Homily of the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
HOMILY: WHOEVER EXALTS HIMSELF WILL BE HUMBLED
The problem of pride and self-righteousness is a common strain in World Religions. Adherents of many World Religions see themselves as special and righteous while seeing others as filt. The high level of religious intolerance and killings in some parts of the world is not unconnected with this feeling of superiority arising from relationship with God.
God is the highest being and worshippers of God feel elevated by their relationship with him.
In human relationships people also feel elevated when they can easily relate with the great and famous. However, such human relations are always based on social class.
But not so with God! God rather identifies with the weak, the poor, the needy, orphans, widows and the lowly.
The mid 20th Century theology of the Catholic Church was aflush with the idea of God’s Fundamental Option for the Poor. The idea holds that God is inclined to the support and care of the poor and the needy than the rich and the affluent. The whole story of the Israelites and many passages of the Bible appear to be in support of this Divine Fundamental Option for the Poor. The readings of today and the Psalm shows God’s tender disposition towards the lowly.
The first reading from the book of Sirach presents God as a God of justice who is not partial to the poor but hears their prayers and rescues them from their oppressors.
God’s tender disposition toward the lowly is also manifest in today’s gospel. Many Lukan parables present two major actors in relation to God; one ends up being the hero while the other a villain. There is always a touch of irony. Sometimes the ones that appear good end up badly, while the ones already condemned end up displaying true righteousness, e.g. The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, The Samiratan Leper, etc.
The parable of today is typical. Luke starts this parable with a definition of Jesus’s audience, “those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else”. The Pharisees have always prided themselves as the righteous while they regard others as evil. This Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14 behaved no differently from the other Pharisees. Seeing a tax collector in the temple, this reaction is not surprising.
How often do we fall into this category of Jesus’s audience. While we were in the seminary, such tendencies were often seen among young seminarians, some look at others as unworthy of the priesthood and prided themselves as more qualified, but in some cases the self-righteous ones never make it to the priesthood and those of them that make it are surprised to learn that those they wrote off from the beginning not only become priests but are often more passionate about the work than themselves. The Words of Jesus in today’s gospel are never short of fulfilment, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”(Luke 18:14).
The contrast between the Pharisee and the tax collector in prayer is striking. The Pharisee came in and took up “his position”. The Jewish worship admits of positions for different classes of worshippers. In the Churches today, there are many positions. There are various titles, starting from the Knights to the Special Mothers and Fathers among the CWO and CMO respectively. Many of these titles are sometimes alloted special sitting positions in Church, and it is not unusual to see these members of Christ’s body bragging and brimming of self-importance during liturgical celebrations. Such taking up of positions may be deceitful and may induce one into self-adulation and pomposity.
When humans go before great men to ask for favour, they most likely appear very humble and servile. Sometimes it is very difficult to gain admission into the presence of great and powerful men. But God out of love for his creation has chosen to hide his awe from men and to assume simplicity. Why then are we who are mere dust so full of ourselves?
In Jesus the Son of God, humility is perfected. “He humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). His attitude in prayer is most exemplary. He prayers were always in humility, always giving glory to his Father and submitting to his will.
Who else could understand the irony of self-righteousness than Paul. Being once a Pharisee he had also prided himself and molested others. Once he encountered Jesus, he saw how vile he was even while keeping the Law, and began to preach grace.
But he himself was to suffer rejection and belittling from fellow Pharisees and eventually fellow Christians. He continued striving nonetheless, and being presented severally for trial he had none but God on his side. In this second letter to Timothy, he desires only the crown that God gives and not that of self-righteousness.
May we learn the humility of the tax collector in prayer and be blessed by the Word of God through Christ our Lord, amen.
-Fr. Precious Ezeh