Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes I wish that our readings had more context, take for instance the wonderful passage from Sirach today in which we find, perhaps to our consternation that true understanding of God means a bit of humility and less of a judgmental attitude towards others on our part, reminding ourselves (and believing) that God actually has no favourites but paradoxically has a bias towards the poor, is a big step forward, in changing our own spiritual life from a simpler, less troublesome, but more passively acquiescent approach, towards faith, and entering into the dynamic, complex, relationship God has called us to live through our Baptism. It takes a very brave person to face God, and to face other determined, zealous and Godly people and say, I cannot accept your view point, I need to explore what this means and to trust that the Lord is there with you in that struggle to discover and find meaning. This is what we call our vocation, our calling as Christians.
We can find help today in our scripture, so, back to Sirach, at the very beginning of Chapter 25 it says:
" To keep the law is to make many offerings;
Whoever observes the commandments sacrifices a peace offering.
By works of charity one offers fine flour,
And one who gives alms presents a sacrifice of praise.
To refrain from evil pleases the Lord,
And to avoid injustice is atonement.
Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed,
For all that you offer is in fulfilment of the precepts." (Sir 35:1-7)
In essence this is what Jesus preaches in that distillation of the Law into the Great Commandment, but it offers us more in the way of 'doing' something. Keeping the Commandments and avoidance of any form of injustice constitutes a pleasing sacrificial offering to God, the contrite heart we are asked to possess and which is acceptable to God. Here too we can place the tale of the Pharisee and Publican, noting that the very person we would normally condemn (so think of somebody you really dislike and think of as not close to God and insert them into this picture!) is actually the one God hears and blesses. It's unfair isn't it? That paradox whereby we who struggle and strive to do good, act justly and love tenderly our God and neighbour also discover that the person most unlike us, is actually closer to God in some way!
Don't get annoyed though, each one of us has a turn at being the Pharisee but also the Publican, each of us is forgiven many times by the Lord and each of us has salvation offered to us, all we have to do is drop that censorious approach to faith, assume we know what is right, stop judging others, and instead start to let God's mercy fill our heart, soul and mind constantly. The Jesus Prayer is a powerful one, at least let us use it at some point each day, simply but deeply say: 'Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner!" That's all it takes!
Prayer of St Patrick
Our God, God of all men
God of heaven and earth, seas and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountain and lowly valley,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.
He has a dwelling in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things that are in them.
He inspires all things, he quickens all things.
He is over all things, he supports all things.
He makes the light of the sun to shine,
He surrounds the moon and the stars,
He has made wells in the arid earth,
Placed dry islands in the sea.
He has a Son co-eternal with himself...
And the Holy Spirit breathes in them;
Not separate are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Prayer of King Alfred the Righteous, King of the English b.849 Wantage
O Lord God Almighty, Maker and Ruler of all creation, in the name of Thy mighty mercy, through the sign of the Holy Cross and the virginity of Holy Mary, the obedience of Holy Michael and the love and merits of all Thy Saints, I beseech Thee, guide me better than I have deserved of Thee; direct me according to Thy will and the needs of my soul better than I myself am able; strengthen my mind for Thy will and the needs of my soul; make me steadfast against the temptations of the devil; keep foul lust and all evil far from me; shield me from my enemies, seen and unseen; teach me to do Thy holy will, that I may inwardly love Thee above all things with clean thought and chaste body. For Thou art my Maker and my Redeemer, my life, my comfort, my trust and my hope. Praise and glory be to Thee now and forever and unto the endless ages. Amen.
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