30Mar Saturday of Week 3 of Lent

Prayer-words become genuine prayer only when joined to a humble love and search for God…

1st Reading: Hosea 5:15–6:6

God wants our love more than ritual sacrifice

“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.

Responsorial: Psalm 51

Response: What I desire is mercy, not sacrifice

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in your great compassion wipe out my offense.
Wash me thoroughly from my guilt
and cleanse me of my sin. (R./)

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is always before me:
Against you alone have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight. (R./)

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. (R./)

Give me again the joy of your salvation,
and preserve in me a willing spirit.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Pharisee and Tax-collector pray differently. A lesson in humility

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.”

BIBLE

Not with words alone

The Bible is a rich resource of guidance for every day. But just knowing what it says is not enough. Even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose, as Shakespeare noted! If a little learning is a dangerous thing, knowing without doing is still more perilous. Knowing the Bible as literature will be life-giving only if accompanied by ongoing conversion and a spirit of worship.

The trust that God answers prayer is deeply embedded in Israel’s tradition; and Jesus shows the same confidence. Hosea quotes the liturgical prayer: “Come, let us return to the Lord,… He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up.” This theme of salvation on the third day occurs frequently enough in the Old Testament.. and Jesus stands within this biblical tradition by his rising from the dead “on the third day.”

God answers the call of our heart, but is not impressed by merely reciting words. Words become prayer when joined to a humble love and knowledge of God. The Pharisee and the Tax-collector have very different approaches to prayer. One spends his prayer-time listing his own virtues and achievements; and the other just asks for mercy, humbly aware of being a sinner. Jesus clearly favours the latter approach!


How do we pray?

Two went to the Temple to pray, but their approach to God was wholly different. The Pharisee offered a self-satisfied thanksgiving: “I thank you God that I’m not like all the rest.” The tax collector just asked humbly, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Both used traditional formulas but only the tax collector’s prayer was well directed. What distinguished the two was the attitude of heart prompting them. Which of them do we most resemble?

The Pharisee’s attitude included a haughty judgement of others; the tax collector’s attitude recognised his poverty before God. Both men were equally in need, spiritually poor, before God, but it was only the tax collector who realised this truth. We always come before God with empty hands. In the Our Father Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.” A prayer that originated in the Eastern church and that has been prayed by Christians down through the centuries is what is known as the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This can be prayed to the rhythm of our breathing. It is a slightly longer version of the prayer of tax collector. It is a prayer that keeps us humble and reminds us of our poverty before God; it is a prayer that will always be answered.


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