Piercing the heavens with prayer

30th Sunday http://usccb.org/bible/readings/102719.cfm

For the second Sunday in a row the Church provides scripture reading about prayer.

Recall last week Jesus taught about persistence in prayer and today we hear something about our disposition in prayer.

The opening line of the first reading from Sirach reminds us that the Lord is a God of justice who know no favorites. We all have equal standing before God. No one is disenfranchised from God even if we think we are unforgivable or unlovable or have been absent for a while. God always listens.

Sirach’s imagery illuminates my imagination when I hear… the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest until it reaches its goal, nor does it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly, and affirms the right.

My imagination sees an archer shooting arrows high into the heavens… each arrow a prayer – a petition… soaring high…piercing the clouds to reach its goal—God’s ears.

Arrow after arrow… petition after petition…prayer after prayer… flying towards God’s ear…residing in his heart… and God judging justly and affirming the right.

Prayers for justice and right… are what God responds to… not to self-serving supplications.

The Responsorial Psalm adds to the picture of our prayer disposition when we hear the refrain “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” because the poor know first had what it means to be dependent for their very existence… the rich seem to have a harder time admitting dependence… on God or anything else.

To be dependent on God we often have to pierce our bloated self-image to make room for the image of God.

The Gospel illustrates much of these notes on our prayer disposition with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

The two characters in the Gospel—the Pharisee and the tax collector are as far apart as the east is from the west to those who heard Jesus tell this story, with the Pharisee being the envied one while the tax collector is disenfranchised and despised.

We can see from their position in the Temple and their approach to prayer that their polar opposite positions are reinforced in their disposition towardsprayer.

In listening to the Pharisee’s prayer—front and center in the Temple– he almost approaches it as if his role in prayer is to inform God of all the good things that the Pharisee does that separates himself from all the lesser mortals of which there are many… while the tax collector is on the periphery of the temple—at a distance– and there is not much to listen to from the tax collector prayer. He is short on words… but what he does say speaks volumes… “have mercy on me a sinner.” What else truly needs to be acknowledged…I am a sinner…have mercy on me.

The one tries to justify himself before God with words and his prayer if filled with pride… the other says little and in humility… listens a lot.

In looking at the Gospel the Pharisee manufactured many finely crafted words to deliver his message. The Pharisee’s tone was self-aggrandizing and his demeanor was one of superiority. How effective do your think his message was?

The tax collector used few words, took a realistic and humble tone, only asked for mercy, and was postured in supplication.

Who do you think communicated more effectively with God?

Follow his lead.

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