29Mar 29th March. Saturday in Week 3 of Lent

1) Hosea 6:1-6

(Conversion is to be expressed in our lifestyle, since God desires steadfast love and not external sacrifices.

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

(“Two men went up to the temple to pray.” Two contrasting approaches to God.)

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Praying beyond words

The belief that God can answer our prayers is deeply imbedded in Israel’s tradition. It permeates the Psalms and Jesus repeats the same confidence. God certainly answers prayers, but he can be angered by a merely external mouthing of words. For words to become true prayer, it is not enough that they be consecrated by a sacred tradition and employed in a holy setting. Words are transformed into prayer, says the Hosea, by love and the knowledge of God.

It is a long journey from the pride of the Pharisee up at the front of the Temple to the humble spirit of the tax-collector way down at the back. It is a journey of repentance and of facing up to the truth. It is a journey that we all can and should make. If I’m still up at the front with the Pharisee, then my life will be riddled with guilt and I will never find peace.

The tax-collector or “publican” knew his place before God. “God is the all-holy One and I am a sinner. I have no right to set myself up above anyone else. All judgement is to be left to God. I can look at the most lost soul and say “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” I have no claim superiority in God’s presence, based on my wealth, my breeding, my achievements or social status. I could have been born to any parents, in any country, at any time. I did not select my sexuality, the colour of my skin, or my religious beliefs. With total conviction, I can stand before God and pray “Oh, God, be merciful to me a sinner.”