When God Is Not Impressed
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2022
When going in for a job interview, we naturally hope to impress the person doing the hiring. We try to learn what it is the company is looking for and how to approach them in a way that will hopefully be to their liking. Yet when we approach God in prayer, do we stop to consider what pleases God when we speak to him? Of course, the Lord is always glad to hear from us, but certain ways of praying are more attractive to him than others. Fortunately, the scriptures teach us what is pleasing to God when we pray. Let’s look at this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) for clues.
A Pharisee and a tax collector go up to pray. While the Pharisee appears to be a righteous man, the tax collector, on the other hand, is a notorious sinner. The Pharisee seems to be doing everything right; the other guy, everything wrong. Yet the Pharisee’s prayer was rejected, while the tax collector’s was accepted. Why?
In a word, the answer is humility. Nothing seems to displease God so much as an excess of pride in what we say, when we fail to give thanks, or when we boast or seem to take all the credit for things he has done in our lives. This is because God showed himself in the bible to be the very essence of humility, being born in a stable, being raised by poor parents, and not making a show of his powers except when necessary.
The Pharisee has not come to ask the Lord for anything at all. Instead, he spends his prayer time telling God how good he is and how much he is doing for God! Actually, no one likes a proud braggart – and who is impressed with someone who can’t stop talking about himself? God cannot give this man anything, because he is so full of himself. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness; he doesn’t feel he needs any. He even goes so far as to point out to God the sins of the tax collector, who is symbolically praying, as the scripture says,“off at a distance.”
No one doubts that this tax-collector was a terrible sinner. He beats his breast and stays in the shadows, not even daring to look up. But perhaps because he had blown it so badly in life, he offers to God a prayer that is deeply pleasing to God:
“Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Jesus is always pleased when we approach him in humility. He wants us to talk to him about our lives. He desires to be thanked for the blessings (and even the crosses) we have received. The Pharisee did all these things, but then he blows it by taking credit for them himself. He does not listen because he never gives God a chance to speak; God cannot act in his life because the Pharisee is not aware of his neediness. He is, in fact, very self-centered and does not even know it. Yet it is so easy to please God in prayer: we thank him, listen to him (through the Scriptures), ask him for what we need; and we now know a prayer that God simply cannot resist: “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”