Sir. 35:12-14,16-18; Ps. 34:2-3,17-18,19,23; 2 Tim 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14
God plays no favorites. It makes no difference what our position in the community may be, it makes no difference what our political affiliations might be. It doesn't matter what kind of car we drive, or how big our house is. It makes no difference how many people we influence at work, and He doesn't care whether I spend a thousand dollars on my suit or get it off-the-rack at JC Penney. None of these things will win us any favor with the God who made us, the God who loves us, the God who holds us in existence at this very moment, the God who sent His Son to save us.
Who will get to heaven? Everybody? Nobody? Many? Few? Whatever the number may be, the readings today are clear that the one God will redeem is the one who humbly submits to the will of God in all things. Trust in God is never a mistake. It can be scary sometimes, especially when the odds are stacked against us, but it is never a mistake. Humble prayer before our Lord and God is always the first and best approach, because it affirms the proper order of nature (God made us, not the other way 'round), and because it gives us proper perspective toward whatever our situation may be. Humble submission to God is always the right thing to do. Imagine for a moment the difference between a humble petition to God and a blustery, boisterous outburst. Which of these do you expect God prefers? The answer is clear, even if it's not always what we've chosen in the past.
When the Kingdom comes, and we literally meet our Maker, we don't want to be singing Frank Sinatra's famous song: "I did it my way." If you listen carefully to that song, it's all about throwing off the will of others - including and especially God - and pursuing the ways of the world. Hubris and self-gratification will not lead to eternal happiness in heaven. Quite the opposite. We want to be singing a different song, something like, "All praise and honor to you, Lord God, I did it your way!"
The prayer of the Pharisee was, "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector." That's not a true prayer at all. Not only because it's not truly prayerful, but because it's dishonest in its entirety. Maybe that particular Pharisee wasn't adulterous, but Pharisees were widely known to be greedy and dishonest. Remember, they're the ones Jesus always points to as the wrong example of how to live and worship. We don't want our prayer to be like that.
The prayer of the tax collector, on the other hand, was "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." Now that's more like it. I think we'd all agree that this is a far more honest and heart-felt prayer. This is clearly the kind of prayer Jesus prefers in the Gospel today. And as ever, when Jesus gives a parable to the people, He's giving us and example for how we are to live today. Even if we haven't always done the right thing or the best thing in the past, we can always pray this prayer, knowing that the Lord will hear us. A prayer of repentance from the heart, like the tax collector in the parable, is always appropriate for us. The mercy of God is infinite and available, if only we ask for it. That’s one reason why we have sacraments. Yet God will not force even His mercy upon us. Mercy, like love, must be freely offered and freely accepted.
Today we have a grand opportunity to line up once again with the humble servants of God through the centuries, to show our love for God by living and praying in true humility. And in that light, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, will have mercy on us.