After the first full week of classes this semester, I found myself at mass early one Sunday morning, happy be in a familiar place of prayer and quiet. My head was swimming with thoughts about my classes- Should I add this class or drop that class? Was I smart enough to hold my own? Would I be able to do all the work that would be asked of me? How was God leading my studies and where was this all headed?
As I sorted through my own internal dialogue, the familiar refrain of today’s responsorial psalm broke through. “The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Blessed be the Lord.”
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard this refrain from Psalm 34 in my life, but in that moment, as it interrupted my internal dialogue of doubt and worry, I heard it in a different way. I had always presumed that the psalmist was saying that God’s blessedness is revealed in the hearing of the cries of the poor. And while this is true, I also realized that in so many moments of my life, I didn’t count myself among the poor.
Like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, I righteously considered myself separate from the rest of humanity. I do what is right, I study theology, I show up on Sunday morning. Of course, God would hear my prayers.
Yet sitting there that morning, feeling poor in spirit and facing the limits of my capabilities, I could hear the tax collector’s voice deep within. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Part of being human is recognizing our limitations. Part of being Christian is believing that by becoming human, God in Jesus Christ reconciles the world and each of us to God’s self. God knows and loves us in our very humanity.
As the first reading from Sirach today recounts: God doesn’t play favorites, when we cry out God hears us and our prayers remain with God until there is reconciliation.
In faith, we trust in God’s steadfast presence, knowing the many ways throughout our lives that God has provided for us in our poverty and recognizing that God stands particularly with those on the margins- the excluded and overlooked, the oppressed and the materially impoverished.
With humility then, we are called to work for justice and right relationship, here and now. This work is not our own. It makes us no better than anyone else. In fact, if done correctly, it will humble us, making us face our self-deceptions and reminding us of the grace of our humanity.
And if we can do this with humble hearts and utter dependence on God, we might just hear ourselves- the poor ones- cry out. “Blessed be the Lord!”