THE PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
March 29, 2014
Today’s readings: Ps 51:3-21; Lk 18:9-14
The Pharisee did things rightly. He was not “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” (Lk 18:11). He fasted twice a week and paid tithes on his whole income” (v.12). If only there were more people like him, we could live in a great society. But there were two things he did wrongly. He was “convinced of (his) own righteousness and despised everyone else.” (Lk 18:9).
The Pharisee did not see himself as he really was–a sinner. This was the saving grace for the tax collector. His simple prayer was “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13b). The Pharisee came before the Lord with pride and self-righteousness. His prayer was a direct contrast to that of the tax collection, as he prayed: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity” (Lk 18:11b).
Indeed, the Pharisee despised the tax collector and everyone else. He did not empathize with the weakness of others. He did not desire to reach out to help them if he could. He professed to love God but hated his neighbor.
Jesus then pronounced judgment on the Pharisee and the tax collector. “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:14).
Might that be the case with us? Might we become puffed up with pride for our spiritual life and works? Might we be looking down on others who are not as holy as we are? Might we then even not want to be tainted by the filth of those we perceive to be sinners? On the contrary, as we have met Christ and our lives have already been touched by God, our posture should be the opposite. We should be even more conscious of our sinful state, knowing how far we are from the holiness God desires for us, that we still have a long way to go to truly live Christ. And, out of gratitude for what God has already done for us, we should strive to reach out to others, to share Christ, so that they too can know His mercy and receive His grace.
We need to have the posture of David. He knew he was a sinner and acknowledged it before God. “For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51:5). Further, he was concerned about other sinners, desiring for them to experience the mercy of God as he did. “I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” (Ps 51:15).
We too, even as we try to do things rightly, must know what truly pleases God. It is not just ritual sacrifice or burnt offerings, but a clean heart and a steadfast spirit (Ps 91:12). It is not just what we do, but who we truly are. It is not just about external actions that seem pleasing, but about the internal disposition of our hearts. If so, then we can be assured that we will please God as we come before Him in prayer. “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.” (Ps 51:19).
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God bless you all.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
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