Peace to you!
Last weekend we contemplated the qualities of persistence and insistence in the continual activity of our prayer. This weekend, Jesus calls us to reflect on two inner qualities of our prayer: humility and pride.
In your own life of prayer, which figure do you most resemble? Are you more like the Pharisee who ignores God by relishing your own vainglory? Or are you more like the tax collector, who’s punctured heart is all too aware of his own unworthiness as he begs for mercy? Are you aware of how you approach God in prayer?
The Pharisee practiced tithing and fasting, which are commendable religious practices but these became a source of personal pride—his downfall. We get the sense that he became stagnant and hardened in his heart judging other people without compassion. He could not see his own faults but could readily identify others’ shortcomings. How does God respond to the prayers of the prideful and the arrogant?
The tax collector isn’t depicted as glorying in himself. Rather he is someone who is deeply aware of his own failures. The tax collector appears completely honest and vulnerable before God. His prayer is in humble truth. How do you suppose God answers the prayer of this sinner—who is humble?
In the first reading from Sirach we hear that God has no favorites and is not partial. Sirach also tells us that God is attentive to the call of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the poor and lowly. God is also attentive to the prayer of the just; that is those who may not be poor, orphaned or widowed but are concerned about serving God rightly with their lives. We are told that their prayer “reaches the heavens.”
We know that God loves all people everywhere all the time and responds generously to the just and the unjust alike. The Pharisee who extols himself will be humbled eventually but in the meantime, will remain stuck, blinded and impoverished by his pride, unaware of the great richness of God’s love and mercy. Those who are introspective and aware of their own sin and weakness that come before God in simple honesty asking for mercy, like the tax collector, will receive God’s mercy. God does not wish that the sinner should die, but that they turn to him and live. God lifts them up and helps them.
The religious practices of the Pharisee are good, for such exercises help us remain vibrant. The humility of the sinful tax collector is good, for it reminds us that none of us are equal to God in our love.
In today’s prayer over the offerings, we pray that whatever we do in service of the Lord may be done above all to the Glory of God. This is the mark we aim for in all things.
God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter