Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
As servants of the kingdom of justice and peace, within the climax of our struggles against failures, or upon the advent of an impending victory for our God, we may exclaim like the Apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, with which the Lord, the just judge, will reward me …. The Lord will save me from all evil, bringing me to his heavenly kingdom.”
Indeed, it is much less difficult to claim that ‘“I” did my service well, “I” sacrificed everything for my Lord and for others, “I” have endured until the end. And so, “I” deserve to be consoled with salvation in his eternal companionship.’
The Apostle however, is quick to note that it is not “I” who performed the service for the kingdom, but the Lord himself, stressing “the Lord was at my side, giving me strength.”
A habit we most often overlook is the presumption of the centrality of the “I,” as if “I” only mattered, as if “‘I’ am always more important than all others whom ‘I’ have committed to serve with such zeal and tenacity.” Consequently, “fully convinced of my own righteousness, ‘I’ look down on others.'” A sin we most often take for granted is the personal conviction of being “deserving,” resulting in a false comprehension of charity and compassion towards those we believe in turn, to be “undeserving.” It is a crime of “kindness,” which subtly comes with inner worldly pride in ourselves, and with deceptive sympathy for those who are “inadequate” and in dire need of “blessed people like us.”
But it is the Lord – and only the Lord – who serves, merely working with our souls’ consent, through our hands and feet, through our hearts and minds, to fulfill his purposes. There is no “I” in our service for the kingdom. What the Apostle really meant, “Whatever I have fought, the Lord fought it with me; whatever I have finished, the Lord finished it beside me; whatever I have kept, the Lord kept it for me.” “I” have done nothing to deserve anything, and because of this, “I” am nothing and undeserving of everything; it is the depth to which we become aware of our actually being “nothing” and “undeserving,” which God judges and favors us with himself as Grace and Love.
Furthermore, the Spirit will never permit us to maintain illusions of ourselves: “For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised up.” And the Spirit may even be closer to servants greatly disturbed by their debts to the Beloved: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is also upon this belief that we are “nothing” and “undeserving,” with which we will persevere in our prayers to God: “The one who serves God wholeheartedly will be heard; his petition will reach the clouds. The prayer of the humble person pierces the clouds, and he is not consoled until he has been heard. His prayer will not cease until the Most High has looked down, until justice has been done in favor of the righteous.”
So, not only will God be on the side of those who genuinely realized and chose to be humbled, but he is most especially on the side of those forced into conditions imposed by the “deserving,” to become unjustly “undeserving:” “The Lord is judge and shows no partiality. He will not disadvantage the poor, he who hears the prayer of the oppressed. He does not disdain the plea of the orphan, nor the complaint of the widow.”
St. Francis admonishes: Blessed is the servant who esteems himself no better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and despicable; for what a man is before God, that he is and nothing more. Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and does not wish to come down of his own will. And “blessed is that servant” who does not place himself in a high position of his own will and always desires to be under the feet of others. (Adm. XIX)
Praise the Lord of the “undeserving,” for only he can make us worthy of the kingdom of earth and heaven!
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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