Meditation: How can we know if our prayer is pleasing to God or not? The prophet Hosea, who spoke in God's name, said: "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). The prayers and sacrifices we make to God mean nothing to him if they do not spring from a heart of love for God and for one's neighbor. How can we expect God to hear our prayers if we do not approach him with humility and with a contrite heart that seeks mercy and forgiveness? We stand in constant need of God's grace and help. That is why Scripture tells us that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34).
God hears the prayer of the humble
Jesus reinforced this warning with a vivid story of two people at prayer. Why did the Lord accept one person's prayer and reject the other's prayer? Luke gives us a hint: despising one's neighbor closes the door to God's heart. Expressing disdain and contempt for others is more than being mean-minded. It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to publicly shame those who do not conform to our standards and religious practices. Jesus' story caused offense to the religious-minded Pharisees who regarded "tax collectors" as unworthy of God's grace and favor. How could Jesus put down a "religious person" and raise up a "public sinner"?
Jesus' parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God. It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer. The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others. Absorbed with his own sense of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation, his boastful prayer was centered on his good religious practices rather than on God's goodness, grace, and pardon. Rather than humbling himself before God and asking for God's mercy and help, this man praised himself while despising those he thought less worthy. The Pharisee tried to justify himself before God and before those he despised; but only God can justify us. The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious-minded people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. His prayer was heard by God because he had true sorrow for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride.
The humble recognize their need for God's mercy and help
This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to self-deception and spiritual blindness. True humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are in God's eyes and it inclines us to seek God's help and mercy. God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God's mercy and saving grace. I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15). God cannot hear us if we boast in ourselves and despise others. Do you humbly seek God's mercy and do you show mercy to others, especially those you find difficult to love and to forgive?
"Lord Jesus, may your love and truth transform my life - my inner thoughts, intentions, and attitudes, and my outward behavior, speech, and actions. Where I lack charity, kindness, and forbearance, help me to embrace your merciful love and to seek the good of my neighbor, even those who cause me ill-favor or offense. May I always love as you have loved and forgive others as you have forgiven."
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://dailyscripture.servantsoftheword.org/readings/