October 23, 2010


30th Sunday - C
Luke 18: 9-14

Prayer or Self-Promotion

This is the second parable on prayer that Jesus teaches in chapter 18 of the Gospel according to Luke.

"Jesus addresses" this second parable (verses 9-14) "to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everone else." There, we have the two key elements that make the Pharisee's words uttered in the temple not prayer but self-promotion.

The Pharisee tells God what he has accomplished. More accurately, he brags about what he thinks he has done on his own. There is no credit attributed to God.

Since he is not praying to God but bragging about himself, he ignores God and what God has done in his life. Instead of praying to God, he glances at and looks down upon the tax collector who "stands off at a distance."

Unlike the Pharisee who is full of himself, the tax collector knows and accepts that he is a sinner. He knows that God alone can forgive him. So he "stands off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven." He humbly "beats his breast and prays, 'O God, have mercy on me a sinner."

He goes home "justified." Note that Jesus puts the verb here in the passive voice.

Yes, "it is God who does the justifying." [1] And those who are full of "their own righteousness" have no room for God's mercy. Only those who know and acknowledge their sinfulness and God's boundless mercy have room for God in their lives.

Wonder with what attitude I have been praying lately.

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke. Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991; p. 272.

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