’s Mark Kurowski reflects on the point of prayer in light of the anti-religion movement.  Is Jesus against religion? Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Luke 18:9-14.  #GreatPreaching #Prayer #Sermons #Homilyhelper #WHATSTHEPOINT, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday,   10/27/2013  The 30th   Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Please pause this audio and read Luke 18:9-14.
Last week’s Gospel Lesson was about how we ought to be persistent in prayer.  This week’s Gospel Lesson is about how we ought to be humble when praying.  Peter Rhea Jones writes that last week’s parable of the unjust judge and the widow is “the promise of persistent prayer,” and this week’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is “the peril of presumptuous prayer.”
Over the last generation this parable has been used by the anti-establishment crowd to show how organized religion is wrong and bad.  In fact, it is chic to look at this story and say, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not as religious as that Pharisee.  I am just as sinful as the tax collector, and I thank you.  Surely, my prayer is to be better received by you because I am not the same type of religious hypocrite as that Pharisee.”
The problem with wagging our finger at the Pharisee is that we sound just like him in doing so.  What is the difference between us pointing out to God in our hearts that we are better than the Pharisee and the Pharisee pointing out to God that he is better than the tax collector?  There is none.
Does this story from the Gospel reject the religious practices of the Pharisees?   I don’t think so, because Jesus told his followers not to “pray like the hypocrites” or “fast like the hypocrites”.  In passages such as these he instructs them further how to fast and how to pray.  Jesus himself goes up to the temple to pray, like others, so the issue is not praying in public.  The overall issue is not whether we practice the One True religion.  This parable does not reject being religious–even the tax collector goes up to the Temple to pray–it is about how we are religious.
Thankfully, this parable opens up the conversation about what is the disposition of prayer.  What I mean is, what is the basis and point of prayer?  Is prayer a report card of how deserving we are?  Or, is prayer a relationship that understands our standing in relation to God?
    St. Augustine writes about praying the Lord’s Prayer,
We need to use words so that we may remind ourselves to consider carefully what we are asking, not so that we may think we can instruct the Lord or prevail on him.  Thus, when we say: Hallowed be thy name, we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name, which is in fact always holy, should also be considered holy among men….But this is a help for men, not God.
The prayer of the Pharisee thinks that somehow his righteousness is a benefit to God, when God doesn’t need any
benefit from humanity.  
The prayer of the tax collector, in the way of St. Augustine, understands that he is the one who benefits from God.  The benefit is not for anything that God has done for him.  Notice that the tax collector stands far off from God.  He is not asking for anything but God’s mercy.  His benefit is just being with God in a devoted relationship.  Where once the tax collector had no relationship due to his sin, he now recognizes his standing before God and asks simply for God’s mercy.
A young man in high school has a crush on a female in his class.  He gets all tongue tied when she is around.  He fumbles over himself in embarrassment when she walks in the room.  He is so awed by her that he thinks himself unworthy to be with her.
One day, the young lady asks him to walk with her to the next class.  The young man is just dumbfounded and flattered.  Even if the walk doesn’t come to anything more, he is just honored to be with the young woman.  The invitation leaves him pondering the joy and honor of being in her presence more than the lecture in class that day.
This is the same type of awe with which we ought to approach God.  God in my story is the young lady and we are the young man.  It ought to be just an honor to stand in the presence of God, even if it is far off.  This is the prayer of the tax collector.  He understands that when he comes to pray, he comes before God in his Temple.  He understands that when he comes there is an awe with which he ought to approach the Church, the sanctuary and God himself.
    Prayers from this vantage point are a profound gift to us.  They remind us that God does not want us to stand far off, but in Jesus Christ he invites us into the intimate relationship of his Son.  No longer are we those who are pure and those who are unclean, we are all sinners welcomed into the body of Christ through baptism.  Being part of the body of Christ means that we are part of THE Son.  The Son has the most intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It is into that relationship we are invited through our Baptism.
More than just wanting us to be persistent in prayer like last week’s widow and humble in asking like this week’s tax collector, God invites us to come in awe of his majesty into an intimate relationship.  That relationship is prayer.  Prayer is only that of a relationship where the humble petitioner approaches the merciful God Almighty through Jesus Christ.
     So, I invite you to pray in God’s holy temple every Sunday when you go to church.  Stand afar off in the back pews if you want, but go.  As you go, face the altar and reflect on your position in God’s universe.  Reflect on who God is and who you are in relation to him.  Then open your hearts, minds and mouths and pray.  I invite you to do that now.  Amen?  Amen.

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