To hear the Audio reflections of November 1, 2016 click HERE
Monday, 31 October 2016
To read the texts click on the texts: Rev 7:2-4,9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3;Mt 5:1-12
“I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in”. These words from the popular spiritual song “When the Saints Go Marching In” can be regarded as one of the two important reasons why we celebrate the feast of All Saints.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III consecrated a new chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all saints on November 1, and he fixed the anniversary of this dedication as the date of the feast. In the ninth century, Pope Gregory IV extended the celebration of All Saints for the entire Church and since then, the Church celebrates the feast of all Saints on this date.
While the celebration of this solemnity may be seen on the one hand as a remembrance or memorial of the numerous courageous men and women who lived lives of selfless love, it may also be seen as an event which makes each of us aware that we, too, as those who have gone before, are capable of living such lives. It is a celebration of possibilities, potential and promise. They could, we also can.
This possibility and potential is brought out vividly in the first reading from the Book of Revelation. While on the one hand there are the chosen one hundred and forty four thousand made up of twelve thousand each from the twelve tribes of
is also the great multitude from every nation and tribe and language. This
great multitude is a demonstration that the possibility of being included is a
very real one and that everyone who desires it can receive it. While it is true
that the choice is made by God, we as humans can desire it by being willing to
be washed in the blood of the lamb. This means the willingness to undergo
persecution, trials and tribulations and resisting the pressure to conform to
values of the “world” which include selfishness and self centeredness. Israel
This willingness not to conform is precisely the reason why, in the Gospel text of today, Jesus can declare as “blessed”, those who in the eyes of the world might seem as those who are cursed. This declaration is a confident assertion of the reality that is now and here. The beatitudes are not a “wish list” nor a projection of the future state of what is to come. They are not conditions for discipleship or preliminary requirements for an initiate. Rather, they describe those who belong to the community of the Lord. They describe the Saints.
The nine pronouncements, or declarations, are thus not statements about general human virtues. Rather, they pronounce blessing on authentic disciples in the Christian community. All the beatitudes apply to one group of people. They do not describe nine different kinds of good people who get to go to heaven, but are nine declarations about the blessedness, contrary to all appearances, of the eschatological community living in anticipation of God’s reign.
“Poor in spirit” definitely includes being economically poor, but goes further than literal poverty. It refers also to an absence of arrogance and the presence of dependence. It refers to an absence of ego and a presence of awareness that one’s true identity is found only in God.
The “mourning” of disciples is not because of the loss of something personal or because of the death of a loved one. It is a mourning that is outward in that the mourning is because things are the way they are. The mourning is because God’s will is not being done and represents also a desire to do it. It is mourning because of what is not and also because of what can be.
Meekness in the third beatitude represents not a passive attitude of endurance or as is sometimes understood: gullibility. Rather it is an active disposition that will refuse to use violent means. This refusal does not represent inability, weakness or impotence. It represents instead a deliberate choice of one’s way of proceeding.
This is also what is meant by the desire or hunger for righteousness or justice. It is the courage to do God’s will here and now with the confidence and optimism that the kingdom is indeed now and here.
The disciples are pure in heart or have a single minded devotion to God and will not be swayed by things that are temporary and passing. They will not be divided or serve two masters. They will serve the Lord and the Lord alone.
This single minded service of the Lord will also enable them to work for peace and reconciliation. They will bring together people of different experiences, races, religions, and languages not through any kind of coercion or force, but through the example of consecrated and selfless lives. All this they will do with a deep sense of joy, because they know that this is really the only way to live fully and completely the life that God in his graciousness has bestowed.
It is the same God who calls them his children and to whom he is Father. The disciples know that this is indeed what they are because they live lives that are in keeping with their call.
The elder who invited John to identify those robed in white continues to invite us not only to identify them today, but also to have the confidence that, if we dare to live as Jesus has lived and shown us and as the Saints who have gone before us have lived, then we too can be counted in that number.
Sunday, 30 October 2016
Monday, October 31, 2016 - St. Alphonsus Rodriguez - “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.”
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 6:10-18; Lk 14:1,11-17
Alphonsus Rodriguez SJ (1533-1617) was the spiritual director of St. Peter Claver who is known as the slave of slaves. It was the influence of Alphonsus that inspired Peter to give himself so completely to God in his service of slaves.
