In our Gospel Readings over the past few weeks, we have been focusing a lot on prayer. This Sunday, that theme continues. This time, however, instead of teaching about prayer, Jesus uses a parable to teach us about the dangers of allowing self-righteousness and pride to creep into our prayers.
To understand this lesson, we need to look carefully at the words that the pharisee and the tax collector use in their prayers. The pharisee seemingly starts off ok, when he says “God, I thank you…” but after that, things quickly go astray. He is not thanking God for blessings, or for what God has done for him: Rather, he is telling God all the ways that he is great, because of what he has done. “I fast twice a week… I give a tenth of all my income…” One could imagine that the list could go on and on. By praying in this way, the Pharisee is essentially telling God that he doesn’t need Him: He has it all figured out on his own. In doing so, the pride and self-righteousness of the pharisee are on full display. If someone were to ask him what God had done for him, the Pharisee would likely have a difficult time answering that question.
The tax collector, on the other hand, might be able to more easily answer the question of what God has done for him. In his prayer, he acknowledges that he has sinned, and asks God for mercy. Jesus tells us that it is this man, the sinner, who is justified in his prayer, because he recognizes his need for God. He knows that he can do nothing without God’s help, and that God ultimately is the one who gives him the grace to turn from his sinfulness, and seek to follow God more faithfully.
This parable is an important reminder to us of the importance of humility in our prayer life. If we want to be aware of God’s grace in our lives, and properly recognize everything that God does for us, we need to approach him with an attitude which recognizes that He is our creator, and we are his children, whom he loves deeply. When we approach God in this way, it becomes far easier to allow him into our lives, and to allow his grace to guide our actions.
This reality is yet another reminder that our prayer does not change God, it changes us! As you spend time in prayer this week, I invite you to focus on standing humbly before God, acknowledging your need for his grace. May you find that grace present in your life in whatever way you need it.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Steven Huber, CSB