Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: No Time For Complacency
- Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18. The Lord hears the cry of the oppressed. It pierces the clouds and does not rest till it reaches its goal.
- 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. I look for Christ’s appearance with eager longing. The Lord will rescue me and bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.
- Luke 18:9-14. The parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Despite good behavior, the proud person is not justified; the humble person returns home justified.
Thoughts for Your Consideration: By John Gonzalez
This week’s lectionary readings remind us not to be complacent. The Gospel sets the tone for this message with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee praises his righteousness very publicly to God and all. His behavior seems to merit some good recognition but in this parable Jesus is emphasizing a preference for the humility of the sinner to the self- righteousness of the Pharisee. The tax collector recognizes his failings and in humility he looks towards God for forgiveness and mercy. The tax collector is willing to change. He recognizes his failings and he humbly requests God’s grace to be good in all sincerity. But the Pharisee has defined for himself what it means to be good and not surprisingly he meets his own requirements. A good person fasts twice a week and pays tithes. With this self defined criteria for being good the Pharisee then goes on to use that criteria to separate himself from all humanity “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity.” What a solitary declaration. The Pharisee is complacent within his own social construct of what it means to be good. Jesus tells us that this righteous complacency will not do.
In the second reading Paul is towards the end of his life and he is recounting his current situation to Timothy. But while he may have “finished the race” he does not stop running. In the passages that we skip over Paul requests that Timothy go get Mark and join him as soon as possible to “help me in the ministry.” In the verses immediately preceding this passage he warns Timothy that complacency is endangering the Gospel mission:
Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient… For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.
The first reading comes to us from the great Jewish philosopher Sirach. Here we have in scripture one of the finest formulations of the Catholic social principle “The Preferential Option for the Poor.” Sirach defines God as justice; “who knows no favorites, though not unduly partial toward the weak.” God sets the example of not being complacent toward those who suffer social injustice. He hears the “cry of the oppressed” and the marginalized widows and orphans. Curiously verse 15 is omitted in the Lectionary which reads; “Do not the tears that stream down her cheek cry out against him that causes them to fall.” This is a powerful statement. God hears the oppressed but in hearing them He recognizes the unjust person that caused those tears to fall.
Sirach tells us that social injustice will not go unanswered. God will respond. St. Paul, Timothy, Mark and Luke serve the Gospel by addressing the liberating word of God and they will not stop least complacency sets in. Jesus warns us all that we must guard against any attitude of righteousness and complacency especially when it causes us to despise other people. The Gospel parable is very specific in reminding us that the priority of our actions are not found in rituals or self imposed practices but in the desire to humbly change and grow into the one human family where we all can identify with the social responsibility we owe one another.
It is only human for us to waver and at times to seek a complacent social lifestyle. There have been many times when I have found myself craving a lifestyle that offers stability, security and relative convenience. I have desired this especially in these uncertain times. But unfortunately we as Christians are not called to this. Our mission is to continue promoting the Gospel message and to build the community of God’s love throughout the whole world. This great mission comes with great challenges as St. Paul the Apostle was discovering but even then he does not allow complacency to overtake him as he prepares the mission’s continuance even after he is gone. While we must be patient with this endeavor and we will need to pause and periodically take our breath we cannot delude ourselves into becoming socially complacent in any way. We must always challenge ourselves to see the responsibility we own one another. We must never find ourselves despising others or judging an entire group we feel does not meet our own criteria for being good. For as Jesus says to rich young man, “there is only One who is good” (Mt. 19: 17). Let us strive this week to humble ourselves to the One who is good and to serve our true Lord by serving ALL of God’s people but especially those who are oppressed and marginalized since God is asking us to address those concerns now, without delay.