Alphonsus’s early years in Segovia, Spain, was a story of tragedies. When he was fourteen, his father died and he left school to help his mother run the family business. At twenty-three he married, but his wife died in childbirth three years later. Within a few years his mother and son also died. On top of this, his business was failing, so he sold it. Recognizing a late vocation to religious life, he applied for admission to the Jesuits at Segovia, but was refused because he was not educated. Undaunted, Alphonsus returned to Latin school, humbly bearing the ridicule of his adolescent classmates. Finally, in 1571, the Jesuit provincial accepted him as a lay brother. He was sent to Montesione College on Majorca, where he served as doorkeeper for forty-five years.
Whenever a visitor rang the bell of the College, Alphonsus would go to admit the visitor with the words, “Yes, Lord I am coming”. Legend has it that on one occasion Jesus and his mother Mary did actually appear to him.
His post allowed him to minister to many visitors. And he became spiritual adviser to many students. He exerted wide-reaching influence, most notably in guiding St. Peter Claver into his mission to the slaves.
Alphonsus adhered to a few simple spiritual guidelines that navigated him through his troubles and trials. For example, a method for finding joy in hardship:
“Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before our crucified Lord, looking at him full of sorrow, shedding his blood and bearing great bodily hardships for me.
As love is paid for in love, I must imitate him, sharing in spirit all his sufferings. I must consider how much I owe him and what he has done for me. Putting these sufferings between God and my soul, I must say, “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.” Amid the hardship and trial itself, I stimulate my heart with this exercise. Thus, I encourage myself to endure for love of the Lord who is before me, until I make what is bitter sweet. In this way learning from Christ our Lord, I take and convert the sweet into bitter, renouncing myself and all earthly and carnal pleasures, delights and honors of this life, so that my whole heart is centered solely on God”.
In his old age, Alphonsus experienced no relief from his trials. The more he mortified himself, the more he seemed to be subject to spiritual dryness, vigorous temptations, and even diabolical assaults. In 1617 his body was ravaged with disease and he died at midnight, October 30.
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) summarized the life of Alphonsus in these words:Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
The Gospel text chosen for the feast is from the Gospel of Luke and is set in the context of a meal. It contains instructions on behaviour to guests who were invited. Meals were important social ceremonies, and very little was left to chance. In his instructions, Jesus advocates what may be termed as practical humility, with words from Proverbs 25:6-7. It must be noticed that when the host asks the guest to move down from the place of honour, no term of address, respect or affection is used, whereas when the host invites the guest to move up, the guest is addressed as “friend”. The future tense that is used in 14:11 (“will be humbled”, “will be exalted”) points beyond the immediate situation to the reversal of values that is characteristic of the economy of God’s kingdom.
When one realises that God accepts one unconditionally, the result is practical humility. This is what Alphonsus realised already in his life and now in his afterlife.
Monday, October 31, 2016 - When was the last time you did an act without expecting anything in return? Will you attempt to do such an act today?
To read the texts click on the texts:Phil 2:1-4; Lk 14:12-14
In the context of the meal to which Jesus was invited and in which he noticed how guests chose places of honour, the Lucan Jesus directs these verses to the host. The challenge in these verses is that the host not invite others in order to gain a private advantage. The four groups that one must not invite (friends, brothers, relatives and rich neighbours) are balanced by the four groups that one must dare to invite (the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind). The point of inviting the latter group is that they will not be able to repay the favour. The reward or repayment for such an act will come from God himself.
If we understand that unconditional love means expecting nothing in return from the person that one loves, then we can understand what Jesus is inviting us to in the text of today. However, many of us like to keep a record of the right that we have done for others so that they might do the same for us. Our relationships are built on barter rather than love.
Saturday, 29 October 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016 - When you encounter the Lord, your response to life will surprise even you?
To read the texts click on the texts:Wis11:22-12:2; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10.
God is available and patient. If there are two qualities of God that stand out in the readings of today, they are availability and patience.
The first reading from Wisdom stresses that it is God’s compassion and patience that makes God overlook all the shortcomings of humans. It is God’s availability that makes him accessible to those who seek and search for him. God does not hide from the earnest seeker and he is there, waiting to be found.
