Sirach 35:12 – 14, 16 – 18 (in the Catholic Study Bible: 35:15b – 17, 20 – 22a)
This Sunday, we will hear from the Book of Sirach. As is usually the case, this passage was clearly chosen to prepare us for the Gospel. Let’s review the “who, what, when, where and to whom” of this book. The Book of Sirach is one of the very last books of the Old Testament. It was written between 195 and 180BC by a man who identifies himself as Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach (cf. 50:27). It is an excellent example of Wisdom literature, filled with moral teachings. Unlike so many biblical books, we can be certain about the composition dates of this book because it was written after the death of Simon II – he died around 195BC (cf. 50:1 – 21) – and before the 38th year of the reign of King Euergetes, which was 180BC (cf. Forward). It is also known as “Ecclesiasticus” due to its extensive use in liturgical celebrations in the early church. And, some of your Bibles (mine, too) title the book Ben Sira for obvious reasons; “Ben” means “son” and he is the son, or rather, the grandson of Sira. Although it was originally written in Hebrew, it is not part of the Hebrew Scriptures because of its late composition. Yet, it was well received among the Jews as is evidenced by its use in both Jewish worship and literature. It was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson after 117BC. He also wrote an invaluable foreward which contains information about the book, its author and himself as the translator.
Since it is not in the Hebrew canon, it is not in the Protestant canon either. It was written to defend the cultural and religious heritage of Judaism against Hellenism that was becoming so popular in Palestine and the Diaspora. The author accomplishes this by blending the wisdom of revealed and empirical wisdom.
12 For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.
13 Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak…he hears the cry of the oppressed: cf. Lev 19:15. Sirach is moving toward a Christian attitude.
14 He is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint;
15 Do not the tears that stream down her cheek cry out against him that causes them to fall?
16 He who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens.
17 The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
18 Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right.
Luke 18:9 – 14
This week, we continue to hear from Luke’s Gospel, picking up right where we left off last week. Like last week’s parable, this parable is found only in Luke. It clearly demonstrates Luke’s doctrinal emphasis (e.g., universal salvation – especially for the outcast and forgotten, divine mercy, failure of the law alone to sanctify). As you will read in your footnotes, both last week and this week, the parables speak about prayer. Last week, the focus was on persistence; this week, it is on an awareness of sinfulness and the absolute need for God’s mercy. The lesson here is similar to the one Jesus taught while dining with Simon the Pharisee in Lk 7:36-50; let’s read that account first.
This Sunday, we hear Jesus teach the same lesson in a parable:
9 He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
who were convinced of their own righteousness: The Pharisees were fastidious about observing the Law and so they were convinced that they were righteous. It’s helpful to learn who the audience is as we begin to listen to this parable. Remember, righteousness speaks of being in a good relationship with God. The Pharisees were an elite group of laypeople in ancient Israel. They were the wealthy people who could afford to give generously to support their religion. So, they came to think that they could buy their way into a right relationship with God. As I have mentioned over and over again, the people of ancient Israel had reduced their relationship with God to obedience to the laws and regulations. They had forgotten who God really was – all holy – and minimized God to just a partner in their daily lives.
10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
went up to the temple area to pray: the hours of prayer were 9:00am and 3:00pm.
11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.
Pharisee took up his position: most likely a prominent place in the temple where he would be seen praying (cf. Mt 6:5).
12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
fast twice a week: Pharisees abstained from both food and water every Monday and Thursday.
pay tithes: cf. Lk 11:42. We see the belief in tithing as early as Genesis account of Cain and Abel; the earliest teachings are found in Ex. 23:19, Deut 12:4 – 7 and Lev. 27:30. Although there is the occasional specification of a tithe – that is, a tenth – the focus is on offering the first and best of your produce to God in thanksgiving for his generous blessings and as a sign to trust that God will continue to provide. Unfortunately, by the time of Jesus, it was nothing more than a way to display their wealth and increase their influence.
13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
tax collector: we all know that the tax collector was among the most despised of Jews; he was considered a traitor and extortionist. But, he knew his right relationship with God was based not on what he could offer but on what God offers: his mercy.
14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Justified: that is, in a just relationship with God.
everyone who exalts himself… will be exalted: before God, we are all humbled, but God will exalt us.
The lesson is clear. Before God, we are all sinners. We cannot pay our way into a right relationship with God; his Son has done that for us. But, grateful to God for his mercy toward us, we gratefully come before him in humble prayer, begging for his mercy so that we can be lifted up into a righteous relationship with him.
2 Timothy 4:6 – 8, 16 – 18
We continue to hear from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In this passage, we hear Paul reflect on his situation in prison in Rome awaiting execution.
6 For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.
the time of my departure is at hand: Paul recognizes his death through martyrdom to be imminent. He regards it as an act of worship in which his blood will be poured out in sacrifice; cf. Exodus 29:38-40; Phil 2:17.
7 I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
I have finished the race: At the close of his life Paul could testify to the accomplishment of what Christ himself foretold concerning him at the time of his conversion, “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).
8 From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
crown of righteousness: the imagery is taken from the athletic contests of the day when a crown of laurel, pine or olive was awarded the winner (cf. 2:5; 1 Cor 9:25).
the Lord, the just judge, will award to me: When the world is judged at the parousia, all who have eagerly looked for the Lord’s appearing and have sought to live according to his teachings will be rewarded. The crown is a reference to the laurel wreath placed on the heads of victorious athletes and conquerors in war; cf 2 Tim 2:5; 1 Cor 9:25.
9 Try to join me soon,
10 for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.
Galatia: some manuscripts read “Gaul” or “Gallia.”
11 Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry.
Demas: Demas either abandoned the work of the ministry for worldly affairs or, perhaps, gave up the faith itself (2 Tim 4:10). Luke (2 Tim 4:11) may have accompanied Paul on parts of his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:10-12; 20:5-7). Notice the presence of the first personal pronoun “we” in these Acts passages, suggesting to some that Luke (or at least some traveling companion of Paul’s) was the author of Acts. Mark, once rejected by Paul (Acts 13:13; 15:39), is now to render him a great service (2 Tim 4:11); cf Col 4:10; Phm 1:24. For Tychicus, see Eph 6:21; cf also Acts 20:4; Col 4:7.
12 I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
13 When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, the papyrus rolls, and especially the parchments.
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.
Alexander: an opponent of Paul’s preaching (2 Tim 4:14-15), perhaps the one who is mentioned in 1 Tim 1:20. Despite Paul’s abandonment by his friends in the province of Asia (cf 2 Tim 1:15-16), the divine assistance brought this first trial to a successful issue, even to the point of making the gospel message known to those who participated in or witnessed the trial (2 Tim 4:16-17).
15 You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching.
16 At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf… all the Gentiles might hear it: if this passage sounds familiar to those of you who attend daily Mass, it’s because you heard it this past Tuesday when we celebrated the Feast of St. Luke.
17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
rescued from the lion’s mouth: a biblical image (cf. Ps. 22:22; Daniel 6:16 – 22).
18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Lord will rescue me… heavenly kingdom: Paul is not looking for release from prison but to be rescued for the heavenly kingdom for which he longs.
This Sunday’s readings focus on the wondrous truth that God hears the cry of those humble enough to admit their need for him. As we learn in the first reading, he hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed. In the gospel, we learn that he even hears the cry of the tax collector, who recognizes his need for God’s mercy. It’s a very important lesson for all of us who realize that we are in need of God’s merciful ear and loving care.