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Thirtieth Sunday – Year C – Ordinary Time
Readings: Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14.
1/ Reading I: RSV Sirach 35:12 Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him is no partiality. 13 He will not show partiality in the case of a poor man; and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. 14 He will not ignore the supplication of the fatherless, nor the widow when she pours out her story. 15 Do not the tears of the widow run down her cheek as she cries out against him who has caused them to fall? 16 He whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted, and his prayer will reach to the clouds. 17 The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him, and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment. 18 And the Lord will not delay, neither will he be patient with them, till he crushes the loins of the unmerciful and repays vengeance on the nations; till he takes away the multitude of the insolent, and breaks the scepters of the unrighteous.
2/ Reading II: RSV 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 16 At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
3/ Gospel: RSV Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week;, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I. THEME: The faith and the necessary attitudes in praying
How can one’s prayer be responded by God is the theme of all today’s readings. Before praying people need to know some basic attitudes they must have: God is the just judge, never be partial to or bribed from anyone; all sincere prayers shall be received; what God promises He shall fulfill it; people can never become righteous by themselves because all are sinners; people can only be righteous by their faith in God and by trying to keep all what God teaches them.
Today readings illustrate these basic knowledge. In the first reading, the author of the Book of Sirach described God is the just judge, never be partial or bribed. He protects the right of the oppressed and hears the cries of the widows and the orphans. In the second reading, Paul knew in advance what shall happen to him in his last days at Rome; he shall be forsaken by his companions and be maltreated by the Jews and the Roman authorities; but he had a firm faith in God. He believed God shall deliver him from all dangers and has ready for him the crown of righteousness in heaven. In the Gospel, Jesus cited a story to remind his disciples their needed attitudes when praying: Don’t rely on their righteousness or despise others; but rely on God’s mercy and humbly confess all their sins.
1/ Reading I: God listens to all sincere prayers.
1.1/ God judges rightly, not partially: He isn’t like worldly kings and leaders who used to partially judge for their material profits, God is the just judge who only judges according to the truth. He doesn’t take bribery and no one can buy God.
Moreover, all people are His children so He has a special concern for the unjustly oppressed. The author of Sirach listed out two kinds of people whom God pays a special care:
(1) The poor whom are unjustly oppressed: “He will not show partiality in the case of a poor man; and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged.”
(2) The widow and the orphan: These people have no husbands or fathers to protect them so God shall protect them from those who oppressed them, “He will not ignore the supplication of the fatherless, nor the widow when she pours out her story. Do not the tears of the widow run down her cheek as she cries out against him who has caused them to fall?”
1.2/ God pays attention to all prayers.
Some people question how can God hear and respond to all people’s prayers, especially of those who are oppressed or have no merits before Him? God controls the world by His angels. They are His messengers to bring people’s prayers up to Him and to convey His grace to people. For example, the archangel Raphael revealed this when he told Tobias all God’s plan for his family when his father, Tobit, and his wife, Sarah, prayed to Him.
The author of Sirach also confirmed that God hears all people’s prayers and examines each case to see what He should do for people. He cited two cases in which God guarantees their prayers:
(1) The one who works for the Lord: “He whose service is pleasing to the Lord will be accepted, and his prayer will reach to the clouds.”
(2) The one who is humble, “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him, and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment.”
Therefore, the needed attitudes are to be humble and to firmly believe that our prayers shall be brought up to God by His angels. God shall examine each case and grant it as He knows it is good for us.
2/ Reading II: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
2.1/ Paul completely believed in God’s providence.
After witnessing for Christ in Jerusalem, Paul had a vision during the night in which Christ appeared to console and to let him know that he shall witness for him at Rome too; Christ also let him know all dangers are waiting for him at Rome.
Paul wrote this Letter to Timothy, his disciple, when he was in prison at Rome, with a purpose to encourage Timothy being ready to witness for Christ, “I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Paul didn’t think he is worthy with the crown of righteousness by his works; but he wanted to emphasize on the faithful believing in Christ. He is the just judge; he shall declare Paul as the righteous person and give him the reward for his faith which is the crown of righteousness.
