This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
Imagine giving a present to a child you love. Maybe it’s your own child or grandchild, or the son or daughter of close friends. Imagine this child unwrapping your gift which is exactly what he or she had hoped for.
Now think about how that child might respond to your gift: he might laugh and smile in delight; she might look with wonder at what she’s been given, lost for words; he might look up at you and say, “Wow! Thank you!”; she might rush over to hug you, still lost for words. And you’d be glad to have given so much pleasure to a child you love.
But how might you feel if, instead of this simple and innocent delight the child stood up and addressed everyone there like this: “Thank you for this present which I will treat with respect and care. I’m pleased I’ve been given such a good gift and not something cheap and badly made. I believe I deserve this: I have done well at school and been obedient to my mother and father at home …… “ and so on.
Can you imagine how that would affect your relationship with that child? What you gave in love is received as no more than what the child expected and believed he or she deserved. It was your duty to reward him or her in this way. The giving and receiving of a gift has been turned into almost a business transaction devoid of love and grace.
Perhaps the Pharisee in today’s Gospel reading thinks of his relationship with God as being something like a business agreement with little or no room for divine love and grace.
His prayer is like the speech we imagined a child making on being given a present. He thanks God that he is a highly respectable religious man who studies and keeps Jewish law. In fact, he reminds God, in his fasting and giving he does more than the law requires. He’s thankful that he’s not like others, he’s better than them and certainly a lot better than this tax-collector who happens to be praying at the same time.
There is no humility or honest acknowledgment of any wrong-doing in this prayer. There is no room for God to respond in the life of this Pharisee who leaves the temple in much the same state of mind as when he arrived.
Meanwhile the despised tax-collector approaches God very differently. An outcast from society, he collaborates with the Roman authorities and makes money in doing so. Rejected by all around him he doesn’t expect to be welcomed by God and cannot raise his head heavenward. But he does ask God for mercy, beating his chest in an expression of guilt and regret.
With what must have seemed quite shocking authority Jesus declares that it is that wretched tax collector who goes home justified or vindicated by God – God takes his side and upholds him.
It might be worth thinking about our relationship with God and whether we truly believe that we are completely loved and accepted and that nothing we say or do can ever change that love or stop it reaching us.
Sometimes we might find it hard to believe that we can be loved like that – our image of ourselves might be damaged and distorted so that we have come to think we are unlovable and unforgivable. Perhaps it’s very painful to acknowledge that that’s how we feel and so we bury the feelings and seek ways of living that mean we will somehow earn or deserve love and acceptance in that way.
One of the problems with living like that, though, is that there will always be others to compare ourselves with. We might think we’re doing better than other people in our congregation or among our friends and colleagues. But we will also always find people around us who make us feel inferior. This is not a way of living that will bring us the peace that comes from knowing ourselves truly loved for who we are, not for what we do.
Jesus invites us to dare to be honest about ourselves, trusting in God who will always be on our side because he loves us completely and perfectly. If we delight in giving good things to the children in our lives how much more must God our heavenly father delight in giving us, his children, good things and seeing us grow into being the people he means us to be.
- We are God’s children and he loves us completely and unconditionally. There is nothing we can say or do that will change that.
- If we think we can earn or deserve all that God gives us and all he does for us we are rejecting his gifts of grace and love.
- We can become too proud of our religious lives and think that we are “better” than others.
- Only by being honest about ourselves and by trusting completely in God’s mercy and compassion can we be fully reconciled with him.
In faith and trust let us pray to the God of our salvation that his mercy and love may be known throughout the world and by all people.
We pray for God’s church that with humility and honesty she may proclaim the good news of God’s loving mercy and forgiveness towards all who seek him.
We pray for the brokenness of this world that God’s generous provision for all of us may be shared equally and that God’s blessing of love and peace may be known wherever there is hatred and violence.
We pray for our communities of families, friends, neighbourhoods, schools and places of work. We pray that God will give us grace to reach out to others with true humility and with open and generous hearts.
We pray for those who are in pain or distress, grieving or lonely and those whose suffering is known only to God. May his love, compassion and strength be known in their lives and bring healing into their hearts.
Lord God, we bring our prayers to you. We thank you that you are always ready to hear us and that in your love and mercy you are always working for the salvation of us all through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.