October 21, 2016

HOMILY FOR THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (OCT 23)


HOMILY FOR THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (OCT 23)

Ronald Stephens
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Last week I mentioned to you that there were two stories side by side in Luke’s Gospel in this chapter, both about prayer. When Luke does that, he usually means them to be read together because somehow they will comment on each and affect our perception of them when looked at together. Unfortunately we got one last week and one this week, thus thwarting Luke’s original plan. One of the problems of doing little snippets of a Gospel each week!
Just as a reminder, last week we heard the parable of the unjust judge who was badgered by the woman into getting what she wanted by her her persevering and never letting go.
But when we see these two readings next to each other, we also can see that both of these stories are about the need for prayer.
Therefore, this week, we want to examine more of Jesus’s ideas on prayer which was certainly based on the foundation of the Hebrew concept of prayer. Let’s look at that foundation first. In our first reading from the Book of Sirach and in our Psalm we can get a glimpse of the Hebrew thought on prayer. First,  Sirach says that God is not going to show partiality to the poor. That may surprise us. I think if I had asked you the question  – Would God favor the poor? – all of you would have said a resounding “yes”. But Sirach says no, that God, won’t favor them, but he will listen first to the prayers of anyone who has been wronged. If poverty in society is a wrong, then God will listen to the poor before he listens to us. It also means that the prayers of the orphan, the prayers of the widowed will also be listened to first. In other words, God’s mercy will favor the the unfortunate and the wronged.
So if we are not the unfortunate or the wronged, how would the Hebrews say that we would get listened to in prayer? Well, Sirach says that by being a servant to others God will listen to us. When we humble ourselves to serve the needs of others, our prayers will go right up to heaven and continue till they are heard.
Do you see how Christ was able to build on this Hebrew foundation – it already sounds a lot like what we remember Jesus saying, doesn’t it!
The Psalm also re-iterates that the poor and the humble get the first shot at God’s hearing. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,” the Psalm says, “and rescues them from all their troubles.” “Let the humble hear and be glad!” And then in the repetitive way the Psalms have of saying the same thing in many different ways: “The Lord is near to he brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
So you can see that these teachings about the power of prayer for the humble and the unfortunates in society were around long before Jesus came. And when we look at the parable of Jesus, we can see that Jesus builds on that foundation, but makes it just a little clearer and harder. The Pharisees were men who did good works. They tried not to sin, they donated to the Temple, they fasted often. It does not sound like they were bad people at all, and from what we have seen in Sirach, by doing these good works their prayer should rise to heaven. But Jesus says it is more than just doing something, it is the attitude we have in doing that something.
The Pharisees in the parable were smug, arrogant, and judgmental. Instead of being servants in their attitudes to one another, they were lording it over others, especially people they judged to be unworthy or ‘dirtier’ than they were.
We sometimes get the impression because of the law of love that Jesus espoused, that Jesus was easier on people than the traditional ways. But actually, Jesus was always harder. He didn’t just want the fulfillment of a law, he wanted the attitude behind it changed. That’s why we often hear him say: You are told this, but I tell you that..” It is not the outward doing, but the interior attitude that Jesus wants us to change.
It is easy to fall into the attitude of thinking we are better than others. Certain people repel us and I think there is a natural need to reject that which is different from us. It is certainly something we have to work at. When we are approached by a street person who is unkempt, bearded, dirty, uneducated or whatever, is it fear that causes us to step back, or pride, or disgust? What do we have to do is to throw away those judgments and see underneath all of that – to know that there is a person of dignity there, that God already listens to more than he listens to us. Definitely not easy, but I ask you this week to examine those feelings inside you, confront them, and see if you can change them a little.
In our second reading, Paul had to confront all these things.  Before he was converted, he hated the Christians, judged them to be unworthy. But he was forced to re-examine all of that when he was confronted with Jesus himself. And what did he become? – a servant of the Word, a servant to others in the name of Jesus. At the end of his life, he talks today to Timothy and to us, both with some pride in the fact that he managed to get through life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, but the pride is tempered with he humility that he didn’t do it through human intervention, but did it through God who never deserted him. It wasn’t him, it was God: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.”  It is that humility of knowing it was God more than my efforts that he says will grant him a place in the kingdom.
So let that be the main lesson for us today among the many little lessons. If we hold true to the knowledge that our good deeds are God acting in us for the betterment of the weaker and poorer, we too will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
That is the wonderful Good News of our readings today! God bless.