The 30th Sunday of the Year Eccl 35:12-14 & 16-19; 2 Tim 4: 6-8 & 16-18; Lk 18:9-14 (year c)

‘The man who with his whole heart serves God will be accepted, his petitions will be accepted. The humble man’s prayer pierces the clouds.” The ancient wisdom of Ecclesiasticus described humility as the foundation of prayer. Such humility was contrasted with the hidden pride that can hinder both our relationship with God and our relationships with each other.

We make countless judgments every day, but should avoid the tendency to categorise others as worthy or less worthy of our love and attention. Such judgments frequently hide the presumption that we ourselves, in comparison, are more worthy of attention. At the very least, in the presence of a Lord who shows no respect of personages to the detriment of a poor man, we should hesitate.

Luke’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector examines the fundamental attitudes that we bring to prayer, and, by implication, to the whole of life. The introductory words of the parable reveal its meaning: “Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.”

As the parable unfolds, the Pharisee’s prayer amounts to a claim of entitlement. He had already judged himself worthy of God’s hearing, citing his virtuous life as the foundation to his claims. Few would express themselves with the boldness of the Pharisee’s presumption, but unconsciously it is difficult to purify our hearts from the self-centred claims we make on God and each other. The tax collector made no such claims, entrusting himself, and his failings, to God’s compassionate mercy: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Humility is so much more than perfunctory self-deprecation. It is a profound appreciation of the gracious love that reaches out to us despite our unworthiness. It sets us free to rejoice in God and in each other. “This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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