We might well pray every day: Lord, teach us to pray. The practices are many. We learn about prayer as silence, movement, art, and words, as contrition and thanksgiving, as praise and begging. And Luke’s Gospel story of the Pharisee and the tax collector sets the goal as the same whichever mode of prayer we engage. It is humility.
The Pharisee and tax collector of this parable represent two stereotypical polar opposites of character-types familiar to a first-century Jewish-Christian audience. The Pharisee is described as prayerful, faithful, generous, devout, and ascetic. . . in short, a religious person held in high esteem. The tax collector, on the other hand, represents the worst kind of person, the most hated to a first-century audience. The stereotypical tax collector collaborated with foreigners to extort from his own people. To Jesus' listeners, the tax collector would be the one to be ignored by God. . .
To the surprise of Jesus' listeners, however, it is the tax collector, not the goody-goody religious hero, whom Jesus says is “made right” before God, simply because of the taxman's heartfelt contrition. In contrast, the pious yet smug religious person leaves his prayer without having been right in God's eyes at all (v 14, dedikaiōmenos). His religious practices, for all their praiseworthiness, only end in isolating him from his neighbor.
There is a warning here: if we isolate ourselves from our neighbor, we isolate ourselves from God as well. Hence, Jesus insists that prayer, if it is to be genuine, must bring about a transformation of our hearts. It is much more than pious practice or religious duty. On the contrary, without genuine conversion, even the most admirable pious practice and prayer risk becoming empty and meaningless. – Lisa Marie Belz
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Taken in its larger context of Jeremiah's condemnations of his people's arrogance (13:9,17) and rampant injustice on the eve of the Babylonian invasion (13:17), the drought described in this passage is symbolic of something equally as grave as a lack of adequate rainfall. Although the people of Jeremiah's time are deeply religious, engaging in various religious practices (13:10), their religiosity nonetheless leaves something to be desired. It is based on a lie (13:25, sheqer, “deception,” “lie,” “falsehood”). They do not worship as God intends, and so their society is rife with violence and injustice (v 7). God is in their midst—they even bear the name of God (v 9)—but God “does not accept them” (v 10) and will not do for them what they will not do for themselves (v 19). Only authentic worship, that which combines religious observance with the construction of a truly just society, can remedy the spiritual drought and dryness which afflicts them. – Lisa Marie Belz
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Here Paul is, facing certain death, yet he knows himself to be delivered from “every work of evil” (v 18). No one can harm him now, not even death, since he lives in Christ and for Christ. In so giving himself repeatedly over the years, he has become like Christ: reduced to nothing (v 6/Philippians 2:7), forgiving his enemies (v 16/Luke 23:34), yet all the while encouraging, exhorting, consoling. The life of the Risen Christ has long been at work in him; now all that remains is its fullest consummation. – Lisa Marie Belz
Lisa Marie Belz, an Ursuline Sister from Cleveland, Ohio, is assistant professor of religious studies and graduate ministry at Ursuline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio.
Homily Service 40, no. 11 (2007): 43-52.