Gospel – in fact, in most of the New Testament. Somehow they get cast as the villains in most of the stories they are in. The classic parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector which we hear today is one that is only found in St. Luke’s Gospel, but it is yet another example of negativeness toward the Pharisees.
Through the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus addresses the attitude one should have in prayer. The ordinary interpretation of this parable takes its cue from the opening verse. It is addressed to those who are convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else. In a strange scene, in contrasting the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee with the prayer of the repentant tax-collector, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in humility before God. Jesus again surprises his listeners by showing the tax-collector as an example of faith, rather than the Pharisee. Remember that Pharisees were members of a sect of Judaism active in Jesus' time and highly respected members of the Jewish society. They taught an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses as the basis for Jewish piety. If anyone would be a model for prayer, a Pharisee was a likely candidate. Yet, we see the exact opposite. Jesus offers the tax-collector as a model for prayer. Tax-collectors were the outcast and despised member of the Jewish society, because they were collaborators with the Roman authorities in a system that allowed them to line their own pockets by charging in excess of the defined taxes. Yet, in this parable, Jesus offers the humility of the tax-collector as a model for the prayer of a disciple. The parable reminds us that when we pray, we must remember our need for God in our lives. If we are too full of ourselves, there is too little room for God's grace to work in us.
The Pharisee prays a false prayer of thanksgiving to God. He really just gloats of his own personal achievements by which he believes to be just. He has no need of God to respond to his prayer, since he has no needs outside of what he can provide himself. His 'thanksgiving' goes so far as to express gratitude for not being a worthless lout like the miserable tax collector behind him in the Temple. There is no love of God or of neighbor in his prayer. The tax collector´s prayer, on the other hand, is one of supplication and the sincerity of its expression pierces heaven. He recognizes his indignity and misery before God, and considers himself a sinner. He compares himself to no one, sure that he is the person most in need of God´s grace. He goes away justified, which is to say that God forgives his sins and renews him. The Pharisee saw no need to ask for justification, since he had perfected himself.
Also, while the Pharisee started his prayer “with head unbowed,” the tax-collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” Their posture reminds us of the story of a haughty lawyer who asked an old farmer, “Why don't you hold up your head in the world as I do? I bow my head to no one.” The farmer answered, “Sir, see that field of grain? Only those heads that are empty stand upright. Those that are well-filled bow low.” So first and foremost, we are to approach prayer in a spirit of humility. This the tax-collector did but the Pharisee did not.
The cutting edge of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is Jesus’ astounding conclusion: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The conclusion alone is of interest to us: the tax-collector went home justified. The word is important, the just man is one whom God makes just; he receives God’s favor, not because he is already just, but because in his humility he believes that God can be merciful to him and forgive him his sins. Jesus in the parable did not condemn the Pharisee for his life–style and religious observance; He condemned him for his self-righteous attitude as reflected in his prayer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector....” Obviously, the Pharisee was extolling himself before God. In spite of this many in the audience of Jesus would have expected God’s grace should go to the Pharisee and would have been shocked to hear the justification of the tax-collector. Indeed we are not the judges of who is justified and who is not. Forgiveness and justification are divine gifts which God bestows on his chosen ones. What is expected of us is the submission of the tax-collector and await mercy of God.
So, how are we to pray? First, we approach God with all humility. Then we attribute to Him whatever good we have done, thanking Him for giving us the grace to do so. As to our sins, we are to place ourselves completely in His mercy which is His alone to dispense and which we can never merit. Jesus is teaching us to follow the example of the tax collector in life as well as in our prayer. He wants us to acknowledge that everything we are and have came from God. And if we fall into sin, it is not solely because of human weakness but also because of our failure to run to God for help. One holy person, on seeing someone enslaved by his lust, exclaimed, 'But for the grace of God, there go I.' In other words, we are saved not because of our own merit but because of God's mercy. This is what the Pharisee and we often forget but which the prayer of the tax collector was able to capture. Thus even if He only asked for mercy, he ended up justified before God. With the tax collector as our model, we can begin by making his prayer our own: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Then we will not only receive God's mercy; we will also end up justified before Him.

In today’s Second Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy, we find examples of Paul’s humility. Paul knows his nothingness. When he says that the time of his departure has come, he is stating the fact of his proximity of death. His death was imminent and his departure from this life and his return to Christ was certain. He was already in his prison and in chains in Rome. Through his words, he was not seeking pity, nor was he boasting of all he had done in the Holy Name of Jesus. On the other hand he had offered everything he had to God, his money, his scholarship, his work, his time and now his life. Paul now tells them that he has fought the good fight, he has run a good race, and he has kept the faith. Though Paul had Luke with him and he expected Timothy and Mark to come the place of his imprisonment, he feels abandoned much like Jesus. Nevertheless, Paul is very confident that Jesus is with him and will bring him safely to the heavenly kingdom. Comparing his life to that of a race, where a person looks for victory, Paul says that he had persevered and guarded the deposit of faith. The work that he had performed in his life time was not his work but the work of God that was manifested through him by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. Death for him is an act of worship, a libation, an act of freedom and a launching into eternity.

Humility moves God, while pride is repugnant to him. One of the lessons of today’s readings is that “God does indeed hear the cry of the poor” - the humble of heart who truly know that they depend on God for every good thing and that their happiness and success is nothing more than a participation in the perfection of God. In the Eucharist, we see how God, in His majesty chooses to remain with us under the humble appearances of bread and wine, even though nothing of bread or nothing of wine remain in the Eucharist. Christ chose to communicate himself to us under the most basic and humble of means - the one food common to all cultures: bread. And yet, it is no longer bread for us, but the living body of Christ. Our Lord sits in this tabernacle and in tabernacles like it day after day and hour after hour thirsting for our love. He is so humble and pure and so vulnerable for our sake. With a God so humble, how can we not return his humility by learning humility in our own lives, especially in our prayer.
May we thus approach our Lord in humility when we pray - fully recognizing our sinfulness and our inadequacies and our shortcomings and yet fully trusting in His infinite mercy and compassion and desire for our sanctity. An awareness of our sins, too, can help us in our lives to be far more compassionate and understanding towards others in their sinfulness and weakness. In the depths of our sinfulness we must never lose sight of the God who is always standing by, ready to come at our merest signal. We must also realize that all good gifts come from God and our humility requires that we give God credit for them and share them with others. On this Mission Sunday we can thank God for the many gifts with which he has blessed us personally and as a country. But we are reminded that those blessings have been given to us to share with those who have far less than we. As we pray for our country and the missions we ask the grace from God to give us the spirit of humility and sharing so that we bring to people the merciful love of God. And this is the Good News of today.

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