The story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus, which is exclusive to the Gospel of Luke, brings out both these qualities of God. It is the last encounter of Jesus with “outcasts” before he enters
. It takes place when Jesus is
passing through Jerusalem Jericho, on his way to . Zacchaeus is
the name of the tax collector who, Luke informs us, is “rich” He desired to see
Jesus, though we do not know why. However,
there were obstacles to his desire. The first was the crowd and the second, his
short stature. These are interconnected. If there was no crowd, his short stature
would not have mattered. And, if he wwas tall, the crowd would not have
mattered. Zacchaeus did not allow these obstacles to hinder him because his
desire was genuine. He took steps to
overcome these obstacles. He did what no grown man at his time would normally
do: he ran. And even worse: he climbed a tree. He was willing to face ridicule
and being mocked by the crowd in order to do what he had set about to do. He
gave up his self-importance and his dignity. All that mattered to him was to
see and to encounter Jesus. He was an earnest seeker and his search was
rewarded. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but
it was Jesus who really saw him. Jerusalem
On coming to the place where Zacchaeus was perched, Jesus called to him. The call was a call to intimacy and companionship. It was a call to stay at Zacchaeus’ home and be his guest. It was a call to friendship. Zacchaeus’ response was dramatic, especially since Jesus did not ask for a conversion or change. Jesus made no judgement about the past or present behaviour of Zacchaeus. Jesus did not call Zacchaeus to repentance. Jesus made no demands at all. The response came from the deepest recesses of Zacchaeus’ heart. It was an inner transformation that manifested itself in his repentant action and in his becoming a whole new creation. From that moment, Zacchaeus’ life was changed.
This transformation and change was the result of having encountered, even in that brief moment of contact with Jesus, total acceptance, recognition, and unconditional love. This is the love that the first reading speaks about. This is the love that loves everything that exists. This is the love that loathes nothing and no one. This is the love that sees, in every person, the image of God. This is the love that does not attempt to correct the faults of others but which results in persons correcting their faults because they have experienced this love.
Since God loves first, the exhortation of Paul to the Thessalonians, in the second reading of today, is to live lives worthy of this love and the call to which they are called. It is a call to manifest the same love that they have received so that through it, they may be able to reveal the available and patient God made visible in Jesus.
So many are seeking for God today and cannot seem to find him. The irony is that God is everywhere if we but open our eyes, ears, and hearts to see. The irony is that God wants to be found. There are a few requirements that each of us must keep in mind if we are to find God. The first of these is a genuine desire to see, to encounter, and to touch God. We will know if this desire is genuine if we, like Zacchaeus, do not give up in the face of obstacles but instead, persevere. Our desire is genuine if we do not let external obstacles get us down. It is genuine if we will not wait till tomorrow, but are determined to find God “today”. It is true, however, like in the case of Zacchaeus, that we do not really find God. Rather, God finds us. When God does find us, we must be attentive and listen rather than be anxious to speak. God will make no demands of us. God will not ask us to change. God will simply keep revealing that, in Jesus, he is unconditional love. An experience of this love in Jesus will lead to a transformation in our lives like it led to a transformation in the life of Zacchaeus. Like Zacchaeus, we will surprise, not only others but even ourselves with the response we will make to God and others. We will become more generous, more loving, more concerned, and more willing to give so that others may have and live.
Friday, 28 October 2016
Saturday, October 29, 2016 - Do you agree with this statement, “Humility is a funny thing, once you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it”? Why?
To read the texts click on the texts: Phil 1:18-26; Lk 14:1,7-11
Since the text of today includes 14:1,which spoke of a Sabbath setting, this text must be seen in that light.
The text is set in the context of a meal, and contains instructions on behaviour to guests who were invited. Meals were important social ceremonies, and very little was left to chance. In his instructions, Jesus advocates what may be termed as practical humility, with words from Proverbs 25:6-7. It must be noticed that when the host asks the guest to move down from the place of honour, no term of address, respect or affection is used, whereas when the host invites the guest to move up, the guest is addressed as “friend”. The future tense that is used in 14:11 (“will be humbled”, “will be exalted”) points beyond the immediate situation to the reversal of values that is characteristic of the economy of God’s kingdom.
When one realises that God accepts one unconditionally, the result is practical humility. Another consequence is that one MUST be able to accept others unconditionally.
Thursday, 27 October 2016
Friday, October 28, 2016 - Saints Simon and Jude - You have been called by the Lord. How will you respond to that call?
