Homily on the readings for Oct 24, XXX Sunday in OT year C
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” As is clear from the text of the responsorial psalm, “the poor” here means anyone who calls out to the Lord in need with a humble heart. The first reading corroborates this message: God listens to the prayers of all, especially those who serve the Lord faithfully.
St Paul, in the 2nd letter to Timothy, has had this experience: he has carried out his mission faithfully, and awaits his reward from God, the just Judge. Paul describes how he was abandoned by everyone the first time he had to defend himself in court, but “the Lord stood by [him] and gave [him] strength… and [he] was rescued from the lion’s mouth”. St Paul is confident that God will bring him “safe to his heavenly kingdom.”
It’s important to notice that he is talking about spiritual safety here; he was often beaten and imprisoned, and he suffered physically in many other ways too, but his faith stayed intact and he was able to keep evangelizing, whether he was free or in prison. God hears our prayers, but to get what we ask for, we have to ask for the right thing, with the right priorities: a flourishing spirit is more important than physical well-being, and God will sometimes work to favor the former at the expense of the latter.
So, for our prayers to be answered, we have to go to God with sincere humility and openness to what God wants to give us. While it is important to serve Him faithfully, like St Paul, we should not focus too much on our achievements along those lines, lest we go to God with a sense of entitlement and self-importance. Those are precisely the attitudes that Jesus condemns in the parable he tells in today’s reading from the gospel according to Luke. The Pharisee goes into the temple and praises himself before God, scorning the tax collector whom the Pharisee saw as a sinner. Jesus does not deny that the Pharisee has been scrupulous in fulfilling the law, but his pride and vanity void the power of his prayer. The tax collector, on the other hand, has not perhaps been as faithful to the precepts of religion, but he is truly humble before God and asks for mercy instead of touting his own good deeds. Jesus sets him up as an example for us of the right attitudes to have.
Ultimately, we depend on God’s grace even to have the right attitudes in prayer. Let us turn to Him with humility and confidence and ask Him to teach us to pray. And also let us thank God with all our hearts for all the good things He has done for us and through us in answer to our humble prayers: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.”