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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Living Prayer

“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ‘Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).
For Luke, prayer is not an exercise in piety. It is certainly not a practice to elevate ourselves so that others will point and comment favorably. Luke Timothy Johnson expresses it very well: “For Luke, prayer is faith in action. It is not carried out to demonstrate one’s relationship with God. It is that relationship.”
If prayer is the relationship, then the Pharisee in the parable is not praying at all, because he is concerned only for himself. He sets himself apart from and above the wider community. The tax collector, in contrast, begins by opening himself to a relationship with God, pleading for the mercy he recognizes he needs. He is fully honest with and about himself. With an attitude of genuine humility, he admits that he falls short of all God is calling him to be.
Any healthy spirituality needs to acknowledge that we are sinners, and that our dependence is on God alone. It is often difficult to be honest with ourselves, to look our flaws in the face and to embrace humility. Yet, we believe in a God who does not leave us to wallow in our sinfulness, nor expect us to “correct” our sinful ways by ourselves. We have a community to support us in the journey.
In the early Church, the sacrament of penance was a long process which concluded with a public celebration of absolution—clearly expressing the community aspect of reconciliation. Others carry us, and we are expected to carry others, supporting one another in our relationship with God.
If we see prayer as faith in action, which of the two people in the parable was more likely to go out and live a faith-filled life? Perhaps the real test of our prayer is about making the “kingdom come on earth as in heaven …”
– When have you felt either arrogant or humble, and what grace—good action of God—has come from this experience?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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