O God, be merciful to me a sinner

OCTOBER 27, 2019 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Lec. 150)  

1)         Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18

2)         2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

3)         Luke 18:9-14 Gospel related: CCC 588, 2559, 2613, 2631, 2667, 2839

The Book of Sirach tells us that God listens to the prayers of every sinner, showing no preference. Yet he shows special care to those most in need: the last, the lowest, the vulnerable and the oppressed. God heard the prayers of the Apostle Paul with special favor, for when Paul wrote to Timothy, he was in a prison cell in Imperial Rome, soon to be martyred for the faith. 

Paul identifies his own suffering with that of Christ, and he rejoices in it. His blood will be poured out like that of Christ.  He had no one to speak in his defense at trial, and neither did Jesus. He forgave his betrayers just as Jesus did. God gave Paul the strength to preach the Gospel even in the midst of darkness and difficulty, much like Jesus the Son of God did. 

Paul’s prayers were answered because of his humility.  Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, compares and contrasts the prayers of the humble tax collector with the arrogant prayer of the Pharisee. The Pharisee was among the elite of Jewish religious and political society. He believed that he deserved God’s love and the admiration of others, but no one loved the Pharisee more than the Pharisee himself. In fact, what the Pharisee says can hardly be called a prayer. It was more of a self-congratulatory speech.

The tax collector, on the other hand, had some difficulty experiencing the love of God, and expected no love from the Pharisee or the people of his town, most of whom despised him and were in debt to him. He prays to God as a son pleads with a father, and he does so with no pretense or pomp.

The Pharisee asks for praise. The tax collector gives it. The tax collector asks for mercy because he needs it. The Pharisee shows no mercy because to him it is just a word for the weak. 

Jesus favors the heartfelt prayer of the tax collector over the many supposedly righteous deeds and words of the Pharisee because Jesus felt that only the tax collector was being sincere in what he prayed.

We can all learn from the tax collector. In prayer, we stand bare before God, seeing in ourselves what God sees in us, and worrying less about what others may think of us. The tax collector’s prayer, O God, be merciful to me a sinner, fits well with the prayers of some of our greatest saints, such as Augustine who said: “Man is a beggar before God.”

Saints were once sinners. We are sinners, called to be saints. The Pharisee admitted of no sin and that deprived him of sainthood. The tax collector admitted his unworthiness, and in so doing, became more worthy of the freely given love and mercy of God. The same can happen for all of us who approach the Lord in humility rather than pride.