The Gospel this week (Luke 18.9-14), continues on the need for prayer and to keep praying without losing hope. I am reminded of some things that Jesus has said when I read this passage like, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners...” and “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Luke 5.32; Matthew 9.35)
The setting is a worship service where there are these two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In the practice of ministry I have notice that there are two types of worshipers: those who believe that they are fine the way they are and then there are those who know there need of God’s mercy. One who is more concerned about himself and the other worried about how God sees him and knows that he is a day late and a dollar short. This puts him a position of contrition and humility while the other stands and blithering way, talking more to himself, thinking that God cared to listen.
It reminds me of a time early in my ministry when there was a change of Rectors in the large parish were I was serving at the time. Many times over several months and in many different ways and venues, the new priest thought it okay to be publicly critical of how I prayed and when I prayed, because to him, I “prayed too much.” The prayers were too long and it took too much time from other things that might be more important. Thing is, I have always found that I often end up in places and spaces that I was always needed but rarely anticipated. I have seen and continue to see that God uses me to help people even when they and/or I am aware that this is what is going on.
To me, prayer is more than the words that we offer to God – though the words we offer are important. Prayer is more than the silences that we keep and the things that the Sprit prays for us when we are a loss and do not know what to pray. Prayer is the attitude with which we approach God, people and life in general. We need to live this life as if we are in continuing mode of worship. Offering ourselves to people knowing that we have God’s grace to spend and to be spent ourselves in the service of the kingdom.
The Pharisee’s prayer was one out of his peripheral vision: letting God how great and awesome I am and how much better I am than the person next to me... just in case God has not noticed the other because I am so great.
The tax collector was focused on God, who God is and then who he saw himself to be in the light of the glory of God. This man experienced the holiness and judgement of God. Because he submitted and humiliated himself he finds that God’s mercy and grace are effective and real – he gets to go home with the understanding that he has got what he needed: mercy and forgiveness. These things have the potential to transform his life, his family’s life and the community and nation around him. The tax collector went home justified because it is God who forgave him and justified him, not someone else.
How then will you live your liturgy this week. Will you pour your heart out to God in prayer or will it us be a passing fancy? A thing you do to get God to give you what to think you want?