30th Sunday in Ord. Time
Eccles 35:12-14.16-19; Ps. 32: 2-3. 17-19. 23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.16-18; Gospel of Luke 18:9-14
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 27 October 2019
In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus spoke to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else. By implication the Gospel is referring to the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had enough religion to be virtuous, but not enough to be humble. The Pharisees needed the humility of heart to treat and view others with greater respect. The Pharisees were self-righteous and boasts of themselves as being virtuous, while at the same time, condemned themselves when they condemned others as sinners.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us first note that while the Gospel episode points to the characteristic attitude of the Pharisees, St Luke intends today’s Gospel message to be for you and for me, and for all peoples, regardless of who we are.
There is a story of a Judy who went to her doctor with a whole series of complaints that she was feeling very unwell. Judy complained that she has been experiencing much aches and pains; loss of appetite, lack of sleep and the like. The doctor examined her and was convinced that there was nothing physically wrong with her. He suspected that it was Judy’s negative view of life and her anger, bitterness and resentment about people that is causing her to feel sick.
So, the wise doctor took Judy to a back room of his office and showed her a shelve of empty bottles of different shapes and sizes. He then said, “Judy, do you see all these bottles of different shapes and sizes and that they are all empty?” “Yes, I do,” replied Judy. The doctor then added, “You see, I could choose to fill any of these bottles with medicine or with poison. The medicine will bring cure to illnesses, and the poison can bring death to people. The choice is mine. Likewise, Judy, we too can choose to fill each day of our lives with either good thoughts and feelings about different people and the world, and bring peace and happiness to them or we can choose to sow division, and cause pain and misery to ourselves and to the lives of people and the world around us. The choice is ours.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we think badly of others like Judy, or have the self-righteous blindness of the Pharisees, who condemns others as sinners, but at the same time justify our own faults, failures and sinfulness, then we can be sure that insofar as we think negatively of others, and gossip and condemn them as sinners, we are guilty of not heeding Jesus’ words of wisdom to see “the splinter in our neighbour’s eyes, and to realise that there is a plank in our own.” And so, in the very act of condemning others, like Judy in our story and the Pharisees, we are also separating ourselves from God, and bringing pain and suffering upon ourselves.
However, if we are to reflect on the times we get upset, and reject and “condemn” others more clearly, we can also see that there are painful and traumatic situations where it is very understandable that we find it impossible to reconcile and forgive.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, even as we may admit that some deep wounds are humanly impossible to forgive, especially when the wrongs, injustice and evil done to us, have caused untold destruction to our families and future, in faith, we still have to hold on to the Gospel Truth of Jesus that “nothing is impossible to God” if we turn to His Merciful Love.
We have to pray for the grace never to allow the pains and miseries of our lives to distort who Jesus is to us, and never allow the darkness of our pain and misery to extinguish the flame God’s Mercy and Love that is within our hearts. This is possible only if we dare to trust God our Father more wholeheartedly. Jesus Himself during His deepest anguish on the Cross, prays with infinite Trust in His Father, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
To be able to articulate such words of forgiveness, and to hold on to the hope that the pain and miseries of life will pass, in God’s Time and Ways, is to live our faith in the humility of what Jesus affirms in today’s Gospel when He said, “Those who humble himself will be exalted.” And, this virtue of “humility” of trusting in the Lord never fails.
There is a story of a seven-year old boy, David who was playing at the back of the car with his older brother and sister. While they were playing and making a lot of noise, their mother, Linda feeling very deeply hurt and confused with being abandoned by her husband, could not take the noise any longer, turned around when the car stopped at the traffic, and slapped David across the face, and yelled at him. “And you! It is all your fault. I never wanted to have you. The only reason I had you was to keep your father. But, now where is he? He has left us. I hate you!”
This deeply wounded David; who was shocked and traumatised by the fact that he is never wanted and loved by his mother, and father who has left the family. Linda, would take it out on David and find fault with him; and would frequently yell at him that she hated him, and even physically abuse him, as she could not cope with her depression and the pressure of having to bring up her three children alone.
Many years later, David returned home to visit his mother, who is now frail and weak in her old age. David said to her, “Mom, I have something to say to you that I have kept in my heart for the past thirty-five years. I want to say that when you kept yelling at me to say that you hated me and when you beat me for the smallest reason until I left home, I can’t tell you how many times I relived those traumatic experiences. Perhaps, a thousand times.
On many occasions, when the rejection caused me such deep hurts and anger, and when the feeling of being worthless and unloved, plagued me, and the darkness threatening to overwhelm me, I almost ended my life. However, even in such darkest moments, strangely, something deep within me still gave me some glimmer of hope and light . . . which I could not understand.
One afternoon as I unexpectedly gazed at the crucifix in my room, I suddenly realised that what Jesus went through for me, was infinitely more painful and traumatic than what I have ever experienced. And then, deep in my heart I felt Jesus saying to me, “My brother, I love you, and I will never stop loving you; you are precious to Me . . . Your mother too suffered much. . . forgive her. I suddenly, experienced a deep peace within me . . . and realised how much you actually loved me, and my sister and brother.
For the first time, I realised that when dad yelled that he hated you when you quarrelled, it broke your heart and plunged you into the darkest and deepest abyss where you too were tempted to end your life. However, your love for us kept you going . . . Mom, Jesus showed me how as your child I reminded you of how much you have failed in your hopes of building a happy family. Jesus asked me to forgive you and He assured me that He will give me the strength to do so. And so, mom, I want you to know that I love you so very much and forgive you . . .
Linda embraced David . . . broke down and cried her heart out . . . and asked David to forgive her. David, said, “Mom, it is Jesus, who has now brought us together in His Forgiving Love and Mercy. He is inviting us to be reconciled with Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and Reconciliation . . .
My brothers and sisters in Christ, humanly speaking it would be virtually impossible for David to forgive his mother . . . yet, with humility within our hearts, and with God’s grace like David, we will be able to live in the wisdom of allowing God’s grace and Love to heal our deep woundedness and His Light to transform the darkness of our views of others into the humble perception of Jesus, who willingly surrendered His Life out of love for the Salvation of all mankind and when He prayed on His Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This is precisely the grace of healing that David in our story received, and how he was able to bring about the needed reconciliation with his mother.
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves once again that if our hearts are filled with the self-righteous pride of the Pharisees, then we can be sure that such false virtues will cause much division and destruction in our hearts, homes, and in relationships.
Our distorted views of people and the world, like that of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, or of Judy in our story, that condemns others as sinners, while at the same time justifying our own faults, weaknesses, and sinfulness will surely eventually destroy the deep peace that God wants to give to us.
However, if we are willing to heed the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel who says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted,” as with David in our story, we will then be able to live the fullness of our faith and find the deepest fulfilment of our lives as we will then be living in the wisdom of Jesus’ Gospel and in accordance to God’s Will.
And, in so living, become God’s disciple of Peace, Love and Truth to all peoples in our daily living. Do we wish to live such a life and faith daily? The choice is ours. And, if we do, then God will surely give us the graces, strength and wisdom to live in His Will and Ways.
Adapted from: More Sower’s Seeds, Second Planting; by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.; Paulist Press, New York, Mahwah, 1992; Nos.79, pp 59-60; Nos. 41, pp. 30.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.