Cycle C – Homily – 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 23 October 2022
Also called the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary I Lectionary II
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 Sirach 35:12-17 OR Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7
Psalms 34:2-3,17-18,19, 23 Joel 2:23=32 with Psalm 65
Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14 Luke 18:9-14
Today's gospel is the familiar story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. That is certainly a popular gospel. There are so many homilies, sermons, and reflections that can be and have been written about that pompous and braggadocios Pharisee and that humble and mercy-seeking tax collector. Of course, we can all see ourselves in both of these characters. We are all both that humbly-righteous tax collector and that self-righteous Pharisee. Neither is all right; neither is all wrong. Let's take that dichotomous concept of our own humble-righteousness and our own self-righteousness and see how we can apply those ideas to our approach to the lessons of today’s readings.
The first reading – from Sirach – is about justice. (Sirach is a book that in some translations of the Bible is considered to be Apocryphal and can be found in a section between the Old Testament and the New Testament.) How can we be righteous (or humbly-righteous) – rather than self-righteous – when it comes to justice? We all seem to have a bit of this "gotcha" mentality when it comes to dishing out justice. We all seem to equate vengeance and retribution with justice. Oh, we all know the words are not synonymous but we still seem to want to see justice in self-righteous terms. What is the real lesson? How can we be righteous about justice instead of self-righteous? The answer is in the first line of the reading: "The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites…he hears the cry of the oppressed." Righteousness becomes an imitation of the God of justice – knowing no favorites and hearing the cry of the oppressed. Do we know no favorites when we are working on justice for the others of this world?
The Psalm reiterates the theme of the reading from Sirach. "The Lord hears the cry of the poor." And the psalm goes on from there. Continuous references to the justice of the Lord….
Who are the oppressed? Who are the poor? Who are those seeking the justice of the Lord?
We all know about the blatantly oppressed and the financially poor and the falsely accused persons. We all know about evildoers and widows and orphans and the imprisoned and the hungry and those living in war torn regions of the world. The people fitting these descriptions are obvious. We know about righteousness when working with these problems. We don't always do it! Sometimes we are self-righteous and self-important and we make excuses for not following the example our God has given us. But we still know these obvious ones.
Are there other people who are oppressed or poor or seeking justice? Are there humans – our brothers and sisters in Christ – whose pain is hidden from the world? Are there people who are just a bit oppressed? Are there people who are poor in spirit, even if not poor in pocket? Are there people who are suffering silently because of injustices or internal pain?
Do we sometimes overlook the people who do not fit our globally preconceived notions of the poor and the oppressed? Do we sometimes look past our neighbors who are in pain? Do we avoid the internal hell of those around us? Do we find ourselves too busy to stand up for justice when to do so would take our immediate time or cause us personal inconvenience? Do we march for justice for people a half a world away but stay away from our neighbor who needs some moral support and some personal attention?
How does this relate to the Pharisee and tax collector story? The Pharisee followed the law – the letter of the law. He gave to the poor – tithing to the full extent. He fasted and he was honest. In the legal sense, he was righteous. In reality, he was self-righteous because he despised those around him. He took care of the oppressed and the poor and those seeking justice – by following the letter of the law. But, he was not there as a human being. He despised his neighbor. He despised the tax collector. How often are we self-righteous – congratulating ourselves on how we follow the letter of the law in doing what is required for justice and charity? How often do hear the cry of the poor – particularly if the cry of the poor is coming from those around us whose "poor-ness" may not be financial? Do we look past justice in the workplace? Do we look past justice in our neighborhoods while being part of global justice? How self-righteous are we? How often do we justify our self-righteousness by acknowledging that we are all a bit self-righteous and thinking that we really aren't all that bad?
The tax collector was truly the righteous person. How often do we empty ourselves out as the tax collector did? How often do we acknowledge that we are sinners – not just in empty words but deep down in actions? How often do we hear the cry of the poor and the oppressed? The righteous person, as we well know, acknowledges his or her faults and moves forward by following the examples of the Lord by hearing the cry of the neighbor or the friend or the person in his or her own workplace who has been treated unjustly. It is easy enough to see the cries of the poor and oppressed who are a half world away. It seems to me that we all ought to spend some time making a commitment to the poor and oppressed in our own environs – the locals whose poverty and oppression are not typical, whose poverty and oppression are internal and not external.
Fully aware that we are all both Pharisees and tax collectors, how often do our own personal scales of justice tip toward the true righteousness of the tax collector? Let’s think about it and make some new resolutions to act accordingly. And then let’s act as we are called to act.
Dr Roberta M Meehan