Today’s readings very especially bring hope to the oppressed. They speak of God’s ways as different from man’s ways. Those who trust in the Lord can thus rest assured that they will be protected on earth and rewarded in Heaven.

In the First Reading, from the Book of Sirach (35: 12-14, 16-18), we hear the reassuring message that God is impartial; He lends a listening ear to those who call on Him, He responds to our prayers, and above all, He does justice to the righteous. What a far cry from human justice, which is vitiated by relativist thinking, very often prompted by friendships and/or self-interest.

When our miserable world talks of justice, it is usually on the material plane. This is important, no doubt, yet material oppression, be it physical or economic, is not the only thing we ought to shun. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God: which makes oppression of the spirit the worst form of oppression indeed.

The spiritually oppressed are those prevented from realising their basic reason of being: the realisation of God’s kingdom on earth. Ironically, some who are obliged to undertake this noble task, by virtue of their office, simply take God for granted. Some others even assume a sort of spiritual superiority vis-à-vis the man in the street; or perhaps are so hard-hearted that they fail to empathise with the poor sinner who has had a change of heart. Hence our Lord’s words of indignation: ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.’ (Mt 13)

In today’s Gospel (Lk 18: 9-14), we have the parable of the Pharisee who assumes that he has a hotline with God; he despises the tax collector who is at the receiving end of society. Can the Pharisee’s mere observance of the letter of the law let him take the moral high ground? Perhaps the major difference with their counterparts in our day and age is that these take the moral high ground even while they blatantly break the traditional and written law. It is tantamount to Satan in Paradise Lost saying: ‘Evil, be thou my good.’

Thankfully, in St Paul we have an advocate of the spiritually oppressed. In his second letter to Timothy (4: 6-8, 16-18), he announces that while on the point of being sacrificed the Lord it is who rescued him from the lion’s mouth, from every evil, and gave him the strength to proclaim the Word fully – that all Gentiles may hear it!

Woe to those who today seek to muffle rather than proclaim the Word of God. This is the worst kind of oppression that the spirit can endure. But, then, those who have given themselves heart and soul to Jesus Christ will endure just anything – with serenity and joy – and when their time is up, they will gladly say: ‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.’ This moral certainty will be the crowning glory of the prayer of the spiritually oppressed.