30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A FEW WORDS
By Lucinda M. Vardey (Parishioner, Contemplative Women of St. Anne)
As in most of Jesus’ parables, it takes only a few words to make a number of points. The self-confident Pharisee, standing in formal piety, was separated in his thoughts and prayer from not only a merciful God but those different from him. The tax collector, on the other hand, was empty of any feeling of worth and by uttering a few sincere words allowed space for God to work in his soul.
Jesus places both men in the extreme: they were far from each other in society and, according to the Pharisee, far from each other in capabilities of worship. But Jesus could also be indicating that prayer is not a competition. It’s not about how many words and how many times we recite them, but how we turn up, the attitude with which we enter into prayer, the state of our hearts in relating to God and those who pray alongside us.
The tax collector’s few humble words can be seen as an acknowledgment that all things are from God and in God, and without the grace of God’s mercy we are unable to change for the better and begin again anew. The prayer of the Mass follows the same course: we start with confession and repentance. By requesting the mercy of God we then raise our voices united in the Gloria, the praise and thanksgiving that indeed is “The prayer of the humble” that “ pierces the clouds.” (Sirach 35: 21).