The Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches to the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear and be glad. (R)
The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. (R)
The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. The Lord redeems the lives of his servants; no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him. (R)
Beloved: I am already 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. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the Temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There is a story of three men discussing their obituaries with their priest. One day the priest asked them, "What do you want people to say at your funeral"? One said, "I'd like the people to say "He was a good and kind man who cared about others"". Another man said, "I'd like them to say "He was a great husband and loving father"". The priest finally looked to the third man. Without hesitation he said, "Oh! I'd like them to say "Look, he's moving!""
How do we want to be remembered by people? And how do we want to be judged by God? Friends, from our study of the letters of Paul to Timothy, we have come to know that Paul, with the certain knowledge that he would be soon dead, writes his second letter from his prison in Rome to encourage Timothy in his ministry. In today's text Paul recalls his Christian faith of over thirty years and envisages what awaits him after death. He says, "I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand."
The key word to note here in this verse is "libation". Libation means the pouring of a liquid offering as a religious ritual. In the Old Testament times when an offering was consumed by fire a worshipper would pour wine over it to produce an aroma pleasing to God. At the time wine was a symbol of joy and celebration. Such offering was a symbolic representation of the worshipper's wholehearted commitment and joyful surrender to God. By speaking of his own death like a libation Paul reminds Timothy that he is gladly and wholeheartedly accepting his death for Jesus Christ. In other words, he tells Timothy that he is not afraid to die because he is simply going home to be with the Lord. Moreover, he is happy and satisfied with the legacy he leaves behind. He says, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."
I have competed well. Paul recollects the struggles he has undergone for the sake of his ministry. In many of his letters he speaks at length of his physical sufferings such as being stoned, beaten, flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked and starved. He speaks about his emotional suffering or mental agony such as loneliness, abandonment, discouragement, hopelessness and so on. He also describes his struggle against spiritual forces. He laments over his ongoing struggle with sin in the flesh. And yet he has no regrets for following Christ. Instead he humbly acknowledges that by God's grace he has competed well.
I have finished the race. Paul is truly very pleased with his performance. In his letters he often uses the analogy of running a race to describe Christian life. He began his race on the road to Damascus with the intent to win. Since the time Jesus Christ took possession of him he has run the race with Jesus in his mind. Jesus is the Lord and Savior of his life. Now that he has come to the end of his life, he is content that he has finally reached the finish line at last.
I have kept the faith. Paul takes pride in his faith. In his writings he confesses that even in the face of death he would not corrupt his faith or compromise the truth to please others. Now close to his death he asserts once again that he has been true to his faith in Jesus through all the conflicts and dangers to which he was exposed.
Paul not only remembers his faith journey but also visualizes a reward for his unswerving faith and obedience to God. He says, "From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance."
He sees a crown of righteousness awaiting him in heaven. He is confident that the Lord Himself will reward him. Moreover, he believes that it is not just him but also everyone who loves the Lord and eagerly waits for his coming will inherit the crown.
What is the message for us?
We have already started running our race from the day of our Baptism. But we are not going to run forever. Somewhere out there is the finish line. For some of us the finish line, which is death by biblical understanding, is perhaps forty or fifty years away. For some it may come sooner than we expect. We do not know when or where or how. But sooner or later it is bound to come. Whenever and in whatever form death comes we should gladly be welcoming it. Meanwhile let us live a meaningful life and happily participate in our faith journey. Participation is an important part of the Christian faith and life and it must be like that of Paul's. For example, all human beings experience sickness and suffering. The only difference is less or more. Therefore, let us offer our life like a libation. Let us stop complaining and grumbling about our circumstances. Instead let us actively and gladly live life to the fullest. Let us also stop blaming and pointing fingers at others in the church. Instead let us actively and joyfully profess and practice our faith. Only an active living faith can give us peace of mind, confidence and hope of a bright future.
Finishing our race well does not happen by accident. The Christian race is not easy. It is often hard, and sometimes we wonder if we can make it. Every day is a day of struggle. We may love the Lord wholeheartedly and yet there are times we feel abandoned, discouraged and hopeless. We may struggle against the sinful desires of the flesh and try to keep it under control. We may struggle against worldly powers and spiritual darkness. But with Jesus leading us all the way we can finally reach the finish line. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Things above, particularly on Christ Himself. Let us continue to grow in Christ Jesus until we become like God in righteousness and holiness. Let us keep our faith in God strong to the end. Let us persevere, love and hope in Christ so that one day we are also rewarded with the crown of righteousness like all the saints in heaven.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!
P.S. You are welcome to listen to a testimony about God's healing grace from Ms. Lily Wong in the audio section annexed to today's homily.