God's Word on Sunday: We all stand in need of God’s mercy

  • October 20, 2019

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 27 (Year C) Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Life can seem very unfair and unjust at times.

We would like to think that the wicked always get their just desserts and the sooner the better. But things don’t always work out the way we would want or expect. Justice is often delayed or outright corrupted. Bribes, ideology, special interests and sometimes just plain human stupidity can get in the way.

Some poor individuals spend many years in prison only to be exonerated and released later. Powerful individuals and corporations have their own version of justice. There is little that a pricey legal team cannot accomplish. But God cannot be manipulated or bribed; God is never partial but judges according to truth and righteousness.

Sirach puts it beautifully: “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” In biblical terms, a humble person is one who is not arrogant or unjust, and he or she trusts in God completely. God is their refuge and their protection.

The humble and poor of the land should not be thought of only in economic terms. Poverty or wealth take on their meaning according to the attitude and disposition of individuals. The psalm supports this view with its refrain, “the poor one called, and the Lord heard.”

A skeptic might object that there are still many miscarriages of justice and that often justice is not done quickly, perhaps not even in this lifetime. And they would be right. God is not a superman figure, flying to our rescue whenever we get in a jam.

We also live in a very imperfect — even gravely flawed — world. There are those who work overtime to thwart God’s will. But when all is said and done, we are infinitely better off when we place our hope, faith and trust in God.

Many of those freed from prison after long years of false confinement affirm that it was their faith and hope that kept them going. God never abandons us, but sometimes justice takes a bit longer than we would like.

Paul (or one of his disciples) used an athletic metaphor to describe his faith journey. He had given everything to the cause of Christ and felt completely drained and consumed. It gave him a great deal of satisfaction that he had held back nothing.

“Not giving up” is an important lesson for our own time and culture, especially since many are prone to cut and run when the going gets tough. We don’t have to win the race or be in first place — we only need to finish it. All who cross the finish line are winners.

The Pharisees got unfairly negative press in the Gospels. We should not use the term Pharisee to denote a proud and overly legalistic person — this type can be found in every religion and in non-religious groups. In fact, there is a bit of the so-called Pharisee in many of us. He is the fall guy in this story while the hated tax collector comes off fairly well. As a sort of “everyman” the Pharisee lacks self-knowledge. 

He is unacquainted with the inner — and sometimes darker — areas of his own mind and heart. He had created a false image of himself and he believed in it. He had also neglected to allow his religious teachings to penetrate and transform the deeper parts of his heart and psyche.

Spiritual teachings are useless unless they are applied to one’s life. He also thought of himself as completely separate from the tax collector and in another class altogether. Lost was a sense of common humanity.

The tax collector did not have the comfort of illusions or a false self. All had been stripped away — he could see and feel the depths of his own misery and brokenness. He could only cry out for mercy. Jesus insisted that he was the one who went home right in God’s eyes. He had a hopeful future, for he could begin living out of his true self.

We all stand in need of God’s mercy and most of us suffer from varying degrees of self-deception. The sooner we release the burden of falseness the better.

This parable would be a useful tool in healing some of the hate, bigotry and spiritual pride that are at the core of many of today’s ethical and religious debates.