30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells a parable about how we should be when we pray. In the parable, two men go to the Temple to pray. The Temple was the most holy place in all Jerusalem, in all of Israel, because there in the Temple, behind the gold doors of the Tabernacle, was the Holy of Holies. This is where the Torah--the Law--was kept sacred. And God was there in the Word.
One man is a Pharisee. A Pharisee was someone who knew the Law and the Torah so well that he could live life according to the guidelines and rules of scripture.
The other man is a tax collector. Because Rome “owned” Israel, the Roman rulers would collect taxes (money) from the people of Israel, the Jews. They would hire Jews to collect the taxes from their fellow Jews. Some Tax Collectors would keep part of the money they collected for themselves. This was wrong, and so these people were not well liked by the other people of Israel.
Jesus gives us a clue at the end of the parable. Only the tax collector goes away "justified." Only he is in right-relationship with God. Why?
Let's consider the prayer of the Pharisee:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
It seems like the Pharisee does some good things: he fasts--that's one way to pray; and he gives away a good portion of his money to help people--that's good, too. He seems to be making a list of the good things he has done. I wonder, does God need us to make a list?
The Pharisee begins his prayer with thanks--it is good to thank God, right? Although, I notice that he thanks God for what he is NOT. I wonder if that is true gratitude?
He spends a good deal of his prayer comparing himself to other people, all types of sinners. He notices the tax collector and thanks God that he is not like him.
He notices the tax collector? While he is praying, who are his eyes on?
Let's now consider the prayer of the tax collector:
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
First, let's notice what his body is telling us. He stood "far off." He did not approach the Holy of Holies. He would not even look up to heaven, so that means he was looking down. He was beating his breast. That's something people do when they are feeling badly about something they have done.
Let's count the words of his prayer. Only 7 words. What do those words tell us?
We can tell that he knows something about himself. He is a sinner. He has done some things to hurt his relationship with God and with others.
What does he want from God? What does he know about God? God has mercy to give.
So, while he is praying, who are his eyes on?
Remember Jesus' clue. Only the tax collector goes away in right-relationship with God. What does this tell us about what God truly wants from us in prayer?