March 29, 2014

The Gospel Today 

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

Luke 18:9-14

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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Reflection (Sem. Ernesto Sican):

     Today’s Gospel shows two men of opposite attitude toward prayer. One, a Pharisee who prays as if he is assured of his righteousness before God, and the other, a tax collector who prays in humility. This is not something happening only during the time of Jesus. In our churches today, there are still others who behave like a Pharisee in relating to other members of the church.

     What is wrong with the Pharisee? The Pharisee tried to compare himself as someone who was righteous before God, a holy person worth emulating because of religious practices he strictly observed and his accomplishments. He acted proudly before God as if he can dictate God to listen and grant his prayers because of the things he has done. He wanted to bribe and manipulate God by his good works. In this sense, the Pharisee did not pray at all but only reported to God his achievements.

     Prayer is a relationship, a two way process of listening and speaking. When we pray, it is not all about saying all the things we want to say to God, it is about opening ourselves and allowing God to speak to us. God already knows what is in our hearts and minds before we come to him in prayer. It is not what we want to tell God that is important, rather, it is what God wants to tell us. By being too full of ourselves we miss the chance of listening to God in prayer.

     The tax collector, having realized his sinfulness cannot even lift his eyes to look at the Lord in prayer. He has nothing to boast before God. All he asked is for God to have mercy on him. He put himself in total surrender and dependence on God’s loving mercy.

     Jesus was pleased by the prayer of humility of the tax collector rather than the litany of accomplishments of the proud-hearted Pharisee. It is a good reminder for us to check ourselves our motivations in doing our religious obligations especially during this season of lent.  It is not enough that we are doing the right thing. Most importantly, we should do the right thing with the right intention.

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