Catching-up post, part 2. Before we met Zacchaeus this past Sunday, we had two gospels connected with prayer: the parable of the widow and the judge, and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple.
If you remember the gospel we read on October 2nd (post here) the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus told them that it was not about increasing it, that the problem was that they had none. We reflected in the homily that Jesus was not talking about “doctrinal” faith, but faith in his actual teachings, specifically on (1) a life of absolute forgiveness, (2) a life of service, and (3) the ability to do great things. The story of the widow and the judge adds a fourth area: prayer.
Jesus is asking us, do you believe in prayer? Not the desperate prayer that we get into when a sudden need appears (for us or others,) but like with forgiveness, the constant prayer, prayer understood as a lifestyle. We do not pray, or we do not pray enough, or we pray for the wrong things (inspired by this story, when is the last time we prayed for justice?) or we pray muttering so many words and formulas that we do not allow God to talk to us. Prayer is a conversation, as we have preached before, and we need to allow God to respond to us.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the characters show extreme attitudes on prayer. Jesus offers the parable to teach us what happens when we are filled with ego. Think of prayer as a conversation, as we just said above. What answer can God give to either of the characters? There is no room for God to answer to the Pharisee, who is really talking to himself (“He spoke this prayer to himself.”) If we think we are perfect, as individuals or as a faith community (or as anything, for that matter,) then our prayer will be empty, and self-aggrandizing, and will fuel our judgmental attitudes. The ego-less prayer of the tax collector allows for God to answer to him.
One last thought. On our previous post we wondered what does it mean to be a person of the margins. Interestingly enough, Jesus teaches on prayer using the example of people in the margins, a widow pleading for justice before an insensitive Judge and a tax collector who can hear the offensive prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee. Perhaps just because in the margins there is less room for ego, for the consideration of superficial needs, and it becomes clearer to us what we and those around us actually need.