Lectio Divina: Luke 18:9-14
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
You yourself remind us through Your holy people
that all our religious practices,
even the eucharistic sacrifice,
are not worth anything
if we use them to bend You our way.
God, may we come to You
in humility and repentance,
ready to encounter You in love
and to turn toward You.
Accept us as Your sons and daughters,
together with Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Lord for ever.
2) Gospel Reading - 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
• In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in order to teach us to pray, tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus has a different way of seeing things. He saw something positive in the tax collector, of whom everybody said, “He does not know how to pray!” Jesus, through prayer, lived so united to the Father that everything became an expression of prayer for Him.
• The way of presenting the parable is very didactic. Luke gives a brief introduction which serves as the key for reading. Then Jesus tells the parable and at the end Jesus Himself applies the parable to life.
• Luke 18:9: The introduction. The parable is introduced in this way: “He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else!” This statement is Luke’s. It refers to the time of Jesus, but it also refers to our own time. There are always people and groups of people who consider themselves upright and faithful and who despise others, considering them ignorant and unfaithful.
• Luke 18:10-13: The Parable. Two men went up to the Temple to pray: one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. According to popular opinion at that time, the tax collectors were not esteemed at all, and they could not address themselves to God because they were impure. In the parable, the Pharisee thanks God because he is better than others. His prayer is nothing other than a praise of himself, an exaltation of his good qualities and contempt for others and for the tax collector. The tax collector does not even raise his eyes, but he beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He puts himself in his own place, where he stands before God.
• Luke 18:14: The application. If Jesus had allowed people to express their opinion and say which of the two went home justified, all would have answered, “the Pharisee!” At that time, this was the common opinion. Jesus thinks in a different way. For Him, the one who returns home justified, in a good relationship with God, is not the Pharisee, but rather the tax collector. Jesus turns all things upside down. It is certain that the religious authorities of that time were not pleased with Jesus’ application of the parable.
• Jesus prays. Luke informs us, especially, about Jesus’ prayer life. He presents Jesus in constant prayer. The following is a list of texts of Luke’s Gospel, in which Jesus appears in prayer: Lk 2:46-50; 3:21; 4:1-12; 4:16; 5:16; 6:12; 9:16,18,28; 10:21; 11:1; 22:32; 22:7-14; 22:40-46; 23:34; 23:46; 24:30). In reading Luke’s Gospel you can find other texts which speak about the prayer of Jesus. Jesus lived in contact with the Father. To do the will of the Father was the breathing of His life (Jn 5:19). Jesus prayed very much and insisted that people and His disciples do the same, because from union with God springs truth, and the person is able to discover and find self, in all reality and humility. In Jesus prayer was intimately bound to concrete facts of life and to the decisions which He had to make. In order to be faithful to the Father’s plan, He sought to remain alone with Him in order to listen to Him. Jesus prayed the psalms. He did it like any other pious Jew and He knew them by heart. Jesus even succeeded in composing His own psalm. It is the Our Father. His whole life was constant prayer: “By himself the Son can do nothing; He can do only what He sees the Father doing!” (Jn 5:19,30). To Him can be applied what the psalm says: “All I can do is pray!” (Ps 109:4).
4) Personal questions
• Looking into the mirror of this parable, am I like the Pharisee or like the tax collector?
• Do we “pray always” or do we turn everything we do into prayer? Which is more sincere?
• There are people who say that they do not know how to pray, but they speak with God all the time. Do you know any people like this?
• The Eastern Church has the “Jesus Prayer”, which would be based on this passage, and is used to “pray always”. Do I pray with the same intent: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.”
5) Concluding Prayer
Have mercy on me, O God, in Your faithful love,
in Your great tenderness wipe away my offenses;
wash me clean from my guilt,
purify me from my sin. (Ps 51:1-2)