Every changed heart is a proof of God’s answer of our prayers.

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18

The LORD is a God of justice, who knows no favorites. Though not unduly partial toward the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint. The one who serves God willingly is heard; his petition reaches the heavens. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Christian prayer in its full New Testament meaning is prayer addressed to God as Father, in the name of Christ as Mediator, and through the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit.” According to the saints, prayer is “an aspiration of the heart” (St Therese of Lisieux), “a place of refuge for every wrong” (St John Chrysostom), “the inner bath of love”. (St John Vianney). As Christians, we know that prayer is a way of communication to God, a conversation with Him, a direct address in His presence.

Today’s Gospel presents two ways of praying. The self-righteous Pharisee who prayed to himself and the “sinful” tax collector who prayed to God. In fact, the Pharisee’s words were no prayer. In spelling out what he believed was factual, his words turned into boasting. He became so self-absorbed that he had no room for God. (He even reminded God of the deficiency of the tax collector, assuming himself the role of a judge). In contrast, the prayer of the tax collector was simple and humble. He felt the need for God. He needed His mercy and forgiveness. In the end, the tax collector was justified by God while the Pharisee, who needed nothing and asked for nothing, received nothing.

Indeed prayer defines one’s relationship with God. The way one prays reveals that relationship. The Scriptures are replete with stories of prayers. Through prayers, Hezekiah was delivered from the king of Assyria (2 Kings 19:14-36); Daniel was saved from the lion’s den and the three men from the fiery furnace (Dan 3:24, 6:11); the Israelites were spared from God’s wrath and their enemies (Moses’ prayers in Nm11:2, Ex 16-17); Hannah was granted a son (1 Sam 1:20), Esther her plea (Est C 14) and the apostles boldness (Acts 4:24-31). Prayers are answered when offered with humility and supplication by those who are in the right relationship with God (cf Jas 5:16). “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12) and “the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Pro 15:8). On the contrary, “if I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps 66:18).

True prayers bring us closer to God for the heart of the one who prays will be changed. When our desires are aligned with God’s, then our prayers are answered according to His will. Every changed heart is a proof of God’s answer of our prayers.

Posted: October 23, 2016

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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