What kind of prayer is pleasing to God? Jesus told a vivid story of two people who went to the house of God to pray. 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. Contempt is more than being mean-minded. It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to ascertain who is good and just. Jesus’ story caused offense for those who regarded “tax collectors” as unworthy of God’s grace and favor. How could Jesus put down a “religious leader” 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 he mainly prayed with himself. His prayer consisted of prideful boasts of what he did and of disdain for those he despised. The Pharisee tried to justify himself; but only God can justify. The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. His prayer was heard by God because he had remorse for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride.
This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to illusion and self-deception. Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it inclines us to God’s grace 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 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?
(Adapted from Don Schwager)