C Cycle – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
My professor of Biblical Studies in the seminary often referred to the scriptures as “wisdom from on high.” He was strongly telling us we should pause and listen to it. Then after listening we should sit with it and digest. Then we should respond to it. I heard those words so many times I reached the point where they no longer impacted me as they did the first time heart them. Yet, after my ordination, I began to rely on the Holy Spirit to allow the Word of God to guide me in prayer, speak to me when I needed direction and wisdom to respond to the promptings of God. God’s word is not beyond us to understand. In fact, it is plain, direct and as Paul says the word of God “pierces the soul” (Heb.1:12).
What is interesting is the contrast between last week’s parables about prayer and how the persistence of the widow was rewarded versus what we hear today. Today we hear about being patient after prayer and to trust God will act. From the book of Sirach, we hear God telling us “…the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds” (Sir. 35:16ff). It seems as if we not only need persistence, but we also need a confident assurance God knows what we are going through and we trust God to respond. That my brothers and sisters is the foundation on which faith rests.
That is what made Paul so confident in his destination as he says, “the crown of righteousness awaits him.” He is not being boastful, arrogant, nor does he have spiritual pride. What he has is an intimate knowledge of God’s forgiveness and the mission of Jesus. He is confident because he has encountered Christ. That encounter taught him the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. That kind of faith is offered to us. That same kind of righteousness is ours if we begin to believe how God longs to change our hearts. That same confidence is ours if we respond to the invitation to allow the Spirit to transform us.
Paul referred to himself as the greatest of sinners (1 Tim.1:15) and because he knew his sin was so grave, he understood forgiven can never be earned, merited or dependent on what we do. But it does demand a response from us that is total and acknowledges our own sinfulness and his grace. We, like Paul are sinners in need of an encounter with Christ.
Paul reveals his trust in the mercy of God when he wrote “that the Lord will rescue him from the lion’s mouth and from every evil and bring him safe into the heavenly kingdom.” Is that where our trust is, in God or is in in our ability to like the Pharisee do what is required of us. Paul’s writings should be a source of inspiration for us because if he adamantly denied Christ, was the Messiah. Not only did he deny Christ, but he was also determined to bring the blasphemous Christians to Jerusalem, to be stoned and killed for believing in Christ. That my brothers and sisters was forgiven and forgotten by the God he encountered on the road to Damascus. If those sins can be forgiven, then our failures to respond to Christ should never hold us back from becoming strong believers like Paul the Apostle.
As a Pharisee, with knowledge of the prophets, Paul should have been able to identify Christ as the Messiah. He was blinded by his adherence to the law for righteousness. The law and adherence to it imposed by those in religious authority formed the basis of how Paul and all who depended on the law defined righteousness.
When he encountered Christ, he became aware of how those things kept him from knowing the heart of God and how forgiveness of sin was misunderstood. Yet that encounter with Christ, that day when his eyes were opened, everything changed. That is why he can write with confidence that righteousness is his because of Christ. His life, his rebirth, began that day on the road to Damascus. We all need a rebirth, an awakening of the Spirit we received at our baptism.
When that day happens the presence of God in the scriptures becomes more than stories and we will realize how dependent we have become on doing as a means of defining our righteousness. For we have become dependent on our ability to follow the laws to define our relationship with God. We depend on being good by serving, by attending rituals and by enrolling in programs to help us grow spiritually. But we like Paul have never acknowledged Christ as the Messiah. We depend on the Church to guide us and at the same time we realize how those who are charged with the responsibility to be our spiritual leaders are also human and can disappoint us and cause us great angst.
Here is a question for you to consider. When you are in Church or were in Chruch this weekend, did you feel like the tax collector or the Pharisee. Do you feel comfortable because you have followed the rules, the law, the rituals, done what a Christian should do as part of your parish family. Or did something nudge you, to realize how much you need to feel the forgiving arms of the Father enfolding did Paul and every sinner who was embraced by Jesus. Or did you feel neither one of those things but wish the time spent in church would touch you more deeply?
These readings are given to us by God to penetrate our walls, the religious exterior we have built around our hearts and souls to avoid the challenging question of Christ when he asks “who do you say I am.”