“We will rejoice at the victory of God and make our boast in his great name.” Ps. 20, 6
We prepare for the liturgy by reflecting upon the art, or skill, or power,
or profitability, or manipulativity of prayer and praying. God has no favorites,
but it seems some get their prayers answered and others seem to go empty.
Praying and prayers can seem to involve some doing; there must be some just-right
words or feelings to get results.
We pray this week with the simplicity of our own truth. We reflect on whether
God listens to our prayers or whether God’s prayer is within us already.
We pray with our image of God who has more than ears and heart, but rather,
much more - pure love which continually prays upon us. We pray to stand quietly
in the shoes of our truth and let God be God.
The Book of Wisdom, also known as Sirach, from which our First Reading is
taken, presents many images of the God of the Jewish people. In the verses
immediately preceding our reading, God is pictured as being a good rewarder.
These verses refer to the keeping of the Law as a way of praising God and
offering various forms of personal and material sacrifices which will please
God and result in God’s being favorable in return.
We hear verses reflecting a God who seems far away. God does not play favorites,
but does listen more attentively to the orphan, the widow when they cry from
their need. God also listens to those who serve God generously.
God is pictured as being just in judging and God’s responses will be swift.
While God plays no favorites, God seems to be arbitrary in responding positively.
This is a Wisdom teaching concerning faithfully keeping a close relationship
with God by keeping close to the dictates of the Law. This observing of the
whole Law is how the Jewish faithful kept securely in their relations with
each other and with God. Those who keep the Law will be kept and blest by
the God of the Law.
Last Sunday we listened to the first of two parables about praying. It dealt
with the woman who kept pestering the judge with her needs and he finally
gave up and gave in. We were encouraged not to give up ourselves and give
in to the fruitlessness of praying. This week we hear the second parable
addressed specifically to those who pride themselves by praying and reminding
God how they are not like others less “virtuous.”
The self-righteous and others-critical are represented by the first pray-er,
the Pharisee. He is pictured as praying to himself and also about himself.
He does not need anything, any grace, any relationship with God. He seems
to be preening himself and loving his virtuous feathers. He seems to desire
God’s approval for all his wonderful deeds in keeping the Law. He underlies
his religiosity by comparing himself positively with “that other guy” in
the back of the temple where he barely belongs.
This Tax Collector, the most despised of all within the Jewish community
has no feathers to preen. Jesus presents him as praying, not to himself,
but about himself and his real self. He has come to his senses as did the
Prodigal Son and has come for recovery and reorientation rather than God’s
applause. He knows his truth and relies on God’s true self to be true in
When the dust of the parable settles, the tax collector goes home justified
while it is left to our personal reflections where the Pharisee is. Perhaps,
like Narcissus of the Greek myth, the Pharisee remains in the temple loving,
loving his self approval. He is seen as the one who exalts himself
by not allowing God to be God. The tax collector humbles himself by allowing
God to be merciful and freeing. Humility is being as truly simple as we can
about our truth. It is not saying downward falsehoods in God’s presence.
The “mercy” for which the tax Collector prays is more than judicial acquittal
but a healing of spirit that he might return “home” justified by the infinite
love of a God who now seems to play favorites, those who are real, truthful
and hence, humble.
While enjoying my morning prayer one day, quietly being as truthful as I
could, an image of Jesus appeared invisibly, next to my prayer-chair. He
was small and was bent over me and in a peaceful and cheerful voice, told
me to continue doing whatever I thought prayer was. He then told me that
while I was doing that he would be doing something deeper and more healing.
He then said it would be like this, “You keep dusting your dashboard of your
car, that’s good, but I will be working on your engine.” Then it was silent
once more and I smiled and whispered, “Go for it.”
Prayer is enjoyable when we allow God to be real and allow ourselves to be
embraced as we are. God loves us the way God finds us. Our problem is that
often we do not know where we are, where our truth lies. The Pharisee presented
his good works for God’s admiration and he was expecting a reward. The tax
collector expected shame and disapproval, but what he received was his being
welcomed home. What God wants to give us and abundantly in Jesus, is life, and what we bring to our prayer is the truth of our life.
Each time we enjoy praying we will be sent home to live more peacefully,
exalted by the One Who humbled Himself to restore us to life.