BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa.



Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

“Prayer is the humility of the man who acknowledges his profound wretchedness and the greatness of God,” says St. Josemaria. On various occasions, Jesus taught his listeners about the importance of prayer. When he healed the ten lepers, only one returned to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19). In the story of the ten lepers, we learn about the need to offer to God a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings we receive; what is more, in the parable of the widow and the wicked judge, Jesus emphasized the need for persistent and unceasing prayer (Luke 18:1-8); furthermore, he drew his listeners’ attention to the importance of humble prayer in the parable of two people who went out to the temple area to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a Tax Collector. The Pharisee was generally considered an expert of the law and one who tends to pose as a self-righteous person. The Tax Collector was someone despised by people as a public sinner.

Expectedly, during prayers, the Pharisee took a prominent position in the temple and began to pray at the top of his voice saying: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous, or even like this Tax Collector who is next to me. You know how good and faithful I have been as I fast twice a week, and I pay my tithes from my whole income. The Tax Collector prayed differently. He stood at a distance and felt unworthy even to raise his eyes to heaven, he prayed in these words: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. Jesus concluded the parable by saying, God accepted the humble prayer of the Tax Collector, but not the arrogant prayer of the Pharisee” (cf. Luke 18:9-14).

What was the problem with the prayer of the Pharisees? He was not wrong in thanking God for all the good he was able to do or for counting the many religious obligations he observed. However, he was wrong for condemning his neighbor the Tax Collector, he was wrong for making prayer a bragging exercise. He was wrong in canonizing himself as a living saint and laughing at the spiritual credentials of those whom he considered spiritually inferior.

In the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, Jesus condemns pride, self-righteousness, and a holier-than-than attitude. According to the book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), two kinds of prayers are acceptable to God: the prayer of those who serve God willingly and the prayers of a humble heart (cf. Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18). The Pharisee went to the temple to pray but did not show any sign he needed God’s help. Conversely, when the Tax Collector prayed, he did so with a deep awareness of his limitations and so asked for God’s mercy.

Why do we go to God in prayer? Sometimes we go to places of worship to display and flaunt our righteousness before others. Sometimes we boast about how long we can pray; we brag about how much we contribute to the church; we count the many people we have helped; we boast about how eloquent we are in preaching the word; we love to talk about how we eat and breathe religion. Notably, among us, there are others who have the correct notion about the essence of religion and who practice religion to enjoy the peace and presence of God in their lives. Those who worship God in spirit and truth do so with humility and are full of gratitude to him for his goodness. They are also willing to acknowledge and confess their imperfections.

The scriptures emphasise the fact that the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and the prayer of the lowly is effective. During a morning Mass on 20th May 2013 at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said: “Courageous, humble prayers can perform miracles.” No wonder the scripture says, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10). Sometime ago, my good friends Judy Mendez and Renee Noland posted an inspiring and humble prayer. It sounded like the simple prayer of the Tax Collector. The prayer says,

“To those I have wronged I ask forgiveness; to those I may have helped I wish I did more; to those I neglected to help I ask for understanding; to those who helped me I sincerely thank you so much.” This is a sample of humble prayer.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Year C.

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