Thirtieth Sunday In Ordinary Time Year C
The prayer of the Humble
Readings: Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22. 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. Luke 18:9-14
The book of Sirach in today’s first reading declares that, whereas God is impartial, the prayers of the humble have a way of piercing the clouds and claiming God’s attention. Jesus affirms the same with the parable on prayer. The parable is aimed at those who were sure of their goodness and looked down upon everyone else. Those who were sure of their goodness, that is, those that trusted in themselves as righteous are the Pharisees (v.9). They despised everyone else, in other words, they mocked others. And so the rest of world according to them is composed of the sinners in which the tax-collector is part. The tax-collectors, and all sinners alike, are portrayed in this parable as open to the prophetic conversion. On the contrary, the same parable portrays the Pharisees, with lawyers and the scribes included, as “rejecting God’s will for them” by seeing themselves as righteous comparatively (v.10).
In this regard, the Pharisee’s prayer is one of comparative triumphalism. He prayed to himself rather than to God, prayed in reference to his own very self, but with an eye to the sinners and especially to the tax-collector whom he judged and portrayed as adulterous, unrighteous and destined to eternal damnation (v.11). In other words, this Pharisee justified himself instead of allowing God to justify him. He compares himself with his contemporaries and claims to be more virtuous, and therefore, deserving of rewards.
He says that he fasted twice a week, and this was going beyond the legal fasting of once a week and so he had gone an extra mile. By this act, he boasted of having asceticism beyond the norm (v.12). His prayer was not heard precisely because his was not a prayer. It was a parading of himself of how good he was. In contrast, the repentant tax collector presented himself before God with a sense of embarrassment. He knew he had no claims on God except on his mercy. Knowing himself a sinner he did not even raise his eyes to heaven. He, in fact, stood far away off since he understood his situation very well (v.13). He declared himself a sinner just as the Pharisee considered him. He straightforwardly begged for God’s mercy and propitiation for his sins. He was open to conversion from his old ways to a new man in Christ. His was a true prayer and hence, was heard. God who justifies us considered the taxi-collector righteous.
Be careful when you are spiritually doing well. Why? It is because the love of God can easily turn into an idolatrous self-love, and then what was a gift can easily be seized as a possession. The ‘righteous’ Pharisee can receive no gift because he can no longer stop counting his possessions. He forgot that everything is grace and gift from God including his faith and good deeds. In the prayer, instead of God being the center, he becomes the center, and begins to tell God, who is all knowing, how good he is. God did not need all this parading; he needed his humble heart. Worse the Pharisee assumed God’s role of a judge, by judging even the tax-collector. He reminded God of the deficiencies of the tax-collector, in case God had not noticed. Perhaps he thought God was blind to see the evil in the tax-collector. However, the tax-collector, recognizing himself a sinner and hence requiring God’s gift of righteousness, he received such a gift, but also a gift of a profound faith.
Nevertheless someone might wonder as in the second reading that Paul is doing the Pharisee. Paul states that all his accomplishments were possible because, “the Lord was at my side, giving me strength.” And so he puts God at the center of everything, doing all for the greater glory of His name. This is also what we find in Mary’s magnificat. Both Paul and Mary portray an act of humility by their recognition of the centrality of God in everything they were able to accomplish.
Thus prayer is not an optional exercise in piety and hence carried on to demonstrate one’s relationship with God. Prayer is THAT relationship with God. Therefore, the way one prays reveals that relationship.
Invitation: Seek only God’s justification and not self-justification and do everything in God and for God. It is all for the greater glory of God vis a vis Ad majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG).
(Homily given at St Ignatius Church during the 4.30pm English Mass on 23rd October 2022)
Rev Fr Francis Wambua, SJ SJ House