If we are too full of ourselves, there is too little room for God's grace to work in us.

10-23-2022Weekly Reflection

The second parable that Jesus tells in Luke 18 addresses attitude in prayer. In contrasting the prayer of the Pharisee with the prayer of the tax collector, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in humility before God. Jesus again surprises his listeners by showing the tax collector as the example of faith, rather than the Pharisee. Remember that Pharisees were members of a sect of Judaism active in Jesus' time. They taught an oral interpretation of the Law of Moses as the basis for Jewish piety. If anyone would be a model for prayer, a Pharisee was a likely candidate.

In contrast, Jesus offers the tax collector as a model for prayer. Tax collectors were collaborators with the Roman authorities in a system that allowed the tax collectors to line their own pockets by charging in excess of the defined taxes. Yet, in this parable, Jesus offers the humility of the tax collector as a model for the prayer of a disciple. The parable reminds us that when we pray, we must remember our need for God in our lives. If we are too full of ourselves, there is too little room for God's grace to work in us.

The tax collector, completely aware of his unworthiness, beats his breast and prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Where does he get the confidence to do this? His experience of limitation and failure has led him not to despair, but to depend. He remains certain that there is something beyond “every evil threat” and that the Lord will rescue him. Maybe he had in mind the promise of Sirach: “The Lord hears the cry of the oppressed. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” This is why the formerly anti Christian Paul can say without boasting: “From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me. For whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”