30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 23 October 2016

Every Christian is a Missionary

Scripture Reading – Luke 18:9-14

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Every Christian is a Missionary”

by Raymond McIntyre SDB

On this Sunday, World Mission Day, by Prayer and in other ways – a letter or e-mail, financial contribution, a visit to a Missionary’s family – we support men and women who have given their lives in the service of Faith and of Justice all over the world.

Jesus committed his followers to carry out the task of bringing the Good News of God’s love for Humanity to all peoples and to offer Everlasting Life and happiness to all who believe.

From the outset,the First Disciples of Jesus came to a clear understanding that He was depending on them to continue His Mission in the world.When those First Disciples went out into the unbelieving and hostile world of the first century a.d. They attributed their success to the added support of the Risen Lord.

Missionary activity has been a constant feature of the Church down through the centuries.One of the greatest Missionaries was St. Francis Xaviour who was remarkable for his constant travel,incessant work and great dedication in bringing the Nations into the Household of the Faith. He was the Saint in a hurry to fulfill Our Lord’s wish to Teach all Nations.

While in no way taking away from the generosity and self-sacrifice of those who left everything to work as Missionaries in foreign lands,it is important to say that all followers of Christ are called to be Missionaries by virtue of Baptism.

A great example of this Universal Call to Mission is the life of The Little Flower-St.Therese of Lisieux-who earned the title Patron Saint of the Missions.Therese was a woman of Prayer who entered the enclosed order of the Carmelites.She never left her convent to go on the Missions as her health was too poor and she died at the age of 24.Yet her tireless Prayer and the little sacrifices made for the Missions e.g. she was especially kind to the sisters she didn’t like-all of this was her contribution to the Church’s Mission.

There is no place where the Church is not Missionary because every Parish,Home and Workplace is a Mission Field where neglected areas are in need of the Good News.Christians are bearers of the Good News of Salvation when they live a good life because this may be the only Book of the Gospel open for those searching for the truth to read.As Cardinal Newman once wrote: “let me preach to you without preaching, not by my words but by my example”.

Today,apart fron our manner of life and our ability to reach out to others the message we preach faces other challenges,namely the decline in religious practice and indifference as many professed Christians do not allow Gospel Values to influence their everyday activities.In spite of these difficulties,We Christians should always remind ourselves that our Faith is for sharing and for handing on to the next generation.On this Mission Sunday we askChrist the Lord to make our Faith strong enough so that we may be eager to share it with others.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

With the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus continued the teaching on prayer that he had begun with the parable of the needy widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). Of course, Jesus wanted his disciples to pray always, without ceasing, but he warned them that they should not think they were better than others just because they prayed more often. According to the Evangelist, Jesus told the parable because he saw some people who thought they were good enough to despise those who were not like them. He was aware that the pious often fall into the temptation to use their prayer as a reason to feel satisfied with themselves because of what they have achieved through prayer or what they expect to get just because they have prayed … even to the extent of despising their neighbour and not taking God seriously.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Although it might seem that the Gospel passage is about the way we pray, or rather two different ways of praying, this is not actually the intention of the narrator. Before he relates the parable, Luke tells us when – and why – Jesus told it. He met some people who thought they were good and looked down upon others, and he made up a story to teach a lesson.  It is important not to overlook two things: first, the story is fictitious, not real, and secondly, the story is told to criticize people who have too high an opinion of themselves and have no time for others.

The fact that the story is “made up” does not detract from its value – quite the opposite! Jesus describes an imaginary situation of two men praying, but he tells the story with a very clear intention, which is to criticize the profoundly evil attitude of those who despise others (Lk 18,9).  It is surprising, then, that Jesus uses a parable about two ways of praying to censure the conduct of those who are full of self-esteem and despise their neighbour.

Has the way we talk to God anything to do with the way we behave towards others? For Jesus, it certainly does.  Otherwise, he would not have invented this episode. Both characters go to the same place, the temple, to do the same thing, which is to pray. But they do it in two different ways. The so-called good man, the Pharisee, is aware of his goodness and gives a good account of himself.  He even thanks God for the fact that he is good. The tax collector, who is looked upon as a sinner, does nothing more than to acknowledge that he is a sinner. He does not even dare to turn his gaze to God. Neither of the two is wrong. Neither of them tries to deceive God.  Each of them prays about his own life, telling God what God already knows. Why is it that only the one who admitted his sinfulness was justified? Not because he was more humble, but because he was more sincere!  The tax collector saw himself as God saw him, lacking grace and in need of forgiveness.  The Pharisee, on the other hand, saw himself the way he wanted so see himself, as one who observed the law, and he was satisfied with himself.

The parable ends in a way that gives it universal application (Luke 8:14). Jesus exhorts us to see ourselves, not as we want to see ourselves, but as God wants us to be. The people who will be exalted are those who acknowledge the reality of their situation, in the presence of God (in the temple, at prayer), accepting God’s judgment and refusing to judge others. People who know that they are judged by God do not allow themselves to be carried away in prayer by their own preconceived ideas.  And without sincere prayer it is impossible to treat our neighbour well.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Jesus had insisted with his disciples on the importance of praying without ceasing. Now he urges them in their relationship with God not to become judgmental of others.  If we pray and ask God to accept us as we are, we cannot then refuse to accept others as they are, even if they are not as good as we are.  We cannot expect God to take care of our needs, if we fail to care for the needs of others. That is not worthy of a disciple of Jesus. If we pray without ceasing, as Jesus taught, that should not lead to complacency. The best prayer is not the prayer of one who prays longer and oftener, but the prayer of one who is in greater need. The parable denounces the complacency of those who think they are good enough in the eyes of God, and then despise others who they think are less good.

