First Reading: Sir 35:12c-14.16-18b; Psalm: 34. R. v. 7a; Second Reading: 2Tim 4:6-8.16-18; Gospel: Lk 18:9-14
THE INTROSPECTIVE TAX COLLECTOR
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
In retrospect, whenever we went for night prayers back in my seminary days, we were always required to observe a five minutes silence for examination of conscience immediately after the sign of the cross. My first experience of this was restive. I felt five minutes was too much to do this. Often times, some of us were even tempted to truncate this required duration just to catch up with certain things that were really unnecessary. But with time, I discovered that this exercise made me more reflective; for it afforded me the opportunity to go deep down into myself to see my inadequacies and my need of God.
If we are not in touch with our weaknesses; if we feel too sufficient with ourselves, we may never see our need of God.
The audience of Jesus as he told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray in the temple must have been shocked by the manner in which Jesus ended the parable. This was because no one expected that a tax collector could do anything better than a Pharisee religiously. Take for instance, if I say, “a catholic Priest and a Politician went to a Church to pray”; who among these two would we easily conclude would pray better? I guess your answer is just like mine. Jesus definitely was daring to have told this parable.
Much as Jesus always tongue-lashed the Pharisees in his days, these men were better than the tax collectors by the evaluation of the people. The good works that this Pharisee enumerated ranging from not being an extortioner, unjust, adulterer, fasting twice a week, and faithful in tithing were really true about him. When it comes to religious practices, the Pharisees were deeply into it and held in high esteem by the people. This was unlike tax collectors who connived with the Romans to extort their own people even more than what was required in tax payment. Tax collectors were considered criminals, extortioners and thieves. There was nothing good about them to the judgment of the people. How then could somebody such as this go home justified?
But if we observed closely, there was one obvious quality that this tax collector exuded which the Pharisee lacked. The tax collector was a very reflective and an introspective person. He was very much in touch with his weaknesses and insufficiencies. The Pharisee on the other hand was an action oriented man. He was completely concerned about what he had achieved but was thoughtless on what he had failed to do. No one is too perfect not to sin. Proverbs 24:16 recounts that a righteous man falls seven times. We can never know how sinful we are unless we introspect.
Prayer is not a time to blow our trumpets but a time to realise how very dependent we are on God. It is a time for us to first of all recognise our weaknesses, faults and sinfulness so as to see our need of God, our need of his mercies, and our need of his grace. When we begin our prayer with this right disposition, it will deflate all attempts to claim self-righteousness and guide us to make a humble prayer to God.
The order of the Holy Mass should also serve as an example to us on how to pray. The Mass always begins with the sign of the cross after which we go to the penitential rites. During this time, we are invited to observe some minutes to discover how weak, sinful and unworthy we are before God as we examine our consciences. Unfortunately, often times we rush this part of the Mass. This spiritual exercise if properly and reflectively done should humble and dispose us to accept who we truly are before God. More so as we confess that we have greatly sinned; beating our breasts and saying; “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” There is no better way to begin a prayer than this.
When we pray, God is not interested in hearing our achievements or efforts which we couldn’t have attained without his grace. When we start enumerating our achievements, we are not praying but boasting. We are only making a report and not a prayer. If we are still wondering why the tax collector went home justified and not the Pharisee; it was not only because he made a humble prayer. But also because he asked for mercy unlike the Pharisee who asked nothing. Acknowledging our dependence on God is the right disposition to a humble prayer. And asking for God’s help when we pray further reiterates our humble dependence on God.
The first reading of today recounts that the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds. This tells us how far our prayer can reach when we approach God in humble prayer. A heart that discriminates, condemns and judges people is a proud heart. We are all guilt of this just like the Pharisee. And we can see today that this attitude can impede our prayer requests to God. If we reflect deeply, we could see ourselves in the people we condemn or judge. And when we accept this limitation, it predisposes us to make a humble prayer that will pierce the clouds.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace of introspection and for the disposition to accept our weaknesses as we come to you in prayer. Amen.