30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23 (7a)
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
October 27, 2019
We continue to hear about prayer in our readings this week. Today, the question addressed start with whose prayer gets answered.
First, we hear that God “knows no favorites.” God listens to everyone’s prayers. Yet, He is “not unduly partial towards the weak.” One might be confused by this, if God is “partial” doesn’t that mean He has favorites?
The answer lies in understanding what is meant by the word “unduly” before the word “partial.” Is there a reason for God to answer the prayers of the weak, the oppressed, and the widows before the prayers of others are answered?
Yes! These words all describe people in great need. The very words “weak” and “oppressed” indicate their need. The weak don’t have all that they need. The oppressed are taken advantage of. As to “widows”, today some widows might be perfectly capable of taking care of themselves while others, like a mother with young children whose husband died unexpectedly may live in great difficulty. We should remember that, In the days when Jesus walked on earth, the culture gave little status to women so widows would often need to rely on the help of others. God knows their needs.
Our needs are what God is concerned with. God is not concerned with making the rich richer. Actually, neither is the Lord interested in making the poor richer, but He is interested in fulling their needs. God is concerned if we have enough to eat and a place to sleep. That’s why God shows what the Church sometimes calls a “preferential option for the poor.” It is not about favoritism. It is about need.
The readings today never say that any one person’s prayers will go unanswered. In fact, Sirach says, “The one who serves God willing is heard.” The psalm today speaks of the “brokenhearted” and the “crushed in spirit.” The rich can be just as “brokenhearted” and the “crushed in spirit” as the poor.
Turn your hearts to God and strive to live as He teaches and your prayers will be heard. When we sing, “the Lord hears the cry of the poor,” it might be just as much about the poor in spirit as the poor in material things.
So, what do we need to do, how should we pray, to ensure the Lord listens to our prayers? Jesus answers this question with a parable addressed “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”
In the parable we hear first about a Pharisee who seems convinced of his own righteousness. He goes to the temple to pray. That much is good. He starts by saying, “O God,” so he acknowledges there is a god. This seems like a good start.
Then we begin to see his attitude behind his prayer. We are told that he “spoke this prayer to himself.” To himself? Now, this might be interpreted as simply meaning that he prayed silently. However, his words that follow would indicate a different attitude.
The Pharisee says “I thank you” to God but we need to understand what he is thankful for, that he is “not like the rest of humanity.” There lies a great pride. He should be thankful that he is not “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” but not in a way that makes himself to seem better than others. He goes so far as to say that he is not like the tax collector. He exalts himself with his words, even bragging that he fasts and pays his tithes.
He is full of himself.
We see a very different attitude in the tax collector. As a tax collector, he would have been seen as a sinner for gouging people and keeping the extra tax for himself.
He admits his sin. He comes to the temple to pray but he stands “off at a distance.” He “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.”
How about the words he prays? The tax collector prays only eight words, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
His words are simple but powerful. He admits he is a sinner. Unlike the Pharisee who considered himself “saved”, the tax collector knows he must rely on God’s mercy to be saved.
There lies the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. The latter is open to God at work in him. He submits to God’s love. He humbles himself.
I want to bring in a third person after the Pharisee and the tax collector to help us understand what it means to humble ourselves. Paul’s words to Timothy may not seem much different than the Pharisee’s. Paul says himself, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.”
Paul’s words might seem not much different than the Pharisee’s. Paul speaks of what he has done. What’s different? The attitude behind the prayer. Paul goes on to say about the “crown of righteousness” that is the Lord who will award the crown to him, that it is the Lord who stood by him. Paul acknowledges that it is because of the Lord that he has done good things.
So, rather than being prideful, Paul humbles himself like the tax collector. They are both open to allowing the Lord to be in work in them. For this, they will be exalted by the Lord.