Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-19/ 32(33):2-3, 17-19, 23/ 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18/ Luke 18:9-14
Attitude in Prayer
Luke 18 presents us with two different parables about prayer. This first parable teaches us about persistence in prayer. While the second parable (today’s gospel) addresses attitude in prayer by contrasting the prayer of the Pharisee with the prayer of the tax collector. In fact ‘prayer’ is one of the major themes in Luke’s gospel. It is a gospel of prayer. Luke 3:21 when Jesus was baptized he prayed.Luke 5:16 Jesus often would slip away to the wilderness to pray. Luke 6:12 Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. Luke 9:18 Jesus prayed before Peter’s profession…, in Luke 9:28 before the transfiguration Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray; in Luke 11:1 Jesus went to a certain place to pray; Luke 22:32 Jesus prayed that the faith of his disciple will not fail. Luke set out to teach that Jesus was a man of prayer. Beloved in Christ, if Jesus was a man of prayer; we must be men and women of prayer. If you only pray when you are in trouble; you are in trouble. Therefore, today is another opportunity to look at prayer; today so sad to say, if you look at what is going on in the society and in the media you will discover that many Christians are playing not praying.
Prayer is always used in a wide sense to refer to our entire relationship with God, and indeed our spiritual life in general. Prayer says John of Damascus is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God. Therefore, the mind and heart are key factors in prayer. Words are meaningless where mind and heart are absent. And so in prayer we must cultivate the attitude of being present both in mind and heart. Don’t come to church and be absent minded it is more or less a wasted effort. In the Church God is always present while we are mostly absent. Our minds often wander away, we worry about many things (past, present and future). Prayer demands self-mastery, have a firm grip of your thoughts, control your mind not your mind controlling you. Our imagination is the biggest nation in the world that is why it is called imagi-Nation , it’s a nation where you are both the leader and the follower, we must learn to control our minds so that we can truly pray.
Again, in prayer we look up to God not looking down on others. The Pharisee instead of looking up to God was looking down on the tax collector. He ran down the tax collector while the tax collector ran up God. For him prayer is an opportunity to keep God informed about one’s own success and the shortcomings of others. Never you looked down on anybody, in Exd.14:13 Moses said the Egyptians you see today; you shall see them no more. Never look down on someone unless you are helping him up. The person you rejected yesterday may be the blessing you are lacking today. Ps.118:22 and Matt.21:42 ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’
The gospel continues “two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke18:10). We have to enter the temple to pray. We must enter the temple to be reconciled with God. We must enter the interior mystery of the Church, the mystery of reconciliation. It is true that God is everywhere and that where two or three are gathered in his name He is there; but we must enter into the temple – the Church to pray. Don’t sit down at home and say to yourself ‘Church nah mind e dey’ such a church will only lead to the paradise in your own mind. The Church is a defined place of worship; your house is not a defined place of worship even though you can worship God in your house. Therefore, we must make that effort to go to God’s house. Ps. 122:1 I rejoice when I heard them say ‘let us GO TO God’s house’.
Again, we are told that the Tax collector went away justified, rather than the other. This is the experience of all those who come to Church; while some leave the Church blessed and justified others leave the Church worse off. Some leave the church and many testimony is reigned upon their lips others leave the church even saying nah so so money de dey do for church now, some leave the church fulfilled and happy others leave the church unfulfilled and troubled. The reason for this disposition is not far- fetched. The gospel says everyone who humbles himself shall be exalted and he who exalts himself shall be humbled. It therefore means that we should go to God in humility. Humility is a major secret in worship. James 4:6 says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” And in the Ps. 33:19 today’s psalms we are told that God is close to the broken hearted. The tax collector stood far off. Yet he was closer than ever to the Lord. The first reading puts it clearly, “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds… and he will not desist until the Most High visits him. Beloved in Christ, God is not mocked whatever a man soles he shall reap.
Another big lesson from today’s gospel reading is holiness. Holiness is a word that can make us feel uneasy because God is holy and his holiness calls our sinful attachments into question. Holiness is attained through God’s grace not by human effort or works only. We cannot claim to be holy before God. The confidence expressed by Paul as he reviews his life in the Second Reading, looks not so much to his own achievements but to the generosity and faithfulness of God. The standard for measuring holiness is not comparison of our spiritual prowess with others’. In the gospel the Pharisee was busy comparing himself to the publican and praised himself for greater effort. The common adage goes ‘no man is a judge in his own court’. In Lev.19:2 God says “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”; he did not say be holy because Mr. A is holy or be Holy because Mr. B is not holy, he says rather be Holy for I am holy. Beloved in Christ, for the Pharisee life is a competition in virtue. Comparison may be good in other areas of life but in heavenly race comparison may just be the reason some people will go to hell. God help us.
Fr. Dan Evbotokhai