The Homily is taken from a Catholic Moment;
The Psalmist today says that “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Ps 34); not just the weak and the oppressed but the poor in spirit. Thus the readings today teach us that the only key to unlocking the heart of God in prayer is humility; for the humble are not just admired by God, but they are the ones that he justifies.
Isn’t this first reading so interesting as it introduces a beautiful theme about the justice of God?
This message of Ben Sirach addressed to his Jewish compatriots around 175 BC asserts that the just God has no favorites. But we are tempted to disprove this assertion owing to the imbalances and inequalities that exist among men. Even from the jewish background, wealth and good living was perceived as a blessing from God while poverty was seen as a curse. So how do we explain the notion of a just and loving God when one lives in extreme riches while the other lives in extreme poverty. Doesn’t it contradict Sirach’s notion that God has no favourite? On the other hand, when we dig deep in the whole of the Scripture, we often see the image of “the God of only the poor” because he always talks about justice to the poor as if he has a score to settle with the rich. Unfortunately it is not the case. God is the Father of all, but since human beings often use their advantage of good fortune in life to show how superior they are against the other, and sometimes at the expense of the poor, that is why God often manifest himself as the God who defends the rights of weak and advocates for those who have no one. The weakest in Sirach’s society were the widows and orphans. And he made it clear that since they were not often heard by people, God the just One often hears them. He allows their prayers to “pierce the cloud, until they reach him, the Most High.” This is a powerful word of encouragement from Ben Sirach to all who feel that life is unjust to them; those who have nobody to fight for their right; those who are left at the corridor of human society and those who feel they have no one to speak for them. Imagine the power in this word: “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…” What more do you need to worry about you who cry night and day? What type of consolation and assurance do you need that is not in this word? God is never far away. All around you may seem to be dark, but even darkness is never dark for him. Your prayers are safe. Your cry for mercy has reached heaven. And Sirach concludes that “the Lord will not delay” (v.18).
This last letter of Paul to Timothy and the last chapter of the letters to Timothy is a corpus of “Adieu message” of “The Apostle” to his spiritual son. In the previous chapters, he encouraged Timothy to be faithful to his vocation, to hold firm to the faith he has received and to shepherd the flock as a true pastor. But today, he reminds him that his life (Paul) is taking another phase. He has ceased from public and active life, and being held in prison, he is about to pay the ultimate price for being faithful to Christ. Thus Paul sees his imminent martyrdom in terms of sacrificial worship. That is what he meant by the expression, “I am already being poured out like a libation.” The New Jerusalem Bible says, in a footnote to this verse, “Libations of wine, water or oil were poured over the victims not only in Gentile sacrifices but also in Jewish ones (Exodus 29:40 and Numbers 28:7).
Paul writes with every conviction that his life merits a “Crown” which does not just symbolize victory but also an affirmation that he is a co-heir with Christ and a citizen of heaven. More than just instigating fear in the young Timothy about his passage from this life, it was a reminder for him to know that his faithfulness to Christ in this world can only have one unique end which is heaven.
How many of us can beat our chest with conviction like St. Paul that we are running the race on the right track?
How many of us are even convinced of the race? Do we still think that we can make it to the end with all the troubles that this life presents? What about the many times we grew weak and were discouraged? Paul calls us not to give up when we face “prisons and martyrdom” for our crown is sure and our home is heaven.
Finally, if we will have the gracious opportunity at the evening of our lives to bid farewell to people around us like Paul to Timothy, what testament are we going to hand over to them? Our will? Our bank account? Certainly these are good and necessary, but can we like St. Paul smile that we have lived well our lives and encourage others in the same way?
Friends let the race we have started not be nothing. Let us not spend our energy, our talent and our time in order to end at nothing. Let our target be the crown. It may be difficult but it is not impossible.
The Gospel passage presents two famous men in the society: one was a pharisee popularly acknowledged as a man of honour, and well respected because of his strict adherence to the Law and probably a good moral standard. The other was best described by the public as a thief, a traitor (working with the Roman government against his people), and of course a sinner. This was the image of the two men according to the judgment of the people. But when they found themselves before God, the judgment took a different perspective.
