|30th Sunday in Ordinary time, 23 Oct 2016|
From the Dean’s Desk
This week’s Gospel [Luke 18:9-14] tells us something of Luke’s favourite theme: the reversal of order. We see in this parable that the ‘bad’ person (the Publican) goes home at nights with God while the ‘other’ (the Pharisee) does not. It also continues the theme of prayer that was presented to us last week in the parable of the unjust judge and the widow [Luke 18:1-8].
When we look at the two people presented in this parable we can realise that Luke is saying something important to us about prayer: it needs to be directed to God and it needs to come from a humble and merciful heart. The Pharisee virtually is praying to himself and about himself. He uses the word ‘I’ six times in his prayer. He mentions to God all the things that he does and does not do ‘I fast twice a week, pay tithes on all I get…I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind’ [v.11]. He even scornfully rebukes the Publican, stating that he is not like him. Luke informs us at the beginning of the Pharisee’s prayer that ‘he said this prayer to himself’.
The Publican on the other hand, in a position of complete submission to God, hardly raises his eyes to heaven and simply and truthfully states that he is a sinner and therefore is in need of God’s mercy and compassion – ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ [v. 13]. Remember that Luke tells us at the beginning of this Gospel passage that Jesus told this story ‘to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised others’ [v. 9].
This Gospel passage tells us a great deal about Christian prayer. We remember in Luke 11:1-4 that Jesus gave his disciples the pattern of prayer in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. It began by acknowledging God as Father and praying that God’s will be done and that his kingdom be established. Only then does it mention our needs, and again these are mentioned in association with our relationship with others. With today’s passage we learn three very important elements about prayer. Firstly, no one who is proud can pray well. It requires a humble and contrite heart for us to pray to God worthily. Secondly, no one who despises others can pray well. In prayer we do not lift ourselves above others. We remember that we are one with others in our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy. Thirdly, true prayer comes from setting our lives beside the life of God. No doubt all that the Pharisee claims is true. But in prayer our question should not be ‘am I as good as my neighbour?’, but rather ‘am I as good as God?’ When we place our lives beside that of God, then all we can really ask for is God’s mercy in recognition of our sinfulness.
As we read and prayerfully meditate on this parable today may we acknowledge our need for God’s mercy each day. In so doing we can be confident that God will hear our humble prayer. God will then ensure that we return home justified through his mercy and grace.
Fr Robert Bossini