God will be judge

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  • October 21, 2007
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Oct. 28 (Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14)

It would be wonderful if justice were as swift and unambiguous as the passage from Sirach implies. As long as you are the aggrieved or oppressed party, your prayer will reach heaven and God will execute speedy justice. Case closed!

It would be wonderful if justice were as swift and unambiguous as the passage from Sirach implies. As long as you are the aggrieved or oppressed party, your prayer will reach heaven and God will execute speedy justice. Case closed!

Unfortunately, justice is often delayed and all too often it never arrives in a manner visible and credible to us. It is true that in many cases the arrogant are brought low and the wicked get what is coming to them in dramatic and real-time ways. But we’ve seen far too many instances in which con men, crooks, dictators and thugs of all varieties are able to wiggle off the hook with the help of money, power, violence and lies.

So where is all this divine justice? Are such ideas just a cruel hoax foisted on the powerless and downtrodden? Is Marx right in saying that religion is the opiate of the masses? The idea of a world devoid of justice is a very chilling and depressing thought and would not leave us with much hope. But what does the passage actually say?

God is the one who listens with an incorruptible ear. No legal shenanigans, manipulation or influence will have any effect on God’s judgment. God is impartial and shows no favouritism whatsoever.

Not a bad start! But what about justice and judgment? God’s judgment is rendered immediately, but its execution might not be apparent to us for a long time and we might not even be around to see it. Justice sometimes requires a long time to ripen on the tree. Time is given for human repentance or reconciliation. But sometimes unjust or wicked people pass from this world apparently unscathed.

The message is clear: no one “gets away” with a thing. If the wicked escape earthly justice, they will still have to face God. Sooner or later we all face ourselves and what we have become. Divine justice is built into the universe: positive and negative actions produce corresponding results. The apparent unfairness of the world must not be used as a pretext for indifference or passivity. In fact, it is an encouragement for people to create a just society and world.

All of this is consoling on one level — on another level it should make us rather uneasy. What about us? We might not be crooks, but our hearts, minds and souls are utterly transparent to God; He sees us as we really are. God also sees through our own dishonesty, denial, self-delusion and self-justification. Before God the best defence is humility and rigourous honesty.

The crown of righteousness for which the author of Second Timothy longs is not a prize for achieving perfection. Rather, it is the reward for not giving up and for running the race. We do not have to cross the finish line first; we merely have to cross it after having tried our best. A life in Christ is a race that everyone can win.

An inflated sense of personal morality and holiness go hand in hand with contempt for others. This is probably one of the greatest pitfalls for religious people and the parable in Luke’s Gospel applies to all people in every religion. When we fail to journey inward to the deeper and darker regions of our own mind and soul, we remain captive to the fearful and insecure demands of the ego. Convinced of our own moral and spiritual superiority, it becomes all too easy to project our unrecognized darkness on individuals and groups of people.

This is one reason why we shouldn’t be too eager for the immediate and uncompromising justice of the reading from Sirach. We might find ourselves on the receiving end of it. When we fool ourselves, as the Pharisee in the parable does, we set ourselves up for a great fall. The tax collector was more spiritually aware because he knew well his need for healing and forgiveness. He had been stripped of all self-delusion.

One of the most spiritual things that religious people can do is to renounce spiritual smugness and a sense of moral superiority. Then we can walk with others — regardless of who they are — as fellow pilgrims on earth, learning together the lessons of living a life that is both human and godly.

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