God Knows Your Heart

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

October 23rd, 2021 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 18, 9-14

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This Sunday we hear again an inspiring parable of Jesus as he brings before us two people engaged in prayer at God’s holy temple. Near the front (a space reserved for “important” people) a Pharisee (a member of a respected religious group) recites his prayer. In brief he thanks God that he is very good and responsible person. He boasts that when it comes to religious practices (just in case God doesn’t know this), he does all that is expected. In his eyes, he is a model religious person.

Then The Pharisee notices in the back reaches of the temple a fellow he recognizes, perhaps from an earlier meeting they had. Maybe this is the tax collector who collects the Pharisee’s taxes. So, he decides to mention him in his prayer.

He thanks God that he is a better person than the tax man. He reminds God that the taxing profession was not done by good people. They engage in a profession known for cheating ordinary people to favor the ruling Romans.  Thus, his prayer ends with his judgment that he is a better person than that fellow in the back of the temple.

But the tables are suddenly turned by Jesus as he draws our attention to the prayer being said by the tax collector.

In that prayer the tax collector asks for God’s mercy. He is honest and he is humble. He does not judge others but only himself. He addresses God with words that God favors, words of honesty and words of gratitude. His focus is not on himself, but on God.

The Pharisee may appear religious and holy on the outside, but his heart is not on God, but on himself. He uses prayer to exalt himself.

In contrast, the tax collector focuses his prayer on God and God’s merciful forgiveness. His prayer is genuine and effective. It draws him closer to God. Whereas the prayer of that fellow in the front never leaves the ground. Its intent is self-centered. Its intent is to make the Pharisee feel better. 

I recall a description of prayer that I learned as a youngster. Prayer is the lifting up of our thoughts and hearts to God. That still sounds right. That is the prayer Jesus invites us to make.  

©David M. Thomas, PhD 

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