Readings: Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22.  2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

God has blessed us abundantly and in plenty. He continues to pour out his abundant blessings on us. At the same time he invites to be close to him and pray to him. Prayer has a prominent place in the Christian religious practice. The liturgy of today discusses some aspects of prayer and its application to life. The readings tell us that God listens especially to the sinner and the humble. Often we wonder why God is partial in his dealing with human persons. Today’s First Reading taken from the Book of Sirach tells us of God’s care for the lowly and their prayer reaches the courts of heaven. Those who serve the Lord can expect the Lord to heed to their prayers. The reading tells us that our prayer life is inevitably connected with the rest of our lives. The Lord is the judge, and within him there is no partiality. He will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. The Lord will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when they pour out their complaint to him. The ear of the Lord is inclined towards the needy, the poor, and those who are abandoned. The prayers of the faithful are pleasing to the Lord and are heard before His Heavenly Throne. But the prayers of the humble touch the Lord and they pierce His Heart until the Most High responds by executing judgment to bring justice to the righteous.

In today’s Second Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy, we find examples of Paul’s humility. When Paul says that the time of his departure has come, he is stating the fact of his proximity of death. His death was imminent and his departure from this life and his return to Christ was certain. He was already in his prison and in chains in Rome. Through his words, he was not seeking pity, nor was he boasting of all he had done in the Holy Name of Jesus. On the other hand he had offered everything he had to God, his money, his scholarship, his work, his time and now his life. Paul now tells them that he has fought the good fight, he has run a good race, and he has kept the faith.. Comparing his life to that of a race, where a person looks for victory, Paul says that he had persevered and guarded the deposit of faith. The work that he had performed in his life time was not his work but the work of God that was manifested through him by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. Death for him is an act of worship, a libation, an act of freedom and a launching into eternity.

In today’s Gospel we have the strange example of a Pharisee and a tax collector in the context of prayer. The Pharisee faithfully observed the obligations of a good Jew: he prayed, he fasted, and he gave alms. In fact he was very generous in his attitude towards God. He fasted twice a week while a religious Jew had to fast just once a year. His righteousness considerably exceeded the standards prescribed by the Mosaic Law. And yet, God was not happy with him because he was a totally self-centred person. He thanked God with the words expressing that he was not like others, especially the terrible tax collector who had come to the Temple to pray. He was telling God how fortunate God is having secured such a pious generous person like the Pharisee.

If we look at the tax collector as pictured in the Gospel and he is certainly a sinner. He really was a sinner before the world but God loved him and continued to love him. Jesus says that when the tax collector left the Temple, he did so as a friend of God, whereas the Pharisee went away without the experience of forgiveness. The Parable tells us that even though the tax collector was a sinner, he confessed his sins and sought forgiveness from God. Expressing his unworthiness he prayed to God and asked him to show his mercy to him a sinner. God comes to his help and grants him the gift of pardon. St John tells us that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Our faith tells us that one of the greatest gifts is for us, the followers of Jesus is to know our sinfulness. The tax collector certainly knew what he was and the purpose of his visit to the Temple, namely to receive forgiveness, while the Pharisee was unable to understand the real purpose of his prayer.

Indeed we are not the judges of who is justified and who is not. Forgiveness and justification is a divine gift which God bestows on his chosen ones. What is expected of us is the submission of the tax collector and awaits mercy of God.
No matter who we are, the only authentic prayer any of us can utter, is the one voiced by the tax collector. Even then there is no guarantee of righteousness. Here Jesus speaks of simplicity and humility. He says that all who humble themselves will be exalted. Therefore we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt us in due time.

One thing that we can learn from this sad story of the Pharisees is that while God approves of no sin, his mercy and his forgiveness is available to all sinners except the proud. It is not that God will not forgive the sin of pride but that the proud man will not ask for God’s forgiveness. Therefore we must be on guard against this dangerous and destructive vice. It is dangerous because it can destroy us once it enters into our life. It is destructive because it destroys all good virtues we practice and all the good works we do. Charity or brotherly love cannot flourish in a proud heart, for a proud heart is so full of self, that it has no room for others. No true love of God can exist in a proud heart because a proud person practices religion and virtues for his self glory and not for God. The Pharisee in the parable proves this fact. He only boasted of his good works and did not pray at all. Further he spent his time criticizing the person next to him and refused to accept as his own brother. He called himself better than other persons around him.

An awareness of our sins, too, can help us in our lives to be far more compassionate and understanding towards others in their sinfulness and weakness. In the depths of our sinfulness we must never lose sight of the God who is always standing by ready to come at our merest signal. We must also realize that all good gifts come from God and our humility requires that we give God credit for them and share them with others.

There is some of the pride of the Pharisee and some of the humility of the tax-collector in each of us.  Each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is called by Jesus in today’s Gospel to make that journey from pride to humility.  In a sense, the Pharisee thought he was God but there is only room in any person’s life for one God, so if you’re God, God in heaven loses out.  That’s why in the parable the humble tax collector who asked God for mercy went home at rights with God and the proud.  Pharisee  did not.  If we are not sensitive to other people we are not very sensitive to God either.  The Pharisee was not sensitive to the tax collector and was not sensitive to God.  The tax-collector was sensitive to his own failings and weakness and was also sensitive to God.  Sensitivity to other people and sensitivity to God nearly always to hand in hand.      

Have a wonderful Sunday.  God Bless you.

Fr. Michael