Most of you know I’ve been on retreat this week….benedictine monastery immersed in prayer and study of scripture and the RB. I came across this quote in one of our resources: we trust in the diagnostic power of scripture (Manuela Scheiba OSB)
Like a mirror, we get a look at ourselves through these stories of Jesus
2 weeks ago we heard about the 2 simplest kinds of prayer—thank you and help! Last week we heard about persistence in prayer, and today we listen in on two people praying—so I think we’re on a prayer theme!
Here we’re overhearing a Pharisee—faithfully devout person, known for his careful following of the religious rules….and a tax collector, a Jew who collaborates with the Roman authorities and is known for lying on the IRS tax forms so he can skim money off for himself
As I looked in the mirror of this text this week, here’s what I discovered about myself…..
Thank you God that I am not like some people I could name!—I don’t lie and cheat; I’m well off and white so can pretty much do what I like. I’m not like those people I see on the streets, cos I’m capable and independent. I do all the right things: I follow the rules, in fact go above and beyond, I give generously, I’m a good reflection of your law, and I’m doing pretty well. Amen.
Then there’s the other image I see in the mirror: God, forgive me. Forgive me for the sin of arrogance, for the ignorance of privilege, for the greed of self prosperity. Thank you for your grace, for touching my life with insight and forgiveness. I humbly offer my brokenness to you. Transform me, God, into a reflection of your compassionate love. Amen.
Perhaps because I’ve had four days studying RB’s chapter on humility, I don’t think this really is a parable about prayer itself. The real issue is relationship.
Both characters are self-aware. The Pharisee knows himself, did you notice all the “I”s? He knows at least his behavioral actions, his external life, and does give a token nod to God. But he stops there; he has not considered his attitude.
The Pharisee is kidding himself—living in an illusory state of ‘deceptive self-complacency’ (Scheira). Doesn’t need God. His “thank God” is more “you should be thanking me God for all I do for you”
The tax collector knows himself too, but inside out. He’s not one of those self-abasing “what a worm I am” people, but he does know his inadequacies, faults and knows he’s a sinner—and that’s all he says……no need for anxious profiling or ambitious competition, he just has things in his life that get between him and God. You see, he is in fact in a relationship with the God he talks to, a relationship of mutual love, of compassion….a relationship where he can simply unburden himself. And sometimes me too. And I pray Thank God!
So……this week, let’s look into the mirror of this text, watch for when we are the Pharisee who has lost the relationship with God and when are functioning as practical atheists. Let’s watch too for when we need to sing praise like the psalmist or unburden like the tax collector, to One who sees us as beloved, and yearns to be loved back.