30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Theme: Full of Self, empty of God
Bill Moyers, the press secretary of President Lyndon Johnson of the USA in the 1960s tells of an experience with the president. He recounted that one morning, as they sat to eat breakfast, President Johnson asked him to say grace before meal. He had hardly started when the president said, “Louder, Bill, louder! I can’t hear what you’re saying.” And he said, without lifting his eyes, he said, “Mr. President, I am not talking to you.” Our petty catechism tells us that “Prayer is the lifting up of our mind and heart to God.” What these two tell us is that in prayer, there is a communication with Someone, a Divine Someone, and that Someone is God. Today’s first and gospel readings speak to us on the subject of prayer, and the place of pride in the arena of prayer, so our reflection shall be focused on pride and how it affects our prayer life.
In the gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. Briefly, let us examine the two personalities.
- The man really did not go to pray but to give God reminders of his righteousness. Jesus said he was talking to himself, and since prayer is talking to God, as we have shown above, it means that he was not praying.
- He believed that heaven was his right and in fact, that God was indebted to him for being such a good man.
- In his self-righteousness, he condemned all of mankind. He is like Abbot Simeon ben Jocai who boasted: “If there be only two righteous men in the world, surely it is my son and I; and if there be only one righteous man in the world, then I am he.”
- He was a proud man who came to God full of himself. His pride made him stand tall before God, but God says he hates pride (Prov 6:16). And because he came into God’s presence full of himself, he went away empty of God.
The tax collector
- He was a man despised in the community on account of his occupation.
- He was a humble man who accepted himself for who and what he is: a sinner.
- His acknowledgement of his sinfulness made him afraid of God, so he stood afar off.
- Though a sinner, he was a master at prayer who was very specific with what brought him before God.
- For his humility, God accepted his prayer, for scripture says “The prayer of a humble man pierces the cloud” (Sir 35:17).
- And because he came into God’s presence empty of himself, he went away full of God, for Jesus says he went away “justified.”
This parable gives us credible lessons about pride, especially in the place of prayer and our relationship with God.
The first lesson is that a proud person cannot truly pray. Pride makes people full of themselves that there is usually no space left for God. If you are full of yourself, then you are definitely empty of God. That is why scripture says “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 3:34). When we come to God full of ourselves, we shall most certainly go away empty of Him and the reason is because pride will not allow us to see our need for God.
Secondly, the prayer of forgiveness is not open to the proud. Just as proud people cannot see their need for God, that is how they are also unable to see the need to ask for his mercy. God’s mercy is open to all who ask but proud people do not see themselves as needing it, so they do not ask. And unless we ask, we shall not receive (cf. Mat 7:7). In prayer, we must always ask God for his mercies because we stand constantly in need of it.
A third lesson for us is that pride gives us a false sense of holiness. Holiness is to be measured against God, not against our fellowmen and women. Because the Pharisee compared himself to another man, he felt an overwhelming sense of holiness. If we measure our holiness against God’s standards, then we shall see how much we still need to do. As the first reading tells us, God sees us as we really and truly are, for He is not partial. So, even if you feel you’re holier than some people, when placed on the scale of God’s justice, He knows exactly where you belong.
So today, we reflect on our lives and our standing before and with God, especially as it pertains to pride and prayer. And we ask ourselves:
- Do I come to God full of myself and leave His presence empty of Him or do I present myself before God, empty of myself so that I can leave His presence full of Him?
- Do I like others to see and hear of my good works or do I prefer to do them quietly?
- Do I give generously to charitable causes when no list of benefactors is published?
- Do I willingly take part in church activities requiring rendering of service when I’m not included among the leaders or do I feel offended?
- Am I intolerant of other people’s faults while excusing my own?
- Do I see myself better than every other person or do I see the good and potentials in them?
The above questions are indicators of pride and answering “Yes” to any of them means we have to check ourselves very well and ask for God’s help. We pray today for the grace and spirit of humility. Amen.