9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Meditation: How can we know if our prayer is pleasing to God
or not? The prophet Hosea, who spoke in God's name, said: "I desire
steadfast love and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). The prayers and
sacrifices we make to God mean nothing to him if they do not spring
from a heart of love for God and for one's neighbor. How can we
expect God to hear our prayers if we do not approach him with
humility and with a contrite heart that seeks mercy and forgiveness?
We stand in constant need of God's grace and help. That is why
Scripture tells us that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to
the humble" (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34).
God hears the prayer of the humble
Jesus reinforced this warning with a vivid story of two people at prayer. Why did the Lord accept one person's prayer and reject the other's prayer? Luke gives us a hint: despising one's neighbor closes the door to God's heart. Expressing disdain and contempt for others is more than being mean-minded. It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to publicly shame those who do not conform to our standards and religious practices. Jesus' story caused offense to the religious-minded Pharisees who regarded "tax collectors" as unworthy of God's grace and favor. How could Jesus put down a "religious person" and raise up a "public sinner"?
Jesus' parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God. It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer. The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others. Absorbed with his own sense of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, his boastful prayer was centered on his good religious practices rather than on God's goodness, grace, and pardon. Rather than humbling himself before God and asking for God's mercy and help, this man praised himself while despising those he thought less worthy. The Pharisee tried to justify himself before God and before those he despised; but only God can justify us. The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious-minded people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. His prayer was heard by God because he had true sorrow for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride.
The humble recognize their need for God's mercy and help
This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to self-deception and spiritual blindness. True humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are in God's eyes and it inclines us to seek God's help and mercy. God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God's mercy and saving grace. I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15). God cannot hear us if we boast in ourselves and despise others. Do you humbly seek God's mercy and do you show mercy to others, especially those you find difficult to love and to forgive?
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The medicine of repentance, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.
"How useful and necessary a medicine is repentance! People who
remember that they are only human will readily understand this. It
is written, 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble'
(1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6, Job 22:29, Proverbs 3:34). The Pharisee
was not rejoicing so much in his own clean bill of health as in
comparing it with the diseases of others. He came to the doctor.
It would have been more worthwhile to inform him by confession of
the things that were wrong with himself instead of keeping his
wounds secret and having the nerve to crow over the scars of
others. It is not surprising that the tax collector went away
cured, since he had not been ashamed of showing where he felt
pain." (excerpt from Sermon 351.1)