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 2:19-22; Lk 6:12-19
Jude is one of the twelve Apostles in the list of Luke (and also Acts of the Apostles). Some think that since Jude is not mentioned by Matthew and Mark but Thaddeus is, that Jude and Thaddeus are the same person. Besides mention in the list of the Twelve, he is not well known.
Simon is mentioned in all four lists of the apostles. In two of them he is called "the Zealot." The title probably indicates that he belonged to a Jewish sect that represented an extreme of Jewish nationalism. For them, the messianic promise of the Old Testament meant that the Jews were to be a free and independent nation. God alone was their king, and any payment of taxes to the Romans—the very domination of the Romans—was a blasphemy against God. Nothing in the scriptures speaks of his activities as a Zealot.
The Gospel text chosen for the feast of these Saints is The naming of the twelve apostles. By placing the appointment of the Twelve immediately after the controversies with the Pharisees—and the dramatic distinction between old and new that these controversies exposed—Luke presents the appointment of the Twelve as the constitution of a new nucleus for the people of God, perhaps in deliberate succession to the twelve tribes of Israel. The conflicts between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees have already shown that they represent the old and that, therefore, they are no more fit for leadership in the kingdom than old wineskins are fit for new wine. The events at this juncture of the Gospel foreshadow the opposition that will lead to Jesus’ death and the witness of the apostles in Acts.
Luke again signals the introduction of a new scene by means of “Now it came to pass” and a temporal phrase: “Now during those days.” The significance of the coming scene is indicated both by its setting on a mountain and the report that Jesus spent the night in prayer. The only other time Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray in Luke is the occasion of the transfiguration (9:28), just prior to the start of his journey to Jerusalem. Prayer is a regular feature of Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus and the growth of the church, and references to prayer often occur in connection with significant turning points in this history (Luke 3:21, the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus; 9:18, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah; 9:28, the transfiguration; 11:1, the Lord’s prayer; and 22:40-46, Gethsemane). It is not surprising; therefore, that Luke adds a reference to prayer at this point.
In one verse, Luke refers to “the disciples,” “the Twelve,” and “apostles,” but the terms are not synonymous and do not refer to the same groups. In Luke’s account, in contrast to Mark and Matthew, the Twelve are distinct from the larger group of disciples: “He called his disciples and chose twelve of them.” In the next scene Jesus is still surrounded by “a great crowd of his disciples” (6:17). Luke states that Jesus named the twelve “apostles,” thereby characterizing their role as witnesses. The references to apostles in the early church in Acts and in the rest of the New Testament make it clear that many who were not among the Twelve were still called apostles.
The points being made by this text of the naming of the Twelve in Luke may be summarized as under:
- God calls those whom God wants. The individual’s merit or talent is not a necessary condition for the call. God graces those who are called and equips them for Mission. The initiative is always with God, but the response is from the human.
- Like God called Israel and then Jesus called the Twelve to continue the Mission that was given to Israel to be that Contrast Community, so God continues to call even today. Consequently, blessing and mission are vital aspects of God’s purpose for the community of faith, whether it be Israel or the church.
- Particularly in Luke, the call to follow Jesus is a call to imitate him, and in Acts we see the disciples continuing to do what Jesus began during his ministry. Jesus blessed the poor and the outcast; he ate with the excluded and defended them against the religious authorities. Jesus showed compassion on the weak, the sick, and the small, and in these matters the disciples had a particularly hard time in following Jesus’ example. Nevertheless, if discipleship and lordship are directly related, then the Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus is vital for the church. We can follow Jesus in the Lukan sense only when we see clearly who he is. Ultimately, of course, the Gospel challenges each reader to respond to the call to discipleship and join the Twelve as followers of Jesus.
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016 - When things get difficult in life, do you like Jesus continue to persevere or do you cave in?
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 6:10-20; Lk 13:31-35
The text of today begins with the Pharisees informing Jesus of Herod’s plan to kill him. In his response to this information Jesus makes clear that he will not die out of season just as another victim of Herod, but that he will finish the work that has been given to him by God. In his reference to Herod as “that fox’, Jesus indicates that Herod is sly and cunning and seeks only destruction. His demonstration of the fact that the kingdom is present is found in his acts of making people whole. The reference to three days may refer to the death of Jesus in Jerusalem when he completes the work given to him.
The second part of this pericope (13:34-35) has a parallel in Matthew (Mt 23:37-39) and contains Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. He wanted to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her brood. In other words he wanted to offer her his love and protection, but she refused and rejected him. Since this is the case, they are responsible for their own fate, which for those who reject God is destruction.
