30th Sunday Ordinary Time – October 24, 2010 – Our Mission from God
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18, Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18, Luke 18:9-14
Supposing we changed the prayer of the Pharisee in this gospel just a bit. Thank God I am not like that geek with the green hair. Thank God I don’t dress like she does. Thank God I am not like those people in that religion. Thank God I am not like the rest of humanity. Some scholars suggest the prayer of the Pharisee was not very impressive in the eyes of God. In our eyes it needs to be rewritten.
As we know, stereotypes are generalizations or assumptions that people create about other people based on images. Advertisers, the news and entertainment media are quite guilty of stereotyping, e.g., women, elderly persons, foreigners and even our children. They do it so well many people believe what they see and hear is true even though it is false.  Stereotyping clogs rivers of justice and any attempt to wash oppression away. 
We see this happening around the globe as tribes and countries fight each other for land and power. We see it in this country as minorities are attacked because of prejudice and hatred. Politicians demean each other rather than talk about serving the common good. Like the Pharisee some humans excel at building themselves up by putting others down. Psychologists tell us, once ingrained in our brain, our image of others is hard to erase. The documentary Death in Gaza dramatically depicts how Palestinian boys are imbued with a hatred for Jews from the time they learn to walk and talk.
There are counterpoints to stereotyping. The Festival of Nations is being held in the Empire State Plaza today. Organized in 1972 this Festival presents a glimpse of the world and shows how diverse peoples can work together. It involves children so they can appreciate their heritage without stereotyping others who are different from them.
Today is Mission Sunday a day for the people of God to renew a commitment to proclaim the Gospel, to embrace a more missionary perspective of the world, to shun parochialism, to evangelize rather than proselytize. This coming week young adults and old from across this nation will gather at the Mission Congress in Albuquerque, NM to discuss the cultural diversity of today’s Church and how missionaries can best carry out their work in this country and others.
We were once a mission church in this country and there are still many areas that are missions. Do we Catholics still see ourselves as a mission church with no influence in society? Is our identity rooted in the way we respond to voices crying for help from the largest Christian religion in the world?
The first reading from Sirach is from a collection of biblical texts known as wisdom literature. Todays section suggests that ethical practice is just as important as ritual observance. Worshiping God here and elsewhere and engaging in works of justice are part of the same mission. They cannot be thought of separately. Whether on the streets or in our homes, whether with family or with outcasts, what is the image we portray for others to see? Are we Catholics easily stereotyped?
Both events mentioned earlier involve children and young adults. Today in the United States is also the celebration of the twenty-fifth Anniversary of World Youth Day. Earlier this year, Benedict, the bishop of Rome, said to young adults, “If you are willing, the future lies in your hands, because the talents and gifts that the Lord has placed in your hearts, shaped by an encounter with Christ, can bring real hope to the world!”  This is an invitation to all of us young and old alike.
God has chosen us to pick up where the peacemaker Jesus left off. We do so, not by elevating our religion above others, but by walking humbly hand in hand on an interfaith journey. We do so, not by selecting one moral issue over another, but by treating every injustice as part of a single garment. We pick up where Jesus left off, not by looking down on others who are different from us, but by viewing all people equally through a lens of compassion.
Jesus reversed expectations in today’s gospel. He said the tax collector who felt the need for mercy would be justified while the proud Pharisee who praised himself would be humbled. Perhaps we too can turn the tables.
2 Haugen, Marty. “Let Justice Roll Like a River” in Gather, 1994, 715
3 Message of Benedict 16 on the Occasion of the Twenty-Fifth World Youth Day, March 28, 2010