by Father William R. Dulaney
When you speak, tell a story, or communicate in any way, you believe you have something important to say; hope your audience understands your message; and want your message to have an impact on and make a difference in your listeners’ lives.
In speaking about the Bible, Vatican II said, “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted to put into the Sacred Writings for the sake of our salvation” and “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching … so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind.”
Mindful of the goals of communication and the purpose of Sacred Scripture, we approach today’s readings in which we encounter orphans and widows who cry to God for justice, a fearless apostle who knows his days are numbered, a self-righteous boaster and a man laden with guilt because of his sins.
In these texts, God teaches us the importance of humility as we work toward our salvation.
The selection from Sirach proclaims God’s concern for the powerless, the poor, the orphan and the widow: “The Lord is a God of justice who knows no favorites … he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow … The one who serves God willingly is heard … the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.”
God is not impressed with the rich and powerful. Wealth and status do not guarantee salvation.
St. Paul’s summary of his apostolic endeavors in Second Timothy indicates he has submitted himself completely to God’s will. He has poured himself out in the preaching of the Gospel, has experienced the humility of a trial and imprisonment and knows he will be put to death. Throughout his ministry, Paul never glorified himself.
Today’s Gospel parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector proclaims, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Pharisee appears not to realize he is a sinner. He is not open to receiving God’s grace and seems ignorant of his need for it.
We might wonder if his prayer is a prayer of gratitude or the Pharisee’s way of showing he is delighted with himself. In exalting himself and locking out his need for God, there is little chance he’ll go home from the temple justified.
In praying as he did, the tax collector gave evidence he experienced the dark night of the soul and the complete poverty of the sinner to the extent that he began to be filled with disgust at his sins and contempt for his sinfulness.
Just as arrogance and pride can be stumbling blocks in our relationship with God, so can they be in our dealings with others. Most of us probably shake our heads with disgust at the Pharisee’s boasting. We tend to be put off by people who put on airs and convey a holier than thou or condescending attitude and welcome the opportunity to cut them down to size. When we are boastful or condescending, others feel the same about us.
If we approach God with humility, recognizing our faults and weaknesses and our need for His mercy and grace, we dispose ourselves to be more tolerant of others’ imperfections and make it easier for others to be comfortable with us and accept our limitations.
Today’s Scriptures communicate an encouraging message – God wants us to turn to Him, receive His grace and be saved.
If our reflection on these texts renders us less conceited and boastful, more understanding of others and appreciative of God’s grace, His message has been effective, and we have allowed it to make an impact on and a difference in our lives. Anytime we respond to God’s Word in this way, we and others are richer and better for it.[hr]
Readings for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sirach 35: 12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34: 2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Luke 18: 9-14[hr]
Father William R. Dulaney, parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great parish, Bellerose, is an adjunct spiritual director at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst, and part-time chaplain at St. Edmund Prep, Sheepshead Bay.