Homily – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 20 October 2013 – Do Good on Earth
Imagine this. It is the bottom of the ninth inning, the bases are loaded, there are two outs, the score is tied and you are up to bat. What is the first thought that comes to your mind? If I get a hit I will be hero? If I get a hit my team will win? A little bit of both?
You may recall the story of the Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head one year ago this month. At the age of 11, Malala took a public stance against a Taliban edict banning all girls from going to school where she lived. Was Malala thinking only about herself? Did she have in mind the rights of all the girls in the Swat Valley and around the world? Or both?
There is a lot of conversation today about how we make decisions in our lives and whether we even think of how our choices will affect others and not just ourselves. Some studies in our country suggest individualism has replaced a more socio-centric attitude and that it is slowly eroding the moral character of our nation; affecting institutions like religion, state, family life and relationships in general.
While there is some evidence of this behavior we all know how important it is to develop ourselves — our bodies and minds, our spiritual lives, our sense of self esteem and value. We cannot contribute to the common good if we have not taken strides to advance ourselves often with the help of others. There is an old saying, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”
In the gospel story today we meet a very gutsy female — the widow who pestered a judge to make a just decision in her case. In the culture of that time some women were silent and would not wander in public places. This widow, like Malala, was determined to be heard.
This was a public event and a village crowd gathered to see how the judge, who had a reputation for being unfair, would act. The judge is unsympathetic but nevertheless, impressed by the woman’s bold courage, he finally responds to her favorably. Was the widow thinking of herself? Was she thinking if I back down now women’s rights will never take hold in the world? What if young Malala did not miraculously survive that bullet wound? Would her voice die with her? What message does this gospel have for us?
Many commentaries say the story suggests that if we pray for something long enough, no matter how tired we might be, God will answer. There are other ways to look at the story. The judge represents power. The widow represents those who are vulnerable in society. The gospel raises a question for us. What is our role as Christians when it comes to making decisions about our personal lives, our church, our larger community? Do we think of ourselves first and what we benefit from church membership? Or do we think about how our own talents, strengths and resources serve the common good? Is it a little bit of both?
Today is World Mission Sunday and the theme is “Do Good on Earth.” It highlights the work of missionaries around the world who are helping disadvantaged people. The phrase echoes what Pope Francis said recently, “give voice to those not able to make their cries of pain and oppression heard.” How do we strengthen our common bond to give voice to the voiceless?
We believe the liturgy we celebrate together is the source and summit of all we do. Although it is not the only sustenance, the liturgy of word and sacrament nourishes us in our efforts. Liturgy is not a private act of the ordained priest or anyone else. We do not gather to watch others do something for us whether it is a priest, a cantor, a musician, a reader, a communion minister or anyone else. One could say the liturgy is a ritual game that we play together.
The World Series starts this coming Wednesday. Although no longer the national pastime baseball still reminds us of how important team work is in any human activity. It is a game where the job of the manager is to find ways to use different players in a team effort. Each player has to train and work hard to be ready to perform at any given time. That is what Paul seemed to be saying in the letter to Timothy which we heard in today’s second reading. It was perhaps advice originally given to the elders (bishops) in the church. Today we can understand it as words of wisdom for all of us — do not forget what you have been taught and … become competent in whatever you do.
In our church each of us is called to develop our gifts and resources not only for individual gain but for the common good. The Pashtun teenager Malala, the widow in the gospel, the missionaries who work in far away places all are examples of helping others imagine the possibilities in life. In this parish we can continue to do the same. “Together we can do anything.”