To be faithful to what we begin and see its completion even in the face of adversity requires perseverance and courage. It also requires openness to the grace of God.
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 6:1-6; Lk 13:22-30
The first verse of today’s text 13:22, reintroduces the journey motif, which began in 9:51, where we were told that Jesus set out resolutely for Jerusalem. In response to a question of whether only a few will be saved, Jesus responds not with a direct answer, but by placing the onus of entry into the kingdom on each individual’s shoulders. This is because while the door is open it does not necessarily mean that anyone will enter it.
God will not force a person to enter if he/she does not want to do so. While Jesus does not explicate what striving to enter through the narrow door entails, he states clearly that once the door has been shut, it will not be opened to those who presume that the Lord knows them. This means that the believer is challenged to do what he/she has to do and not presume or take for granted that salvation is assured and especially if one is not willing to receive it. God’s grace is abundant but can only be received by those who want to receive it.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I …. I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost)
Monday, 24 October 2016
Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - Have you sometimes been tempted to give in to despair when you look at the injustice, corruption and negatives around you? Will these parables help give you hope?
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 5:21-23; Lk 13:18-21
In the two parables that make up the text of today, we once again find the mention of a man and a woman. While in the first parable of the mustard seed, it is a “man” who sows, in the second parable of the yeast; it is a “woman” who mixes it. The parable of the mustard seed is found also in Mark and Matthew, whereas the parable of the yeast is in Matthew but not in Mark.
The Lukan version of the parable of the mustard seed is the shortest of the three. It lacks the description of the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds (Mt 13:31; Mk 4:31) or the mature plant as “the greatest of all shrubs” (Mt 13:32; Mk 4:32). The point that Luke seems to be making by omitting these details is that rather than compare the kingdom to a mighty cedar, be describes it is terms of an insignificant seed. The emphasis is not on future glory, but on the present sign of its presence, even though it cannot be seen as clearly as some would like to. In Luke, it is a parable of the beginnings of the kingdom and not on its final manifestation. The people expected a spectacular, extra-ordinary cedar, but Jesus preferred to bring the kingdom as insignificantly as a mustard seed.
The point of the parable of the yeast in Luke is not the same as the point being made in the parable of the mustard seed. In this parable it is a clearly a case of small beginnings contrasted with great endings. While the quantity of yeast is not specified, the use of the word “hid’, indicates that it is an extremely small quantity. In contrast the three measures of flour that are leavened are the equivalent of fifty pounds of flour, enough to make bread for about 0ne hundred fifty people. The kingdom like the yeast will eventually leaven the whole of humanity.
While the parable of the mustard seed dramatises the presence of the kingdom in its insignificant beginnings, the parable of the yeast reminds us that even small beginnings are powerful and eventually change the character of the whole.
When we realise that with the motley crew that Jesus chose he could achieve so much in the world, then we realise that his words in the parable are indeed true. The kingdom does have insignificant beginnings, but even this insignificant or small beginning has resulted and will continue to result in great endings.
Monday, October 24, 2016 - Has your adherence to rules and regulations sometime blinded you from love?
To read the texts click on the texts: Eph 4:32-5:8; Lk 13:10-17
In Luke, scenes involving a man are often balanced with scenes involving a woman. The healing of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years which is our text for today is paralleled with the healing of a man with dropsy (Lk 14:1-6). Like this healing that one too occurs on the Sabbath, and in both there is a controversy with a leader of the synagogue. In both miracles there is a pronouncement as well as a healing, and in both Jesus invites his opponents to reason what they should do for a fellow human being from what they would do for an ox.
This is the last time in Luke that Jesus enters a synagogue, though he will continue to teach even in later chapters. In this incident, the main point that is made is that concern over the suffering of fellow human beings takes precedence over obligations related to keeping the Sabbath.
Love takes precedence over rules and regulations. The number eighteen (the number of years for which the woman was sick) does not seem to have any special significance except that it is a long period of time and is probably to link this scene with the previous one in which eighteen persons perished when the tower of Siloam fell (Lk 13:4). Jesus heals the woman by both a pronouncement and a laying on of hands. The latter may also be taken to indicate the conferral of a blessing on the woman. The leader of the synagogue does not address Jesus directly, but speaks to the crowd and expresses his indignation that a healing took place on the Sabbath. His focus is not on the wholeness of the woman but on the breaking of the law. Jesus too, in his response addresses the crowd and challenges his opponents to reason from the lesser to the greater. Since a bound animal would surely be unbound even if the day were a Sabbath, a human person who had been bound would most definitely be unbound. The result of Jesus’ pronouncement is that all his opponents were put to shame. It seems that while the woman was only physically crippled, the leader of the synagogue was spiritually crippled.
