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SIMPLICITY, HUMILITY, AND TRUTH IN PRAYER. A Reflection for the 30th Sunday of the Ordinary Time, Year C.
By Fr. Modestus Mgbaramuko
Fri, 25 Oct 2019

 Readings: Sir 35: 12-14, 16-19; 2Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14.

The setting of today’s parable in the historical temple of Jerusalem and the mention of people at prayer reminds us of the prayer theme which has been on for three Sundays now. Today, it is about humility in our prayer-life. Indeed, the truth is that often, we pray as we live – humbly and truly, or arrogantly and false! The prove of this lies with the two men at prayer, a Roman tax agent and a high-class pharisee.

 Even in those years of yore, a lot was at stake for maintaining political loyalty. The compliance with taxation might mean far more than anything that we can imagine today. To put a tax collector into perspective here was to approach – in common parlance, a two-faced loyalist. At best, his work as a colonial tax agent was ha-arez shoteh -  a ‘stupid bore’ of a job! Bad will and let-down trailed tax collectors without exception because there was a corrupt Jew collecting taxes from his own people, not for the upkeep of the temple or Israel’s Sanhedrin but the account of a foreign colonial power. It was in religious terms, such an ugly admission to the lordship of Caesar, rather than the God of Israel.

No doubt, the parable of the unwelcome mix of those two men in the temple for prayer made a deep impression on the audience of Jesus – precisely because, “one of them” was a tax collector. So, there is always ‘the other man’ or the other woman or ‘corrupt politician’ who is the thief and the sinner! There is ‘that other neighbor’, ‘ndi ozo’ na ‘onye ozo’ who are “ndi ogwu ego a”!  Or “that prostitute,” etc., etc. “What do they come to this Church to do”? It goes on and on. Can you hear yourself or your thoughts on these questions? Today as you hear this story, let this falsehood change or cease in us.

Please, know today, that things are not always what they seem.  And, many “devils” have appeared less dark than we painted them. Thus, “the Lord is the judge who listens to all parties (first reading); and God is “the righteous judge who gives the crown” (second reading). These are self-evident truths dramatized in today’s Gospel parable. Let this word of God rebuke us in our excessive presumptions and misleading imputations about other people whose inner lives and hearts we know very little. The humble, simple, and truthful prayer of a tax collector to God rose to God’s presence, but the presumptuous and self-assuring citations of the Pharisee stayed back with him, even as he postured proudly in God’s temple.  The question is this: What do you see in the prayer of the publican and the Pharisee today? What do you hear in your own prayers and disposition towards others?

If we would like to know just how many pharisaical prayer-patterns are printed into our private and public prayers today, then think of the many times when our “prayers” have demanded death for our perceived enemies or even commanded God’s Holy Spirit to become their burning fire! The tax collector’s prayer was truthful because it was about who he sincerely was: a sinner. His praying was humble and accepted because he ardently recognized God’s omniscient power, holiness, and mercy to save, purify and change sinful habits. The Pharisee in each of us recount claims of our entitlements before God - like how we have been Catholics from birth and, therefore, have God on our debtor’s list.

 

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