Quality of Prayer

Fr. Baskar Anandan HGN

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 23, 2016 | Reading


The quality of our prayer depends on our attitude. This is clearly evident in today’s gospel. The Jewish people had the custom of praying at 9:00 am, 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm. They also had morning and evening prayers which coincided with the offering of lamb in the temple. This is what was happening in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. As was the custom, the two went up to the temple for prayer.  Let us try to learn about each of them.

The Pharisee

The name Pharisee would mean ‘the separated one’. This name was given to members of a particular religious party who were very strict in following the Law of Moses. The group came into existence more than a hundred years before Jesus was born. They withstood the persecution even when many Jews abandoned their faith. But, later on they became proud and added rules upon rules to the Ten Commandments. By the time of Jesus, the 10 Commandments had become 613 commandments! According to the Pharisees, all 613 rules had to be observed in order to reach heaven.

The Tax-collector

Tax collectors were at the service of the Roman Government which oppressed the country at that time. They were also hated by the people for extorting money from the poor. The Roman Government appointed chief tax-collectors and many agents under them to collect the tax. All of them followed the same system: they extorted from the people as much as they could, handed over to the Government its due and pocketed the rest. The tax-collectors were hated for these reasons and were considered sinners equal to thieves, murderers and prostitutes.

Prayer and Justification

The Pharisee prayed telling God of his own greatness. The Law commanded the Jews to fast once a year (Lev 16). But, he fasted twice a week. Again the Law commanded that one tenth of what flocks and fields yielded should be offered to Yahweh (Dt 14:22-27). He not only did that but also offered one tenth of even the last vegetable grown in his garden. His prayer was not pleasing to God because his pride and self-centeredness watered down all his righteousness. “If we say, ‘we are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves,  and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8)

The tax-collector humbled himself and considered the Lord as Holy and prayed saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13)  The tax collector’s prayer is justified because, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1 Jn 1:9)

Let us increase the quality of our prayer by being humble of heart and exalting God so that our prayers may be justified.