Jewish Law required fasting only on the Day of Atonement-“Yom Kippur” (Lev. 16:31; 23:27), but this Pharisee fasted twice a week. Although he was required to pay tithe only from his agricultural produce (Dt 14:22; Nm 18:21), but he paid tithes on all his wealth. By every indication of the Law, he was very righteous. He did more than what was required by the Law. This gratified his soul, but unfortunately made him proud. Therefore he came to the Temple not really to pray but to tell God that he has done more than required. In other words, there is no reason why God should not justify him. In fact God should be owing him alot since he has done more than what the Law stipulated. By way of simple analyses, the Pharisee came to the presence of God already holy. Unfortunately, this blocked him from being touched by the holiness of God. Thus he left God’s presence remaining the same, that is, he appeared to be holy but in actual sense he was not. Of course he got what he asked for which is nothing: nothing because he had no need of God. He relied heavily on his personal effort, thereby forgetting that it is only God who can make one holy and not just ones good deeds.
This man was able to measure his state of life with the scale of God’s holiness, and immediately he discovered that the holiness of God has exposed his sinfulness. This is the reason why he hid his face and stood at a distance refusing to approach the sanctuary like the self-righteous pharisee. He begged for mercy. That is to say, his prayer was direct, straight to the point and expressed the true sense of prayer which is, man’s personal and humble relationship with his God. He acknowledged that his goodness does not depend on him but exclusively on God.
The two men ended their prayers, and guess what the result looked like:
Faithfulness to the Law; pharisee (80% he must have thwarted the law sometimes to his favour), tax collector (20% we cannot say he never did anything good in his life)
Public reputation; pharisee (80% not everyone will certainly admire him), tax collector (10% ofcourse he was admired by his friends and people of his type).
. Humility before God; pharisee (0% he spoke to God as if he was in charge), tax collector (100% he saw himself as nothing before God).
God’s judgment; pharisee (0% he left home not justified), tax collector (100% went home justified).
We can be faithful to the law and so much loved by the people, but the end of everything we have and are is God. It is only God who determines who is holy. Men can give their judgment base on what they see, which is partial, but God’s judgement is total because he sees the heart of men.
We cannot pretend to have not seen ourselves as superior and well placed than others. And how often have we condemned others simply because we have got the grace of living differently. If you are successful in your marriage, business, thank God for it. And if your children are doing well in life, appreciate God. But sometimes I have heard people say; “look at her, she cannot even manage her family. Just look at her stupid children..like mother like daughter…” Please graces are different and situations vary. If we can pray for people the same way we condemn them, I think we will have a better world.
We are all sinners. We have cheated God and men. Let the action of this man encourage us all to make a move for change. We must acknowledge ourselves sinners. This is the only pathway to holiness. Let the word, “Kyrie eleison” be part of our daily manners. When we humble ourselves in recognition that we are sinners, then there is an outpouring of the grace of God upon us, and God will be pleased with us in the sense that we acknowledge that we are nothing without him.
We should not bother ourselves so much because of how people see us to be. Certainly people will call us names simply because we are different from them. Listen, it doesn’t matter much how people see us because the judgment of men can never be free of sentiment (am not saying people’s observation about our lives are always wrong). We should rather be bothered of how God sees us. And no matter how we try to adjust base on people’s perception of us, it is only God who can make us better persons. Hence the need to find time to be at the presence of God always. The world could not change the tax collector, but immediately he found himself before God he felt differently.
We should be on our guard the way we present ourselves to the public, creating the impression that we are truly good persons. We should equally be careful when people praise us as nice persons. It could just be mere flattery. It was not until the pharisee met the presence of God that we came to know the other side of him. And many a time, we paint our image very well in order to win public admiration (like the pharisees) . Let us be sure of this: we can succeed in deceiving people, but we can never deceive God. We can hide our true self from people, thus giving them the artificial part of us (because the world is attracted to the artificial than the real), but nothing about us is hidden from God.
Lord you are a God who hears the prayers of the poor and the broken-hearted. Hear me as I offer you myself today. Take me the way I am: change my situation and make me a better person. Amen.