This passage is a proof for those who misunderstood Paul when they said that people, according to Paul, are justified by faith only; and have no need of doing anything to show their faith. Paul proved his faith in Christ by fulfilling the mission of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles which Christ has entrusted to him; and now, he is also ready to pour out his blood to witness for the Gospel he is preaching at Rome, the land of the Gentiles.
2.2/ Paul could overcome all obstacles because he firmly believed in God.
Looking back at Paul’s life of preaching, we are startled by his perseverance when facing sufferings both inside and outside of his body, as he wrote in today passage, “At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” Though being suffered as such, Paul imitated Christ by not only he didn’t blame them but also prayed for them.
Paul recognized that the strength to suffer and the success in preaching of the Gospel don’t come from him, but from his complete trust in Christ. He confessed, “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
3/ Gospel: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
First of all, we need to know Jesus’ intention when citing this story is to rebuke those who are calling them the righteous and despise others.
3.1/ The Pharisee’s prideful attitude:
(1) The Pharisee’s way of praying: By looking at the people’s behavior, we can recognize what they think. The passage describes two contrasted behavior between the Pharisee and the tax-collector, “The Pharisee stood and prayed.” He thought that he is deserved of what he asked for.
(2) The Pharisee found ways to extol him: He found two ways to extol him: by debasing others and telling good about himself. He accused and debased others when he prayed, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
Praying is talking to God; it isn’t the time to accuse others. He might thank God who gives him grace to be such a good person; but it isn’t things God wants to hear. God wants him to recognize his weakness, not to condemn others because it isn’t his business. He talked about his accomplishments, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
His displaying of accomplishments showed that he didn’t know who God is. God is the One who knows all his works and intentions. He has no need to be reminded by him. Even his paying of tithes is only to return what God gave to him. If we pay a close attention to the Pharisee’s prayer we shall recognize that he didn’t ask God for anything; he only thanked God, or to be more exact, he only displayed of his accomplishments for God to see.
3.2/ The tax-collector’s way of praying:
(1) His behavior: The tax-collector was “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”
(2) He knew he is a sinner: He knew that he had no merit before God; therefore, he completely relied on God’s compassion.
3.3/ The results of prayers: God is the only One who accepts people’s prayers. Jesus proclaimed the results as follows, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” The reason for accepting or rejecting a prayer is clearly proclaimed by Jesus, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
To proclaim who is righteous completely belongs to God because there is no one without sin. People become righteous because of their faith in Christ who took away people’s sins and reconcile them to God. The self-proclaimed righteous attitude causes many dangers for people:
(1) Since they think they are good, they have no need of God’s forgiveness. We can see this kind of people in every generation, to wit, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time; the Pelagists or Semi-Perlagists in St. Augustine’s time; etc. St. John said to his community, “Nếu chúng ta nói là chúng ta không có tội, chúng ta tự lừa dối mình, và sự thật không ở trong chúng ta. Nếu chúng ta thú nhận tội lỗi, Thiên Chúa là Đấng trung thành và công chính sẽ tha tội cho chúng ta, và sẽ thanh tẩy chúng ta sạch mọi điều bất chính. Nếu chúng ta nói là chúng ta đã không phạm tội, thì chúng ta coi Người là kẻ nói dối, và lời của Người không ở trong chúng ta” (1 Jn 1:8-10).
(2) These people think they have no sin; that is because they don’t carefully examine of themselves or their conscience is so bad that they can’t differentiate between good and evil. If they carefully examine their conscience, they shall recognize they are also sinners as others.
(3) When they think they are perfect, they easily despise and judge others. This bad habit causes them to have no peace and destroy their family and community, because they want others to live according to their “perfect” standards.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– The prayer with a loyal desire to do God’s will, shall certainly be heard by God. There is no prayer which shall not be ascended to Him.
– We must be ready to face sufferings to witness for God. He shall protect and gives us strength to overcome them.
– We must have a humble attitude when praying by confessing we are sinners and look for God’s forgiveness.