It is possible that because of our myopic vision we might sometimes lose sight of the larger picture. While it is good to have our own point of view, we must also keep in mind that ours is one point of view and there will be others, and therefore ours will not necessarily be the correct one.
Sunday, 23 October 2016
To read the texts click on the texts: Sir 35:15-17,20-22; 2 Tim 4:6-8; Lk 18:9-14
The Parable in today’s Gospel is popularly known as that of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. However, it is not so much about these persons as it is about the disposition for prayer in any person. This parable is exclusive to Luke and is addressed, not to the Pharisees but to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” This could be a description of any self-righteous person. There is a great difference between being righteous and being self-righteous. The righteous person knows that he / she is dependent on God and can do nothing without God’s help. The self-righteous person, on the other hand, is so filled with self importance and pride that he / she cannot see beyond his / her own nose. These self-righteous assume that God is dependent on them.
The defect of the Pharisee in the Parable is not that he gives thanks for what God has done for him. This is laudable. The defect is in his prideful disdain for others. He contrasts himself to a rash of unsavoury people – the greedy, the dishonest, adulterers – but saves the tax collector for the end. His very position of prayer betrays his pride. He steps apart from the crowd, as if God could not notice him wherever he is. The tax collector, however, simply stands at a distance and will not even raise his eyes to heaven. His bodily posture is itself a prayer. His plea to God, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!” confirms this.
He goes home, made just in God’s eyes. The justice of God accepts the unjust and the ungodly. The parable summons us to a prayer of love and trust in God’s mercy. It frees us from the need to tell God who is a sinner and who is not. It summons us to realize that, even when we are righteous, it is because of God’s grace that we can be so. Only those who can acknowledge their own weaknesses feel the need to turn to God in prayer with sentiments of humility. But those who stand before God and others with an attitude of “Look what I have made of myself” will hardly realize the need to ask for God’s help in doing good. They presume that they can manage it by themselves. These are the ones who do not realize that their ability to be good and to do good is itself a reward from God.
The Pharisee in today’s Gospel very likely did live a life devoid of greed, dishonesty, and adultery. He probably did fast and tithe. But he did not realize that it was the goodness of God that lifted him up so that he could act in this righteous manner. He believed instead, that it was his own goodness that raised him up above others. On the other hand, in order to gain a livelihood, the tax collector likely did extort money from taxpayers. He was a sinner, and knew he was a sinner. But, he also knew that only God could lift him up. It was the tax collector’s humble demeanour that earned God’s grace.
The second reading of today shows that, in some ways, Paul resembles both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Like the Pharisee, he boasts of his accomplishments. He has competed well; he has finished the race; he has kept the faith; he has earned a crown of righteousness. Paul never denies the character of his commitment or the extent of his ministerial success. But, like the tax collector, he knows the source of his ability to accomplish these things. He says, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” For Paul, all the glory belongs to God. Paul believes that he will receive “a crown of righteousness.” However, his attitude is radically different from that of the Pharisees in the Gospel. Paul knows of, and realizes, his nothingness. All the good that he is able to do to “fight the good fight” and to “run the race to the finish”, has been made possible by God’s help. Although he seems sure of being rewarded, he recognizes the reward as coming from God, not from himself. His affirmation at the end of the reading summarises this attitude. It is the Lord, and not his own accomplishments, who will give to him the crown of righteousness.
In Christianity and in the following of Jesus, there is no room for arrogance. We are all limited human beings with weaknesses that can trip us up if we are not vigilant. We are all poor and lowly, in need of the protection and strength that come to us from God. We are all sinners, dependent on divine mercy. It is indeed foolish and vain to think that we are better than others. It does no good whatsoever to treat others with disrespect or disdain.
Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. Therefore, persons who exalt themselves over others and boast of their virtue before God will discover that they have cut themselves off from both. Persons who are aware of their need for grace and forgiveness will be unable to disrespect or despise other people.