GOD’S JUSTICE AND THE CRY OF THE POOR.
HOMILY FOR THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (MISSION SUNDAY). Readings: Sirach 25:12-14.16-18; Psalm 34; 2Timothy 4:6-8.16-18 and Luke 18:9-14.
We are in a society where justice has been submerged, oppression and intimidation keep rising as barriers has been set for a greater proportion of the people to access it. Many have been denied literacy, which enables them have access to the law and justice, this denial comes as a result of high level of poverty and social backwardness. Strategies such as delay in justice, pending cases, strike by lawyers; lack of transparency and less interaction with the society have been set to undermine justice. In view of this, the liturgy of today calls us to reflect on justice from a humble and divine perspective, with the theme of this year’s mission, “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
In the first reading, Sirach the wisdom writer presents to us the picture of God as a just judge. In the antecedents of today’s periscope, still in verse 12b, it says, “Do not offer him bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice.” He made mention of those who exercise injustice to the poor and bribe their way out to the priest of the temple by offering gifts of fattened lambs or a young bull for sacrifice, with the mindset that God will close his eyes to the injustice committed after receiving such gifts. Sirach strongly attack this false religion, and the periscope of today explains the reason for his condemnation when he says. “The Lord is just, and with him is no partiality” (Sirach 35:12c).
One of the things that moves God most is poverty, which is classified as the weaker person in the society. In view of this He said in the first reading ‘He will not ignore the supplication of the fatherless, nor the widow when she pours out her story’ (vv.13-14) and Psalm 68:5 affirms this saying, “I will be Father to the fatherless and protector of widows.” The prayer of these people, which are classified as the humble pieces the clouds unceasingly until it reaches the throne of God the just judge who will execute judgment (vv. 16-18). In this way, Sirach exalts us on the justice of God towards the poor, orphan, widow, weak in the society and so many whose voices cannot be heard.
Our mission is to be like God by exercising justice to the oppressed and to be the voice of the voiceless. For many of us, including priests and religious leaders who have become so partial by displaying favoritism to the rich who sometimes gives us tips, Sirach gives us warning to be careful not to fall victim of partiality against the poor or despise them. Let us be more careful on how we often associate with the rich at the detriment or neglect of the poor. Anyone who engages in a battle with the poor that is faithful to God engages in a battle with God, which is a lost battle. It is on this note the psalmist says, “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him” (Ps. 34:7).
In view of God’s interest for the poor, Christ in the gospel gives us some lessons on humility as regard the parable to rebuke the self righteous who despises others. It is a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. They both prayed but did not come to God the same way. On one hand, the Pharisee went to the temple to pray but did not pray. He spoke with himself, not with God and in his short prayer, he uses the first person pronoun (I) repeatedly for about five times. In his prayer, there was no adoration, no confession or supplication, only thanksgiving. His thanksgiving moreover, is self centered and, therefore, not pleasing to God. He has everything he needs and he is better than other people, whom he characterizes as extortionist, unjust, adulterers and tax collectors, and so could ask nothing from God. This prideful attitude of course is the problem. He has created a universe that revolves around himself. His overblown sense of self separates him, not only from other people, but from God. He compared himself only to the worst element in his society and pronounces himself excellent by comparison. When picking a standard by which to measure ourselves, we need to look higher. The only faithful standard is Jesus. When we compare ourselves to Jesus, our sins will be obvious and we will not be tempted to the kind of pride that taints the Pharisee.
On the other hand, is the tax collector, “Standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me sinner’” (vv. 12-13). His prayer is simple and direct. He cannot claim any virtue, and can hope only for mercy. It has much in keeping with the great penitential psalm: “Have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleans me from my sin. My offenses truly I know them, my sin is always before me…” (Ps. 51:1-2) and Christ said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v.14). This tax collector has no commendable thing to discourse on; his only virtue is his humility, which allows him to ask for mercy. Invariably, justification is not something we can accomplish on our own. We can only receive it as a gift from God. This is what St. Paul recognized in the second reading when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith; from now on there is laid for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will award me” (2Tim 4:7-8).
In a way to minimize injustice, the Church has instituted the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) as one of her aids to the voiceless and the poor in the society. As individuals, what effort do we make to eradicate injustice in our homes and society at large? We are reminded; that we have a mission to bear witness to holiness and the secret of it is humility, which enables us to ask for mercy. May God give us the grace to stand for whatever is true, just and holy at all time through Christ our Lord. Amen!
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