30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Sirach declares, “[God] hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan or to the widow when she pours out her complaint.” The Lord who hears the cry of the poor created us in his image and likeness. Made in his image, we are to show compassion to the poor and marginalized around us just as our Creator does. Sirach is writing about people who are really poor and powerless, people who have no one to care for them by God. We who have been created in the image and likeness of God are His outreach to those who call upon Him. It is sad, even painful, to have to admit that the very people who were created to comfort the poor and suffering of the world actually contribute to their pain and torment. The poor have nothing and have to scrounge for what little they can find while the rich and powerful have far more than they need and build barns to store up their excess wealth and goods. Then when they lose interest in a thing or realize their eyes were bigger than their appetite, they throw it away. While they hear the cry of the poor, they turn a deaf ear to their plea and the hardness of their hearts withhold all expressions of compassion. Sad to say, but that “they” often includes US. “WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US” (Pogo).
Sirach tells us that the Lord hears the cry of the poor, the “anawim.” That term refers to the poor of every stripe: the vulnerable, the downtrodden, the handicapped, the marginalized, and the oppressed. The list also includes those of lowly status who have no earthly power. The poor have nowhere to go and find themselves totally dependent on God for all they need. The word “anawim” also refers to those who are bowed down in loving devotion and surrender to God. With this in mind, ponder the posture of the publican in the gospel parable. Bowed down with his head to the ground, in deep anguish of heart he utters his prayer: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
St. Paul wrote that Jesus emptied Himself of the glory that was rightfully His and lowered himself to the status of a servant. Seeing the desperate condition of the human race, he wept in anguish of heart. When God saw the posture of the tax collector he saw the reflection of his Son. Out of love for fallen mankind, Jesus despoiled himself of all he possessed so he could enrich those whom sin had brought low. Having been led into the House of God by the promptings of grace the tax collector acknowledged his poverty of soul and threw himself into the hands of God. Lying prostrate on the earth, the tax collector knew himself to be a worthless vessel of clay. Hearing his humble cry, God stretched forth his hands and raised him up.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Love was the only reason for the Word’s incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection. The Light of Christ came into the world to enlighten those who were wandering in the valley of darkness. The Word of God totally emptied himself to fill abundantly all who found life empty and meaningless. When the tax collector had fallen as low as he could go, God raised him up.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us: “The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear your call” (Is. 59:1). No matter how low we have fallen, He can lift us up. Like the tax collector, if we bow down in humble submission, the Lord will raise us up in glory. All who bow down in repentance are invited to lift up their eyes to the Cross from where shall come their hope of salvation. By focusing our gaze on the Lord we are shown the path that leads to life. The tax collector, whom no one looked upon with respect, or looked after with concern, was welcomed into the court of the Heavenly King. The Lord heard his plea and saved him out of his bondage.
The seer of Patmos wrote: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The repentant sinner does not merely get his heart set right, he gets a totally new heart. Once the sinner is lifted from the dust of the earth he becomes the workmanship of God, recreated in Christ Jesus. Looking at the work of His hands, God sees what He loves in His Son and declares it very good. The source of a person’s goodness is God. God is the giver of all good things. Our goodness reflects His goodness in us. Let me leave you with a thought for the day. This morning we heard a parable that dealt with God’s mercy and justice. God’s justice is about grace, which is lavishly given to the humble of heart but is denied to the proud and self-righteous. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.