Sirach 35, 12-14 and 16-18
- God is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. So Ben Sira begins, with an unassuming statement. Impartiality
in heaven and on earth. God follows no affirmative action; so it seems. So I begin, but I know what will follow and I will be ready.
- God hears. So
it begins, and continues in every verse. And
how does the passage end? The Most High
responds. Immediately, too, not with the delay to which we are accustomed. I hear it driving to its conclusion, not in cold measures but in zeal to affirm the right in this very moment.
- I hear favoritism! The
weak, the oppressed, the orphan,
the widow, the lowly. Spoken in the spirit of the Torah. Confirmed by our indignation
when it still happens today. Vindicated whenever justice is done. As I read I defy fate staring at me from the evening newscast, and the iron laws of social Darwinism.
- Returning, I hear the shout of the needy: the cry of the oppressed,
the wail of the orphan, the complaint
of the widow, the prayer of the lowly, and the petition of those who serve God. It is a raw, acoustic cry, amplified
only by the millions who utter it. This is a day I would prefer not to speak
into a mike.
- It does not rest until
it reaches its goal, nor does it withdraw.
No mention here of a civil presentation of grievances, that the powerful of the world can examine at their leisure. In this respect the spirit of the reading differs from the humility of the Jesus prayer
in today’s Gospel. But both are tireless, and in that respect they resemble
- Climax: The prayer of
the lowly reaches the clouds.
- Message for our assembly: Do we see as God sees?
- I will challenge myself: To read with renewed faith in a God who listens.
II Timothy 4, 6-8 and 16-18
- I am already being poured out like a libation. It is a farewell from the apostle to his beloved disciple. I
can be strong, but I don’t think too much bombast would be appropriate.
- The passage is divided in two. In the first part I hear
a voice with no regrets. I have competed
well; I have finished the race. Over and over, I have…, a rich sense of completion.
- What he deserves is coming to him. The
Lord, the just judge, will award to me the crown of righteousness. He’s
talking about Jesus. There is no hesitation or doubt in these words, and I will
read them confidently.
- Then in the second part I notice a touch of greater humility. The Lord stood by me. The
Lord will rescue me… and will bring me safe. Let me not give an impression that my happy ending is due to my own efforts alone.
- I hear also a slight complaint about “false brothers”: everyone deserted me. We are learning about the numerous divisions
and betrayals that took place within the church itself in the very beginning, and that have continued right to this day. I will not emphasize the fact, because the apostle survived them just as we will.
- Climax: All who have longed for his appearance. It is a hope we share, so that the reading is suddenly about us all.
All that we have just heard can apply to us as well. Right now we long
for a quick end to the hurricane season, or a successful conclusion to the semester, or a good job offer. The church has always prayed for the return of the Lord. Advent
will soon be upon us, and once I used this phrase as a theme for my Advent cards.
- The message for our assembly: The world praises those who have planned prudently for their years of retirement. But how have we planned for the eternal days after that? Is our own end tied in with the presence of Christ?
- I will challenge myself: To rediscover that confidence with which the apostle dictated these words.
Luke 18, 9-14
- In one sense the Gospel already has its interpretation, in the beginning (to
those who were convinced of their own righteousness) and also the end (the one
who humbles himself will be exalted). In that sense, I don’t need to
find the interpretation in the way I read.
- What I can do is to find a way to hint to my listeners that they might have prayed the prayer of the Pharisee from
time to time. I confess that I pray it almost every day. I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, adulterous, not
like… I think there is some merit in this, the way the earth is going
right now. Examples from my own life: not wasting earth’s resources, not
irresponsible in my job, not in favor of torture by my government. In fact, doesn’t
the second reading sound a little Pharisaic? “God will give me what I deserve.”
- The only problem with the Pharisee is that he separates himself from others. In the presence of God we are very much like the rest, a sinner.
- The tax collector who stood off at a distance and would not
even raise his eyes reminds me now of the poor defenseless persons whom Ben Sira defends.
They have gained nothing of their own merits and depend completely on God.
- It is easy for me to picture the scene. One took up his position. The other beat
his breast. Of course the prayers were uttered in silence, but we can read
their faces as they pray. I would like to imitate each of their faces as I say
- The latter went home justified. I can make it clear that Jesus is referring to the humble tax collector.
Of course, he has presented two very different social classes, and officially (even in our own church) those who fast and tithe are given recognition, justified
in a sense! Let me find the way to make them come alive, up to the point that
Jesus announces the reversal of fortune.
- Climax: O God, be merciful to me a sinner!
- Message for our assembly: Do we think there should be a few more Pharisees in our society, after what we hear in the
news every day?
- I will challenge myself: To engage my listeners in studying both kinds of prayers, because we have prayed them both,
and to encourage them to follow Jesus.
From Word to Eucharist: The
Byzantine rite reminds us, even at the moment of communion, that Christ has indeed been merciful to us sinners. Let us adopt that childlike contrition and joy of being forgiven.