30th Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Rather than trying to glorify ourselves, let us serve God in humility.
What is our motivation for serving in church ministries? Do I serve so that I will stand out in my church community; that other people will notice me; and praise me for all the work that I do? And when I see someone doing similar things to me, perhaps doing an even better job than me, what is my reaction? Do I see this person as collaborator, so that together we may glorify God even more? Or do I see this person as a competitor, taking away glory that are due to me; so much so that, fuelled with jealousy, I try my utmost best to hinder or stop that person’s work? And, turning the table around, if I am that person who is hindered or even persecuted, what is my reaction? In last week’s Second Reading, Paul taught us to always “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable.” (2 Tim 4:2) When we do God’s work, we are in fact proclaiming the Gospel. Hence, the more effective we become, the more the Devil would want to disrupt us, and the more obstacles we will face. Therefore, it is important that we persevere even in the face of great hardships and unfavourable circumstances. For if we give up, we will hand victory to the Devil.
Paul was often in the same situation during his lifetime, persevering through great difficulties. Written in the context of Paul’s second capture, the Second Reading depicts Paul as being resigned to his fate, realising that this capture will end in his martyrdom. In the passage, Paul said he has “finished the race” (verse 7); and he will soon be conferred the “crown of righteousness” (verse 8). Paul’s salvation is close at hand. In these final days, Paul’s companions had deserted him, leaving him alone to defend for himself against his accusers. In these final moments of his, Paul has carried Christ’s cross in uncanny similarities – subjected to adversarial circumstances similar to Jesus’ on Good Friday. In the midst of this great adversary, Paul drew strength from his faith: “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength” (verse 17). Following Paul’s example, we too must be willing carriers of Christ’s cross, drawing strength from the Lord in times of adversaries.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and tax collector. Like many of us serving in church ministries, the Pharisees in the story was keen to parade his good deeds. He lived his life observing the law and often exceeding the requirements of the law. He fasted twice a week when the law only requires one fast a year on the Jewish Day of Atonement; and he gave tithes on all his earnings. The tax collector, on the other hand, was well aware of his sins and was humble before God. When we serve, we must realise that we are giving a part of ourselves to God. Let us give humbly as the tax collector did; rather than trying to draw others’ attention to our good deeds as the Pharisee did. Which one of these stood justified before God? As Jesus taught in Mt 6:2, “do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”
Our good deeds may win us man’s accolades, but they do not earn us salvation. Do not offer our services to God like a bribe, for, as the Second Reading teaches, “he will not accept it” (verse 14). And if we view our co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard as competitors rather than collaborators, if we hinder or even persecute them, remember that the Lord will “listen to the prayer of one who is wronged” (verse 16). Rather than trying to glorify ourselves, let us serve God in humility. Amen.