A reflection on the readings for Sunday, June 27, 2021 — the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
/ˈɡreɪ.ʃəs.nəs/ (noun): the quality of having excellence of manners or social conduct. Synonyms kindness, courteousness, politeness, affability, benevolence.
Perhaps you agree with me that the pandemic brought out the best and worst in people. For example, during the time of mask and social distance mandates, some people in our country showed up in church with one motive: to violate the public health mandates and test the resolve of the community to implement them. On the other hand, the graciousness of many people also came to the fore. The willingness of people to cooperate and to be inconvenienced in order to keep others safe by following safety protocols was truly exemplary.
In my parish, the financial generosity flowed like a river. Strangers donated time and resources to help those who lost jobs, those who were confined at home, and those who were ill. And when our parish took up a collection for those who did not benefit from Covid relief checks, we collected more than three times our goal. These are examples of what scripture calls graciousness.
Today, I am focusing on graciousness and reflecting on the second reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul says, “As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also” (2 Cor 8:7). What does Paul mean by “this gracious act?”
The early Christian communities were not affluent. Rather, they were very poor because the bulk of the early Church was made up of poor people. In the earliest days after the Resurrection, Christianity was not popular among the upper classes of Roman society. Moreover, Christians could not hold Roman offices because it conflicted with their prohibition on emperor worship. The Church in Jerusalem was particularly poor because persecution against Christians had forced many to flee the city. The Church in Jerusalem was in dire need. In this context, Paul asked all the other Churches to financially support the Church in Jerusalem. The Corinthians had started a collection but even after a year, they had not completed the project. The Macedonians, on the other hand, had been exemplary in completing the task. Thus, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “excel in this gracious act,” i.e., be gracious by completing the task they had begun.
Paul’s exhortation to graciousness can be related to many things for us today. I would like to share some of these practical implications that we can reflect upon.
Excel in Graciousness
Paul’s exhortation to “excel in this gracious act” was a call to live by a certain code of ethics. Indeed, all people must, but Christians especially must be a gracious people. In the context of the Church in Jerusalem, Paul was exhorting the Corinthians to be aware and sensitive to each other’s needs. He was saying to the Corinthians that even though the two communities were only connected by faith, Christians must feel a sense of responsibility for each other. We must focus not merely on our communities but on the common good.
Today, we can apply this to our community and our times on multiple levels. For example, on the broadest level, consider the Catholic teaching on the “common good.” Commitment to the common good means respecting the rights and responsibilities of all people. It means understanding that our actions have an impact on wider society. It is up to every one of us—governments, communities, and individuals—to consider the common good when decisions are made. But graciousness is more than about the larger common good.
For families and individuals, graciousness can work miracles. Imagine that at home nobody slams the door, raises their voice, calls names, or throws a tantrum. Imagine all family members complete their tasks, are patient, step in to help, and forgive graciously when mistakes are made. May we take Paul seriously when he says, “As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also.” (2 Cor 8:7) This week, both on the larger level and in your own family, make a special effort to be gracious.
Paul does not only ask the Corinthians to excel in graciousness, but he also provides the theological reason for making that demand. He says, “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). In other words, he was simply asking the Corinthians to imitate the graciousness of God in Jesus Christ.
There are two stories in today’s gospel reading that show us Jesus’ graciousness. Jesus felt power go out of him when a faith-filled woman, ill for twelve years, touched his clothes. The disciples were not very gracious when he asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” (Mk 5:30). When the woman approached Jesus “in fear and trembling,” and falling before Jesus “told him the whole truth” (Mk 5:33), the graciousness of God was in full display. “Daughter,” Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction” (Mk 5:34).
Similarly, in the story of the synagogue official’s daughter, people were not gracious toward Jesus. When Jesus said, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep” (Mk 5:39), they ridiculed him. Jesus threw them out. Perhaps, Jesus was not being very gracious but perhaps, he only wanted people with faith and graciousness in the room. Jesus took the child by the hand and said to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mk 41). And she did. This was an act of the graciousness of Jesus
However, it was not just the miracles that Jesus showed graciousness. Graciousness was his lifestyle. The cross is the symbol of the radical graciousness of God. It is the kind of graciousness that demands total self-sacrifice. As Paul says, “…our Lord Jesus Christ, though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
Today we are being invited to not merely do gracious things but to make it a lifestyle; to become radically gracious—like Jesus.
Common Good and Graciousness
I would like to leave you with some questions for reflection. In these questions, I will hope to bring the Catholic teaching on the common good and Paul’s exhortation on graciousness together.
Do we care enough about the common good and can be we gracious enough to leave the earth in better shape than we found it for the future generation?
In 2021, there have been 247 mass shootings in the US, more than in all of 2020. As Catholics should we focus more on individual rights or the common good? If we are indeed gracious people, how would we imitate Christ?
It seems to us that the US is emerging out of the pandemic. As Catholics who care about the common good, how shall we help the world also recover? How can we be gracious towards the poorer countries?
Jesus showed the radical graciousness of God both on an individual, personal level, and also laid down his life for the redemption and good of the human race. How will we imitate the radical graciousness of Jesus this week? How will individual people at work, at home, and everywhere else we are, experience the graciousness of Jesus?
The Eucharist is a celebration of God’s graciousness. Whenever we receive the Eucharist, we experience God’s graciousness in the Body and Blood of Christ. May we in turn show this graciousness both in caring for the common good and for one another.
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