It might be good to ask ourselves why Jesus used a parable on prayer to teach us how we should relate to our neighbour.  There is something wrong in our personal relationship with God, in the way we see ourselves before God, if we do not appreciate our neighbour, and especially if we judge and despise our neighbour, and think we are better than others. We cannot be good in the eyes of God, if we belittle our neighbour, even with good reason – after all, the tax collector was not a good person, and everyone knew it.  A life of prayer that does not include respect and appreciation for our neighbour, especially the weaker or the less good, is not acceptable to God.

Without a good prayer life, without a sincere, honest, humble relationship with God, we will not respect or appreciate our neighbours as they deserve. And they do deserve to be respected, not because they are good, but because God loves them very much. If we pray well, without raising our eyes to heaven or getting puffed up with pride in our own goodness, we will behave well not only towards God, but also towards our neighbour. If we see ourselves as God sees us, then we will not despise others.  Sincere prayer, even if it is the prayer of a sinner, teaches us to respect God and to treat others with respect. Many, if not all, of the difficulties we encounter in our relationships with others are born from a life of prayer that is not humble and sincere.

Neither of the two men in the parable was untruthful in his prayer. The Pharisee was able to point to his good works.  The tax collector had nothing else to talk about except his sin. In both cases, their prayer reflected the life they led. What was missing then in the prayer of the Pharisee?

The good Pharisee did not ask for anything from God.  All he wanted was to tell God how good he was. He did not ask God for anything. All he wanted was God’s approval, so he thanked God that he was different and better. His superiority was real, and was reflected in his life, but it was offensive to his neighbour. He considered himself faithful enough to God and he was grateful, but somehow he thought that the way to thank God was to condemn his neighbour.  But he went away condemned.  Some people are self-righteous and think they are doing all that God requires of them.  When they pray, they think only of themselves. They are pleased with how good they are in their own eyes and they are unable to see themselves as God sees them.

The good Pharisee did not lie to God. He presented himself as he saw himself. He gave no thought to what God wanted of him.  He measured his relationship with God starting from himself. He wanted God to know what he was capable of doing.  His goodness came from himself and so did his thanks. He used prayer – and God – to assert how good he was, and to show how pleased he was with himself. People who pray like that do not respect their neighbour, and they do not leave their prayer justified by God. They have no need of God. They are good enough as they are, and they are always better than others. They have so much respect for themselves that they have none left for their neighbour… nor for God! They think they are good but they are far from being just!

When we pray as disciples of Jesus, it should not make us feel better than those who do not pray. The Christian life that we try to live every day consists in fidelity to the will of God. We bring our daily problems to prayer, but we cannot expect God to hear our prayer if we use our prayer to compare ourselves with others who, we think, are not as good as we are.

Too often, unfortunately, we spend our prayer time trying to improve our image before God by making ourselves out to be better than our neighbour. Prayer is not an exercise in self-esteem. It is an opportunity to know how much we are loved by God. We will discover our true worth if we see what we are worth in God’s eyes.  Like the Pharisee in the parable, it seems that when we come into God’s presence, we feel the need to appear better than those around us. Maybe, like the Pharisee, we think that God accepts only good people, and we end up losing everything we have achieved by our effort and loyalty. No matter how sincere our life of prayer is, if it fosters feelings of superiority over others, we cannot expect God’s favour and blessing. Too often we come to God to tell him how good we are, and how good he should be to us, as a reward for our goodness. And to win God’s approval, we are not afraid to criticize those who are not as good as we are – just like the Pharisee. But Jesus tells us we should imitate the sinner, if we want to benefit from our prayer.  What Jesus teaches is actually quite easy. After all, it must be easier to go to God to ask forgiveness than to convince him of our merits. In this parable, Jesus teaches us that in our prayer we should not tell God what we have done, but like the tax collector, we should talk to God about what still remains to be done. We should not tell God how bad other people are, and we should stop saying how good we are. Every time we come before the Lord, we know that we are indebted to him, and we know how much we need God’s grace. We know that he will not fail us.  It should be very easy for us, as sinners, to give up comparing ourselves with others.  In order to feel acceptable to God, it is not necessary to feel better than others.  It is enough to know that we are not as good as God wants us to be.

The Pharisee’s mistake was not that he did not pray, and he did not lie when he prayed.   His mistake was that he thought he was good because he was better than others. He did not see himself as God saw him. He thought he was good because he compared himself with others who were less good – not because he saw himself in the light of God’s goodness.  This is why, for all his goodness, he despised those who were not as good as he was.  And this is why he did not go home justified.  The sinner, on the other hand, went home at peace with God. He did not have to do anything other than recognize that his life was not up to what God was asking of him, and he had nothing to say to God except that he was not worthy of Him and that he was really sorry.

To reduce the teaching of Jesus to a mere exhortation to be humble would be to undermine his purpose.  He very deliberately contrasted two ways of praying, and two ways of relating to God. Jesus criticized only those who feel good when they pray, and do not think about how God sees them. When we use our prayer to make peace with ourselves, we lose God and his grace. No matter how good we are, we will never succeed in being justified.

Jesus has made ​​it easy for us to pray. To win God’s favour, we do not have to submit a list of all the good things we have done. Instead, we need to pray from our helplessness and our mistakes.  We do not have to be better than others for our prayer to be heard, and for God to make us good.  It is not difficult to pray.  It is enough not to look down on those who are not like us.  We do not need to feel confident about our merits, to ensure God’s blessing and his favours.

PRAYER

Lord God, deepen our faith,
strengthen our hope,
enkindle our love;
and so that we may obtain what you promise,
make us love what you command.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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