Sunday Readings: Sirach 35.12-14,16-18; 2 Timothy 4.6-8,16-18; Luke 18.9-14
Jesus told this parable to his disciples. Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things concerning himself—”I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like other people— greedy, unjust, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all that I own.” The tax collector, standing far off, did not raise his eyes toward heaven. He beat his breast. “O God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am.” Then Jesus said, “I say to you, this man rather than the first went down to his house worthy in God’s sight. All who make little of themselves will be lifted up, but all who make much of themselves will be brought down (Luke 18.10-14).
Neither character is faultless. The pious Pharisee is boastful; the exploitive tax collector is humble. Both raise questions to ask ourselves. Who do we praise in our prayer, God or ourselves? Does the mercy we seek from God really lead us to change, to stop exploiting people who are poor, to seek reconciliation with those we hurt?
The Protestant Reformation began more than 500 years ago with Martin Luther’s insight that God is gracious, rather than judging. God freely bestows love and life upon all of us, not because we deserve it or have earned God’s blessings, but because God is God. God is love. In the end, perhaps the parable is really about God and the abundant mercy God has for all.
Finish the Pharisee’s prayer, “I thank you, God, that I am not like…” in your own words.Finish the tax collector’s prayer, “God, be merciful to me…” in your own words.
How does your prayer insulate you from others? How does your prayer connect you with others?