Scripture: Lectionary 243. March 9, Hosea 6:1-6. Psalm 51:3-4,18-19, 20-21. Luke 18:9-14
“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The humble tax-collector offers this simple prayer to God as he stands near the far wall of the men’s court in the Temple. He considers himself unworthy to be there, but throws himself into the arms of the Lord. Another man, a leader and religious among his people, prays in a different way. He is thanking God that he is not like the rest of humanity—sinners, tax-collectors like the guy praying on the far corner with his head bowed. No this man prays while boasting in his doing the precepts and commandments of God. He is a self-made man even in his prayer! Too bad his head is too big! Jesus is telling this parable to shock us into true prayer which is more like the tax-collector’s. The contrast is strong in order that we may get the point of the parable. Parables are sometimes like riddles and it takes some time for us to really understand how they are meant for each one of us who takes the time to read or listen or meditate upon one of them. There are many in the New Testament as we all know.
The sinner has asked for pardon. We use the greatest of the penitential psalms to express this in our own hearts today and recite it and respond to it. It has made many cry when they read and pray this psalm before or after the sacrament of reconciliation. This is what the parable shows us , namely, that his humble plea and stance gains him God’s forgiveness. He has a humbled and contrite heart. He boasted in the Lord, not in himself. For Paul, the expression “boasting in the Lord” gives us the essence of the prayer of the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul himself. Reconciliation is one of his themes in II Corinthians and that is what is happening to those who are like the tax-collector in his prayer. The New Testament word for reconciliation is katalasso, katallage: putting someone into friendship with God, being put into friendship with God; leading others to be put into friendship with God. We can pray with the psalmist and the tax-collector (sinner):”Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness (not mine!); in the greatness of your compassion, wipe out my offense.” (Psalm 51: 3).
The parable of Jesus teaches us good news and bad news. The good news is that we are to pray like the tax-collector; the bad news is that we are not praying when we pray like the self-righteous religious leader.
Tertullian, a priest who wrote on prayer has this to say on prayer: “Prayer is an offering that belongs to God, and is acceptable to him. It is the offering God asks for , the offering God planned for as his own. How great is the evidence of its power, as we read, and hear, and believe.” Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.