Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
2nd Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Perhaps one of the greatest social diseases of all time is that of seeing oneself as better than others. This can lead to all sorts of destruction in our world – destruction of family relationships, destruction of friendships, even destruction of very selves before God.
This weekend Jesus’ parable targets our susceptibility to contracting this disease and spreading it to those we love.
Jesus is placing this mirror before us and calling us all to take a good look.
He’s using the concept of prayer (both nature and quality) as a way of getting our attention and forcing us to really see ourselves in the reflection.
In the first example of this prayer, he’s showing us a Pharisee (the pompous and self-righteous of Jesus’ day) who thinks he’s praying to God, but in fact is only praying to himself. This prayer is self-centered and selfish, and, in fact, idolatrous because this Pharisee has made himself into a god and is speaking his prayer only to himself, with zero self-awareness or humility.
Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg provides great insight on this particular passage in his reflection book on Luke’s Gospel.
He said, “The Pharisee reveals that his ultimate concern is himself through his stated interest in his own social standing, his own holiness, his own security, and his own justification. The only concern the Pharisee shows for others is that he can consider himself better than the rest and separated from the rest.
That can happen to us in our prayer as well whenever we pray only about ourselves and our own concerns or whenever we consider our own point of view as the only one to be considered. It can also happen to us whenever we fail to consider that God’s will is more perfect than our own and that God knows what is best for our lives. Basically, anytime our prayer becomes a monologue within ourselves then we have left little room for God to speak.”
Then there is the second example of prayer. For this, Jesus uses a hated and reviled tax collector (the lowest of the low in Jesus’ day). A person on the margins.
This person knows he’s a sinner and is trembling before the Lord when he asks for God’s mercy.
His words are shown as the perfect prayer:
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
The tax collector’s prayer shows three important things about approach to prayer with God: humility, simplicity, and honesty.
These are wonderful qualities for us to bring into our daily discussions with the Lord.
The tax collector also beat his breast while he prayed.
As you may remember, the 2011 Roman Missal translation reinstituted the striking of the breast as part of the Confiteor prayer in the Penitential Rite. Some say this action unites us with the humble, simple and effective prayer of the tax collector in this Gospel passage.
Looking at the Gospel passage in a larger context we see Jesus using parables the past two weeks to help us to deepen our prayer life.
And reminds us of the importance of our relationship with God and our relationship to others.
Prayer is the antidote to the social disease of seeing oneself as better than others, because it deepens our communion with others. This is why we come together around this table.
What should our takeaway be?
“Ultimately our prayer is meant to deepen our communion with God and others. Whenever we pray with contempt or pride we destroy that communion.
Jesus has taught us that only the merciful will receive mercy and that only those who forgive will be forgiven.
In the same way, the Lord wants to teach us in this parable that only as we are compassionate for the spiritual struggles of others will God be compassionate for our own shortcomings.
It takes a lot of spiritual maturity to have compassion for those who struggle in their spiritual lives. That compassion for others and sincere prayer for them is one sign of a great disciple.
We may think that we are great disciples because of all the virtuous works we do (like tithes and fasting) but in reality it is our humble love for others and repentance before God that the Lord most desires.
God hears such a disciple.”