THEME: PRAY WITH HUMILITY
READINGS: Sirach 35:12-14,16-18/ 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18/ Luke 18:9-14
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last Sunday’s message was meant to encourage us to persevere in prayer. Today’s message also considers another aspect of prayer – namely, that we should pray with humility. Thus, the first reading states: “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds … until it reaches the Lord” (Sir. 35:17).
Similarly, in today’s gospel reading (Luke 18:9-14), Jesus tells us a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the temple to pray. It was the prayer of the humble tax collector which was heard by God.
In contrast, the prayer of the proud or self-righteous Pharisee was not heard. Therefore, as we learn how to pray with humility, let us desist from praying with pride or self-righteousness.
Firstly, we pray with pride or self-righteousness when we tell God how good we are. Thus, the Pharisee prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). Beloved, let’s not be like this Pharisee; we should never pray, telling God how good we are, or telling Him we are better than others. God does not answer such prayers. On the other hand, we should pray with humility like the tax collector who did not recount any good deed in his prayer nor say that he was better than others.
Secondly, the Pharisee prayed with a sense of self-holiness – that there is no sin in his life and his holiness was the result of his good deeds. Hence, he did not seek God’s forgiveness. Beloved, let us never pray with a sense of self-holiness. Rather, like the tax collector, we should humbly seek God’s mercy and forgiveness when we pray.
Thirdly, the Pharisee prayed as if that God owed him something on account of his good deeds. Beloved, let us desist from such an attitude; none of us can make demands on God on the basis of our good deeds. God owes no one! So, beloved, like the tax collector who felt that he was not worthy of God’s favour, we should enter our prayers with deep humility. Our worthiness before God is grace – it comes from the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection and not from what we have personally achieved or done. So, let’s humbly approach the Lord!
Fourthly, therefore, none of us should pray with words suggesting that we are compelling God to answer. E.g. “I decree that God should bless my business.” By the use of “decree” in this prayer, one is commanding God; and who dares to command God? Rather, we should use words which show that we are pleading for God’s favours.
Fifthly, another way of praying with pride is to demonstrate that we are fighting the spiritual battle by our own power. E.g. when one uses a bow and an arrow, or a gun, or another imaginary weapon in prayer. The battle is not ours; it is God who fights for us. After all, we can’t see the spiritual forces. Therefore, let us pray asking God to fight for us or to deliver us, as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer: “deliver us from evil.”
Beloved, let us, therefore, always pray with humility. Let us recall what the first reading tells us about the effectiveness of the prayer of the humble: “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds … until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him, and does [him] justice …. And the Lord will not delay’ (Sir. 35:17-18).
If faith is seen as a vehicle that conveys our prayer into God’s presence, then humility is the fuel for the vehicle of prayer. In this sense, the humbler one is the more fuel is available to push his/her prayers beyond the clouds to the very presence of God. Thus, because of the humility of the tax collector, his prayer was heard by God; whereas, the Pharisee, though he had faith in God, lacked the fuel of humility, and so his prayer was not answered.
To sum up, beloved, let us approach the Lord with humility by confessing our sins, by acknowledging our nothingness, by showing that we do not merit His favour, and by asking him to deliver us from evil – and such humility will powerfully fuel our prayers into His presence! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis