BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr).


* Sir 35: 12 – 18, 2 Tim 4: 6 – 18, Lk 18: 9 – 14.

Many of us Christians today come out of prayer unjustified because we have one or two scores to settle at the realm of God’s justice.
(a) There are 3 dimensions of Divine justice;
(i) Fighting for the weak: When we have suppressed the orphan, widow or the poor, according to the 1st reading of today, God will not answer our prayers but may be on the side of the oppressed, Sir 35:12 – 18.
(ii) Punishing sinners: God has an obligation to give sinners their retribution, Matt 25: 31 – 46, Jn 8: 10, Lk 24: 43, Lk 16: 19. He cannot be deceived by our claims of self righteousness.
(iii) Rewarding Saints: St Paul assures himself of that in today’s 2nd reading, 2 Tim 4: 6 – 18 – ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race… What is left for me is the crown of righteousness’.
* There are 2 categories of Saints
– Those who have not defiled themselves with lies, immorality, and other faults Rev 14: 4.
– Those who have washed their robes white again in the blood of the lamb, Rev 7: 14.
* The Pharisees were the ‘fake saints’ of Jesus’ time who prided themselves on being righteous and despised others. They were the target audience of today’s gospel parable.

According to Jesus, 2 men went up to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee (hypocrite) and the other was a Publican (tax collector).
(a) Characteristics of the Pharisee’s prayer;
(i) Intention; He came to the temple to pray because it was a public place and he wanted to be seen by men as pious, Matt 6: 5.
* I remember those student days at Franco hostel in UNN when so many people come out early in the morning and will be shouting and distracting others in the name of praying.
(ii) His posture, gesture and language was so full of egotism that Jesus described him as ‘praying to himself’. He sang his own praises instead of the praise of God and affirmed his own whims and caprices as we hear many do today: ‘My father, my God.. Not my portion.. I reject it by fire!’
* Take note that so many things he said of himself were true (He prayed regularly, fasted more than normal, paid his tithes and kept the ritual laws) but he depended on his own righteousness, Is 64: 5 and despised others.
(iii) He left the temple unjustified because, according to Vima Dasan, ‘Pride and grace dwelleth never together in one place’. It was an aggressive prayer full of self praise and denigration of others as many do today.

(b) Characteristics of the Publican’s prayer;
(i) His gesture and posture expressed his humility. He stood far off not daring to come closer to the sanctuary.
(ii) He could not look up to the heavens but beat his chest. Self examination and self accusation is an important daily spiritual exercise.
(iii) He went home justified because of this automatic maxim, that ‘everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’.
* Story of the self righteous legionary who had a harlot as neighbour. Each time a male customer came into her neighbour’s room, he dropped a large piece of stone on her door. The harlot kept crying for her sins until she repented. On the last day, all the legionary could get as her reward was a heap of stones.

Beware of the ‘Pharisee syndrome’ – the mentality of self righteousness and the prayer pattern of self justification; telling God all the things you have done and demanding God’s rewarding justice as if God is indebted to you.
(a) Either be humble or get ready to be humbled.
(b) Self righteousness has become the family disease of all children of Adam. It is the cankerworm of modern day christian spirituality which makes many Christians operate like rolling stones gathering no moss.
(c) A teacher once adviced his students: ‘Do not be proud of race, face, place or grace because none came from you’, 1 Cor 4: 7.

According to Fr Emma Onuh of blessed memory, ‘There is a little bit of the Pharisee, the Pagan, the Sinner and the Saint within each of us. Being good or bad largely depends on the trait we allow to dominate at any given time. That which compels us never to accept other truths is the Pharisee in us. That which makes us think that God can be accessed through stones, streams and elemental beings is the pagan in us. That which prevents us from recognizing the will of God for us and from doing good is the sinner in us. That which compels us to hear the Word of God and abide in it, is the Saint in us’.
(a) The Pharisee (hypocrite) in today’s gospel placed his trust in himself. We become that when we act the same way.
(b) The Publican (tax collector) placed his trust exclusively on God’s forgiving grace and mercy.
* I like this hymn: My hope is built on nothing else than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I cannot take the sweetest praise but only lean on Jesus’ grace. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand’.

The prayer sample of the Publican of today’s gospel seems to take more of the ‘Catholic formular’: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’ – sounds very much like the Catholic Rosary: ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death’.
(a) It recognizes God’s farness when we sin and enthrones the urgent need of an intercessor, not minding that we have only one mediator, Jesus, 1 Tim 2: 5.
(b) It recognizes that the prayer/sacrifice of a wicked man /sinner is abhorrent to Yahweh but that of an honest man (a saint) is dear to God, Prov 15: 8.
(c) It recognizes the fact that penitential and meditative prayer should come before prayer of petition /intercession.
(d) It recognizes the fact that it is better in prayer for us to tear our hearts (repentance) than our garments (outward show of fasting), Joel 12: 13, Ps 51: 17.

Since we have known today that ‘the prayer of the humble pierces the cloud, Sir 35: 12 – 15, let us imitate our Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bible says of her: ‘ He has looked on the lowliness of his handmaid…. He has routed the arrogant of heart’, Lk 1: 48, 51. She has the competence not only to intercede for us before her son, Jesus, Jn 2: 1-11, but to teach us how to pray humbly and be full of grace, Lk 1: 29. Happy Sunday dear friends!

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