30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
October 27, 2013

Sirach today smacks of sincerity … on God’s part primarily, not his own. He speaks of a God who truly listens, who “judges justly and affirms the right.” This is what the psalmist also was convinced of. He was convinced enough for him – and us – to acclaim: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

I write this short reflection in between sessions, as I preach to group of teachers from Imus, Cavite. Serendipitously, we speak of pretty much the same stuff that today’s readings speak of – the need for everyone who wants to grow towards emotional, psychological and spiritual maturity, to become straightforward, not duplicitous and deceptive.

Sadly, in our times, double-talk is all we get from leaders and pundits alike. In the Philippine context, the pork barrel has supposedly and officially been abolished. But it has been resurrected even before it was scrapped, through other fancy and very creative (and very deceptive) ruses and guises. Duplicitousness and deception are both the name of the game nowadays … say one thing; do another.

Paul is no such deceptive and manipulative leader. No … he did not mince words when talking of discipleship, but neither did he prevaricate and take resort to double-entendres. He said what he exactly meant, and he meant what exactly he said. And if you call this close to boasting, so be it, but one thing he cannot be accused of is engaging in double-talk. “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Paul did what was expected of him … and more besides!

His sense of righteousness was true and genuine, and his witness of faith shone through unequivocally, inevitably!

We could learn a lesson or two from Paul and Sirach. But there is an even more telling lesson from the tax collector who was as sincere and honest as anyone could get. As anyone is called to be. Take it from him, who never found it compelling to do as the Pharisee did. The exact opposite of the tax collector, the Pharisee was not just not truthful. He was, on top of it, even accusatory and condemnatory. He “got a rise” from the poor repentant and sincere sinner who simply uttered: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

It’s more fun in the Philippines, they say. In many ways, it is. But in many ways, too, it isn’t. Take political manipulation as a case in point. We have been hoodwinked, fooled, deceived and manipulated for decades by the biggest criminal syndicate that is government. We even had a convicted former president who was pardoned, but who never accepted his crime in the first place. The Pharisee in today’s gospel does not get too far from that same mold. Sincerity is what they lack. And their sense of righteousness does not ring true, and does not come through for us all.

Today’s liturgy, of course, is far richer than this issue. But among so many things, this is what we all need to reflect on today. It is not sufficient to come to Mass, more or less (with the majority really tinkering with their smartphones the whole length of the Mass, and others not even acknowledging the Lord’s real presence during and after the consecration!).

We need to come clean and come whole and holy. And it starts with one basic act – the sincere and honest acceptance that we are sinners, and the need for us to confess the truth that the God we have come to worship together, is not one who could be manipulated by shallow and inane statements like that of the Pharisee, with accusations thrown in for good measure: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.”

False sense of righteousness. It does not ring true. Nor does it get through to us in a world already inundated and overwhelmed by too much duplicity and untruth.

The clear lesson for all of us? Work for righteousness “true and through.”