BY: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya


Ecclesiasticus 35:15-17, 20-22
Psalm 33:2-3, 17-19, 23
2 Timothy 4:6-8.16-18
Luke 18:9-14

On this thirtieth Sunday in the ordinary time of the year, we continue our reflection on prayer. And today we are called to examine another aspect of what our attitude should be in prayer.

If last Sunday we’re called to be persistence in prayer, today we are called to match our persistence with humility.

The gospel account we just heard is one with which we are familiar. It tells the well-known story of the sinner who sat in the back of the Temple beating his breast while seeking mercy and the Pharisee who sat up in front reminding God what a laudable and holy person he is.

Funny enough, the “holier than thou” argument is often used as an excuse by those who don’t go to church in order to criticize others who do, calling them hypocrites. But the story goes much deeper than the comparisons people make between themselves and others. The parable deals with our perception of who we are in the eyes of God.

One of the ways that we tend to avoid accepting responsibility for our actions is to compare and contrast ourselves with those whose actions appear to be worse than ours. The Pharisee thought: “Look at that guy; he is a sinner and a tax collector. At least I’m better than him.” Is that in any way different from the way we think too? No! Many of us would say, “Look at that guy, he’s a drug addict. At least I’m better than him. Look at that girl she’s lose (promiscuous) hmmm! At least I’m better than her.”

Thank God, I am not like those others.  I am not greedy – I give more than my share of money to the church! I am not dishonest – I am scrupulous in the way I run my business, I don’t cheat and I pay everyone what they are worth!  I am not adulterous – I don’t go cheating on my wife (husband) or have torrid affairs with my secretary or colleague at work! God just think of all the extra things I do – I go to Mass up to two days a week, not just on Sundays like everyone else!  I give far more money to the church than anyone else does!  Thank you God, for making me better than everyone else!

The tax collector, however, is looking at God, and sees himself only in comparison to God’s holiness and loving kindness. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” says the scripture (Matthew 5:48). The tax collector examines himself against God’s holiness to which we are all called and discovers how wanting he is and simply begs for mercy. So comparing ourselves to others would lead us to nowhere apart from self-glorification. It is only when we compare ourselves to God’s holiness that we can come to the awareness of our shortcomings and limitations; our sinfulness and wretchedness.

What the Gospels object to, and what has painted such a bad portrait of the Pharisee is simply the motive for his actions.  This motive seems to be to glorify himself and make himself feel better than other people.

The Pharisee, in spite of his moral integrity, takes the wrong stand before God. He went to the temple taking with him a load of good deeds, thinking that they would merit him justification, as if to tell God, “See how many beautiful things I bring you. A lot of what I have done is wonderful. So God, you must admit I’m a good man.”

This is like trying to bribe God. But Ben Sirach in the first reading mentions “The Lord is the judge, and with him is no partiality” (Sirach 35:15) God accepts no bribe. God is for justice, he knows the heart; he sees the truth of our lives. We cannot hide behind religious observance,

For us there is a lesson here. Prayer is not word-driven. It’s not the quality of beautiful words or expressions that we use when praying that makes our prayer powerful. NO! Prayer gets its power from the sincerity of our hearts and the truth of our lives. That is, it is not enough for us just to be persistence in prayers, our persistence should be matched by righteous living.

We have to thank God for His goodness upon us, but at the same time we have to realize that God sees into the hearts and souls of each of us. “A humble and contrite heart (he) would not spurn.” Only a deep conversion to the person of Christ, to the goodness and mercy of God, will make our prayer authentic.

God knows the heart. He is close to the broken hearted, he hears the prayers of the humble. We have to admit our sinfulness before God. And because Christ loved us and died for us while we were still sinners, the admission of our sin is no longer crushing.  It is healing.  For if we believe that Christ’s love is stronger than our sins, then to explore the depth of our sinfulness is to explore the even greater depth of Christ’s divine love. That’s why the tax collector goes home justified.
*Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya*

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