Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
One lady was not feeling well and made an appointment to see a doctor. A doctor began by asking his new patient some basic questions. “Do you drink at all?” I never touch alcohol!” she said, “Do you smoke?” “I never go near tobacco!” She was insulted by the question. What about your sleeping habits? “I go to bed early every night,” she said, “I have no time for late-night partying and carousing. I am a busy woman. I am in bed by ten and up by six every morning.” I see,” said the doctor, making notes on the chart. “Now exactly what’s been the problem?” “I have been having headaches, she said. I think I see your problem, “the doctor said. “Your halo is too tight.”
I wonder if the Pharisee in today’s gospel had problems with headaches. Jesus’ description of the Pharisee was accurate as well as his description of the tax collector. It was that last line would have blown their minds: The tax collector went home justified, the other did not. The Pharisee were holy people. Their main desire in life was to live by God’s law as perfectly as possible. It is certainly an admirable goal to follow God’s law faithfully. Tax collector’s were despised as among the worst of sinners. They were seen as traitors in that they collected taxes for the hated Romans who controlled the Holy Land in Jesus’ day. More than that, they made their living on the taxes they collected and most likely they were not as honest as they should have been. As long as they gave the Roman’s Governor what was their due, anything extra they managed to collect was theirs. Some of them grew quite wealthy. In his parable Jesus was trying to put down people who try to be good and applaud people who aren’t. The parable is all about prayer. Do you remember last week‘s gospel when Jesus told the story of the unjust judge and the poor widow who kept pestering him until she got just settlement. It was a lesson in perseverance in prayer. Today he gives us another lesson in prayer.
The Lord hears the cries of the oppressed! The teaching today is very clear: we must come before the Lord as people who have no rights at all and only ask his mercy. If we want to pray, we need to accept all our failures and our brokenness.
The first reading is from the Book of Sirach, one of the wisdom books. These books teach us what we might call “good manners” with the Lord. It seems obvious that if God is God and we are not God, we should come to God with humility, love and respect. Yet we humans don’t always do that. Far too often, we turn to God when we want something or when things are wrong or bad-almost as if we blame God for all that is bad and want God to change that. When things are fine, we don’t need God and so we no longer spend time with God.
Sirach tells us that the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, it reaches to God and God answers. We will hear this in the Gospel today. The message is for us! How do we pray? Are we humble or do we demand? Do we insist on our way or place our hopes and desires in the Lord and say, with Jesus: your will be done!
The second reading is from the second Letter to Timothy. Again, we find the same lesson: everyone else can abandon us, leaving us poor and needy, but the Lord is always with us, giving us strength. This was the experience of Saint Paul and he shares it with us to encourage us in our Christian life.
The difference of the Pharisee and Tax collector in their prayers is striking and should touch our hearts. The Pharisee tells God how good he is while the tax collector simply asks for mercy because he knows that he is a sinner.
And me, what do I think of myself? And you? Are we able to come before the Lord and simply ask for mercy? May it be.
Peace and all good!
Fr. Valery Burusu