The last two weeks the Gospel suggested that the first step of prayer was gratitude. We need to give thanks to God. Last week the Gospel advocated the second element of prayer that is about persistence and perseverance. Don't give up prayers even when it seems that God is slow to answer. This week the Gospel puts forward another element of prayer that is humility. To be humble of the heart leads us to welcome God into our lives. Our thoughts lead us to either move towards or to move away from God's mercy and love.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector tells us that it is not the content of what people say when they pray, but what is deep in their heart that counts. Jesus told us that the things we say when we pray are not as important as the feelings of our hearts. God will draw near to us when we humble ourselves before the Lord. We find this humility in the Magnificat when Mary the Mother of the Lord says the prayer.
My soul proclaims the goodness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.... He has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. Lk 1,46ff
Humble of the heart is what God desires. This parable is about prayer but the main issue is the condition of the heart as one prays. It is wrong when a person who is confident of his/he own righteousness and looks down on others. Pride makes us come to trust in our own abilities rather than dependence on God's love and mercy. Pride makes us feel superior over others people with contempt and disrespect rather than seeing Christ in others and believing that we are all equal before God.
The parable depicts the man who received God's gift without gratitude. The man's problem begins to surface. He is confident that he can stand before God on his own merits. Indeed, he came to tell God about his accomplishment and achievement. Jesus opposes the proud but praises the humble. The tax collector comes with timidity, and from a distance. He is so ashamed of what he has done and didn't have the courage to lift his eyes to see God. He beats his breast to reflect his contrition. He comes asking for mercy and the desires to improve his spiritual life. He knows that his entire life depends on God- through The Divine Mercy.
Jesus warns us about the danger of despising others. Jesus' parable speaks about the quality of prayer and our relationship with God. The contrast picture proposes two very different attitudes towards prayer. The pride one praises one's own achievement and the humble one praises God for His unconditional love and boundless mercy. Pride leads to illusion and self- deception. Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it leads us to God's grace and mercy. God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God's mercy and love.