Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Students of Homer who have spent glorious hours pondering over the Iliad recall the consequences of an unbalanced life. For the Greeks, everyman (the work was written in less aware times) strove for a virtue called areté which is best understood as the striving for excellence and moral virtue. Greatness, however, should be seen in acts, not in words and the Greeks believed in a power in the universe that leveled those who bragged and publicized their inflated abilities. This bragging was called hubris and too much hubris got you nemesis, which in Greek terms meant that someone in your family (usually your wife or son) killed you by the end of the story. So the Greek ideal was to run the Marathon, swim part of the Aegean, and then pick up the kids from day care and afterwards comment that you could have done better in the race.
In today’s readings Jesus lets those who speak highly of themselves or take the best places know that the only ones fooled by such hubris are themselves. “Woe to you” Jesus says of those who claim a superior moral virtue because of pious actions. As we read in the first reading from Romans
…for the day of wrath and revelation
of the just judgment of God,
who will repay everyone according to his works,
eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality
through perseverance in good works,
but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth
and obey wickedness.
So, as Paul says for either Greek or Jew, it is just best to allow virtue to dispense her awards in her own good time and not worry about paying for publicity about the greatness of one’s actions.