THE PRAYER OF THE HUMBLE PERSON PIERCES THE CLOUDS
(SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2019
THE 30TH SUNDAY IN THE ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C)
The Lord hears the cry of the poor; the Lord is a God of justice who knows no favourites; he who exalts himself shall be humbled Jesus reinforces this message of solidarity with the poor by reminding us that we should be very careful of being convinced of our own righteousness, for by doing so we run the risk of being humbled (as opposed to acting humbly).
The Lord hears the cry of the poor. The Lord also gave us ears and hearts and heads and will to hear and see and act. So doesn’t the Lord expect us to hear the cry of the poor also? Doesn’t the Lord expect us to rescue these poor through our actions? Jesus taught us over and over to do what we are able for the least among us.
When we act for those who are oppressed and serve the Lord by comforting them in their time of need, are we not humbling ourselves by recognizing that our positions of relative privilege and good fortune are not a right to be hoarded but a gift to be shared?
The first reading of today presents the Lord and the Cry of the Poor; True Religion; Humility in Approaching God; Preferential Option for the Poor. Sociological studies show many things about prayer. The studies show that serious prayer usually begins after the age of about thirty, when the illusion that we are masters of our own fate fades and adults develop a deeper need to call on the Master of the Universe. The studies show further, that even on talk shows that deal with the controversial, prayer is never mentioned.
Today’s liturgy discusses some aspects of prayer and life. In the First Reading, written about 180 BC, the Book of Sirach takes up the theme. Jesus ben Sira, its author, wrote for Jews who were a minority dispersed among Gentiles, living — as many Christians do today — in an alien culture. Because the early Church adopted so many of his ideas, his book was also called Liber Ecclesiasticus, “The Book of the Church”.
Sirach said that our prayer life will inevitably be connected with the rest of our lives. You can’t act one way and pray another. So one requirement for prayer to be acceptable to the God of justice says Sirach, is that our lives be just — that is, righteous, upright, wholesome, virtuous. Sirach reminds us that God knows no favourites except toward the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed. Why them? Because they don’t have the illusion that the world turns around them. They are able to do what God wants of all of us — to concentrate on the interior disposition of the heart rather than externals. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” as today’s Responsorial Psalm puts it, and that and this lesson from Sirach is the background of today’s Gospel.
The Pharisee was a good man. They tried to live up to their sacred Law completely. You would like the Pharisee as your next-door neighbour. You could count on him to be honest, to respect your property, and to do everything right.
Yet the people gave some of them unï¬‚attering nicknames — “Blood«headed Pharisees”, for example, because in their attempts to avoid looking at women in the street they bumped into walls.
In today’s story, the righteousness of the Pharisee considerably exceeded the standards prescribed by the Mosaic Law. For instance, the Law prescribed one day of fast a year (the Day of Atonement), but he, like many Pharisees, held a complete fast, with no food or drink until after sundown, twice a week — Mondays and Thursdays. The Law commanded tithes of farm produce profits; this Pharisee tithed himself on everything.
The Pharisee of Jesus’ story attributed all his many virtues to his own merits, reminded God of all the good he was doing and made God out to be in debt to him. He was full of himself; the keyword in his prayer was “I”. And he used his prayer to speak ill of his fellow human beings. To look down on everyone else when we are doing good, as the Pharisee did, is easy.
Tax-collectors of that time, on the other hand, were as group social outcasts. They were considered robbers for Rome. But the very body language of the tax collector of Jesus’ story — keeping his distance, raising his eyes to heaven, beating his breast — showed his attitude in prayer.
He used for his prayer the opening verse of the Psalm composed by King David to ask God’s mercy after his adultery with Bathsheba —a prayer so simple and yet so perfect, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He knew himself.
Like that Marathon runner, and like the competitors at the games, St. Paul had “kept the faith”. Now, he merited the reward of a winner. The crown he looked forward to, however, wasn’t the laurel crown given by men, which withered, but one given by God, which would never die.
Paul knew that he was soon coming to the Emperor Nero’s judgment, and he knew what that judgment would be. He hoped for a favourable verdict from God.
Paul derived courage from the knowledge that the Lord would bring him to his heavenly kingdom.
Each of today’s readings teaches us something about how we should pray and live —— From Sirach, that our prayer must be connected with the rest of our lives, especially our conduct toward the powerless; from Jesus, that our prayer must be humble. A good life, like a good prayer, comes from emptying ourselves of ourselves to let God in.
Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, give me the grace to be humble in character and may I pray with humility so that I may be heard by you. Amen.