BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong.



1. Point Based System. Please permit me to recycle a Pearly Gate joke that is quite relevant for the Scripture readings today. A man died and approached the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him that since people on earth have gone digital on just about everything, he has devised a point-based system that reflects the fairness of Divine justice for a digital world. If he got to 100 points, he could enter Heaven. The man told Peter that he gave a lot to the poor. Peter said, “that’s worth 3 points”. The man thought again, then said: “I never committed adultery”. Peter said: “splendid, 1 point”. The man, desperately searching his memory, said: “I never cursed”. Peter added 1/2 a point. By now the man got very frustrated and said: “At this rate, the only way I can get into Heaven is by God’s grace and mercy”. St Peter replied, “That’s what it takes, come on in!”

2. Quality of Prayer. Sisters and brothers, just after teaching us to pray without ceasing, without becoming weary, in last Sunday’s Gospel reading (Lk 18:1-8), that means quantity of prayer, our Lord turns to the quality of our prayer using another powerful parable: the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14). Let us call it the Parable on the Quality of Prayer. And thanks be to God, people around the world and Americans in particular, are quite prayerful. In fact, a recent (2020) national survey of U.S. adults commissioned by the Presidential Prayer Team, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, and conducted by Arizona Christian University, found that 2 out of 3 (66%) Americans pray at least once a week. The pharisee and the tax collector both went to the temple area to pray, to do what many of us also do. The tax collector went home justified, that is, reconciled with God. The Pharisee did not. Why not? The quality of their prayer.

Both the tax collector and the pharisee were sinners before that prayer. But the pharisee went further and committed sin even while praying. The tax collector acknowledged his evil actions: his prayer was a call for God’s mercy. The pharisee had obviously done many good things before this particular prayer but instead of asking God for grace to do more, he compared himself with others and claimed to be better than everyone else, especially, better than the tax collector. His prayer was prideful, hence, sinful. He went away without being reconciled to God.

3. Two in One. There is a pharisee in me and also a tax collector in me. Yes, I am two in one. Yes, my prayer is sometimes like that of the pharisee and sometimes like that of the tax collector. I’m a sinner who sometimes think I’m not as sinful as some other sinners. But that happens when I forget that Jesus Christ is the yardstick of holiness and God alone is the standard of perfection. Be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy. (Matt 5:8). Despising others as the pharisee did, is certainly unholy and sinful. Sisters and brothers, on this World Mission Sunday, on which Pope Francis reminds us of the words of our Lord following His resurrection: “You shall be my witnesses…. to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), (Message for World Mission Day 2022), let us pray for the grace to increasingly imitate Christ in His humility, a humility that in turn makes our prayer for the world effective, as we heard in today’s 1st reading (Sir 35:12-14, 16-18): “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds”. Yes, as we ourselves reach out to others, as we ourselves spread the good-news, like St Paul in today’s 2nd reading (2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18), let us rely on the Lord for strength to overcome the challenges of mission. Using the tax collector, our Lord has taught us how to pray without ceasing in a way that keeps us reconciled us with God and our neighbor. It is called the “Jesus Prayer” and is it said repeatedly everyday: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”…. This beautiful prayer combines our faith in Christ with the prayer of the tax collector. “By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.” (CCC 2667). Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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