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OCTOBER 28, 2007: Thirtieth Sunday of the Year

Readings: 

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

No Pauline scholar believes Paul wrote our canonical Letters to Titus and Timothy. Most refer to such works as "pseudepigrapha:" literature composed by someone other than the author whose name is attached to it. This differs from employing a ghost writer. In the case of these three letters, Paul was dead long before they were written.

How did such literature become part of our sacred writings?

Those who collected and saved our Scriptures had a different read on these issues than we have today. They didn't get uptight when someone signed another person's name to a writing as long as the author was passing on the thought and faith of that other person.

In this situation, the II Timothy author presents us with a picture of Paul with which no Christian could argue. If, before his martyrdom, Paul didn't have the thoughts which comprise our second reading, he should have. "I am being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."

As long as this author was carrying on the basics of Paul's ministry, no one in first century Christianity seemed to complain. After all, every Christian was already carrying on Jesus' ministry. The key to doing this successfully revolved around acquiring the same mentality which fueled Jesus and Paul's ministries.

The historical Jesus certainly was influenced by scriptural authors like Sirach. In today's first reading, for instance, Sirach reminds his community that Yahweh's a God who always "cuts through the nonsense." We humans are easily swayed by externals. Yahweh immediately goes to the heart of the matter or person, bringing into focus even the circumstances which change the way we view reality.

"Yahweh is a God of justice," Sirach writes, "who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed."

A terrific insight into God's personality is contained in the sacred author's statement, "Yahweh is a God of justice." A scriptural "just" person forms proper relationships with others. Such a one doesn't stop at surface appearances, but delves into areas of our personality into which we ourselves rarely venture. A just individual always tries to discover who the other person really is, so he or she will better know how to give themselves to that person.

Jesus epitomized this just dimension. Not only do our evangelists depict him demonstrating that attribute in his relations with those around him, he himself often tells stories and parables highlighting justice in others.

It's no accident, in today's gospel pericope that Jesus contrasts a super, law-abiding Jew with a traitorous, law-breaking Jew. Pharisees dedicate their lives to studying and observing all 613 laws of Moses. Tax collectors, on the other hand, work for the Roman occupation army. In our morality, such a person is constantly in the state of mortal sin. Notice that both men are in the "temple area." The tax collector isn't even permitted to enter the temple proper.

Yet when both pray, only the lawbreaker relates to Yahweh from the depth of his personality. "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." The Pharisee is concerned just with reminding God about who he isn't. He refuses to admit who he is. Jesus has no other choice but to point out that the sinner alone went home "justified."

Only someone with a just frame of mind could tell such a story. And only someone with a just frame of mind can understand it. We'd best be careful before we label certain of our actions "Christian." We might be signing Christ's name to something he doesn't agree with.