There was once a blind, poor and childless man who prayed every day that God would reverse his fate.
One day God heard his fervent prayer. “I’ll give you only one thing that you ask for. What do you want the most?” God asked. The blind, poor, childless man was thrown into an emotional tizzy. If he asked for sight, he’d see how poor and alone he was. If he asked for wealth, he’d still be blind and have no children with whom to share his money. If he asked for children, how could he feed them being so poor and not able to see them?
So finally he prayed, “Dear God, grant me just one thing – the joy of seeing my children eating off of gold plates!” A pretty sharp fella, I would say! He really knew how to put his prayer into words.
Today Jesus gives us a parable about praying (Luke 18:9-14). There is a Pharisee who goes to the temple to pray. In reality, the Pharisee goes to the temple, not to pray to God, but to pray to himself. The Pharisee gives thanks to God, but why? He gives thanks to God that he is not like the rest of humanity, and especially that he’s not like this tax collector. Often enough when I listen to people around me, it seems they are giving thanks to God for much the same reason.
The Pharisee went to the temple not to pray, but to tell God how great an individual he was. He fasted twice a week when the custom was to fast once a week. He paid his 10% tithe not on part of what he earned, but on everything he earned. He saw himself as this great guy.
Now the tax collector beat his breast and humbly said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
The lesson that Jesus is teaching us is:
1. No one who is proud can pray. You have to be humble.
2. No one who despises others can pray. “Those people of color are destroying our country!”
3. Lastly, and most important of all, Jesus is teaching us to put ourselves right next to him. Why? Because everything the Pharisee said was true. He did fast twice a week. He didn’t cheat on his 10% tithing. He gave more than his share. And he was not like other people. He was especially not like this no good sinner – this tax collector.
The Pharisee’s problem was that he was comparing himself to the wrong person – the tax collector. To whom should the Pharisee have been comparing himself? To Jesus! To God!
I confess, I do this so often myself. I compare myself to other priests who have problems. A while ago a priest who I am too fond of was picked up on a DUI charge. I hear Jesus telling me, “Laz, compare yourself to me who forgives 7 X 70, who walks the extra mile and who turns the other cheek. Don’t compare yourself to another priest!”
I’m sure you’re tempted all the time to compare yourself to others: “Who does that guy think he is?” “I would never do something like that.” “What do you expect of someone who lives in THAT neighborhood?”
“Time out! Time out!” Jesus says, “You’re comparing yourself to the wrong person. The right person is ME. Compare yourself to ME!” That requires faith, a lot of faith.
Here is a simple prayer you and I can pray every day: “Dear Lord, when I am wrong, make me easy to change. And when I am right, make me easy to live with. Amen!”
How often, consciously or unconsciously, do YOU compare YOUR behavior to others? When was the last time YOU compared YOURSELF to Jesus and what Jesus would do and what Jesus would say?
STRESS MAKES YOU BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING HAS TO HAPPEN RIGHT NOW. PRAYER REASSURES YOU THAT EVERYTHING WILL HAPPEN IN GOD’S TIME!