Sunday, October 23, 2022

Of Safety & Hiding


30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) 

(World Mission Sunday)

Readings: Ecclesiasticus 35: 12-14, 16-19; Psalm 33 (34): 2-3,17-19, 23; 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14

Picture: cc Flickr United Nations Photo

My dear friends, what is it like to feel threatened, and have nowhere to hide? No place to feel safe and secure, sheltered and supported? Perhaps it’ll help if we pause and imagine, just for a moment, what it may be like for people living in the many troubled spots of our world today. Such as famine-stricken Somalia, or flood-inundated Pakistan, or military-oppressed Myanmar. We may think also of children living in less troubled, more affluent places, but who still don’t feel safe, at home or in school. Whether it’s because of gun-violence, or familial-abuse, or cyber-bullying, or pressure due to unrealistic parental expectations. We may also consider those who suffer from addictions of one kind or another. What does it feel like not to have a safe place in which to hide? …

In case we may wonder why we are posing such an uninviting question on this relaxing long Deepavali weekend, it’s because we find similar people in our scriptures today. People in danger, with no safe place to hide. The first reading and the psalm speak of orphans, widows, and the poor in general. People whose very existence is under threat, and whose options are few. Yet this obvious disadvantage is also a prime advantage. For having nowhere else to turn, they cry out to God, and God does not disappoint. For the Lord is close to the broken-hearted. Those who hide in him shall not be condemned. By humbly acknowledging their helplessness before God, the poor find true safety.

And isn’t this what separates the two men in Jesus’ parable? Just as the poor are threatened materially, the tax-collector is in danger spiritually, and he knows it. Conscious of his own status as a public sinner, he humbly acknowledges his helplessness, and throws himself before the mercy of God. As a result, he finds true safety. He goes home at rights with God. In contrast, it is the pious Pharisee who remains in danger. By pridefully hiding behind his superficial religious practices, he ends up hiding from the mercy of God.

Even so, we should take care not to misunderstand. Finding refuge in God doesn't mean the end of all our problems. It may, in fact, lead to the opposite. In the second reading, it is precisely because Paul chooses to follow the crucified and risen Christ in allowing his own life to be poured away as a sacrificial offering, that he finds himself in danger and all alone, without a single witness to support him. Yet, amid his trials, Paul is given the Lord’s power to proclaim the gospel for all the pagans to hear. By embracing danger for love of Christ, not only is Paul assured that the Lord will bring him safely to his heavenly kingdom, he also enables others to enjoy the same assurance of safety. Through humble service a scary place of danger becomes a fruitful point of mission.

Isn’t this the paradoxical lesson offered to us today? That true safety is found when we humbly cry out to God from the various dangerous places in our lives and in our world. But if this is true, sisters and brothers, then how shall we help each other to resist the temptation to hide from such places today?

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