The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds. I am already being poured out like a libation. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In these 3 verses from Holy Scripture we have summarized the core of our worship i.e., the genuine prayer of praise and thanksgiving most acceptable to Almighty God. If we want to be more specific, looking at all of our readings on this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34:2-3, 17-19, 23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14) we realize that true worship keeps intact both God’s nature and ours.
You might say: “Of course, why would anyone alter the two roles? Who would be so foolish as to either use God for personal gain or take the place of God?” Yet, this is what is done so very often. And, this is why certain sacrifices, certain acts of worship are not acceptable to God; and so many prayers go unanswered.
Ultimately, in our worshipping what counts is the punch line: to be convinced that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Let’s make no mistake about it: God does the exalting and the humbling. If that exalting and humbling is done on this earth, we can benefit from them and return to playing our assigned role as creatures. However, the exalting and humbling after our death is most final and unalterable for all eternity. We can then safely say that our readings teach us a most crucial lesson, whose ramifications will be final, unalterable.
Those who use God for personal gain and those who take the place of God are identified by the gospel of Luke as those who are convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else. They take the place of God and become the most benevolent judges of their own conduct; and they use God to place themselves beyond reproach, above everyone else.
Again, some of us might say, “but I will never be so foolish as to think that, and even less, to act that way.” But, how well do we truly know ourselves?
In fear and trembling, I submit to you that a lot of our praying and worshipping might be done with the attitude and the posture of the Pharisee. The reason why we might not be aware of it is because our posture and our inner attitude can be subtle and well disguised. I begin to tremble as soon as I realize that the Pharisee seems to be going through all the correct steps of true worship and of an acceptable sacrifice.
He is doing Eucharist; he is thanking God; he takes up his position physically close to God and he is speaking the truth.
It might be true that he is better than the rest of humanity. It is true that many are greedy, dishonest, and adulterous. It is true that he fasts, not once a year as required, but twice a week, (wow). It is true that he pays all kinds of tithes…
So where is the problem? We know that there is something terribly wrong here, but we cannot pinpoint it. Well, he has taken God’s place and placed himself way above the rest of wretched humanity. He is on a pedestal, not talking to God, in prayer, but praying ….to himself.
In his eyes, God had no choice but to approve of all this and pay him all that is due to him. The trouble is that the god created by his impeccable piety and outstanding performance is not Yahweh, the God with an almighty arm, or the God revealed by Christ who said: “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:15)
As we worship God through the Eucharist we ought to realize that all our prayers, fasting, good deeds, absolutely everything is done through the Holy Spirit. We cannot take even a speck of credit for anything good we do. And that, my friends, is so hard to swallow.
Therefore, if we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in doing good, we want at least to be allowed to compare ourselves favorably with those people we look down upon. We feel it in our gut that God should give us a break since that there are so many people a lot more wicked, more vicious, more unfair, more rotten, more greedy than we.
True worship demands that we acknowledge with humility that we are creatures steep in imperfections and sins, creatures that strike their chest in genuine sorrow, creatures incapable of anything good except through God’s grace. As its starting point, true worship admits the stark truth that God owes us nothing, absolutely nothing. True worship forbids that we use our brothers and sisters as a dark background against which we can make our good deeds stand out and shine. True worship in the Holy Spirit, then, has to become a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy, for God’s law, for God’s blessings, for God’s presence in our life, for God’s ultimate gift of Himself on the cross.
This is the true attitude that allows God to be God, to be the Giver of all goods things, the Prompter of all good deeds, the Lord of mercy, the Forgiver, the Justifier. We cannot improvise this attitude of a grateful sinner in need of constant grace, and protection, and mercy and assistance.
First, we ought to empty ourselves of all narcissism as we are finally convinced that even in our best efforts, we cannot love ourselves the way God loves us. We ought to empty ourselves of narcissism so that, like Christ, we might place others ahead of ourselves and their well being above our own. With this attitude of humble recognition of our condition, we shall feel the need to come here every Sunday and offer to God our Eucharist, our heartfelt thanks. We shall offer to God the ultimate gift of His Son on the cross. We shall offer this sacrifice of thanksgiving with the deep conviction that it is only in Christ that our little accomplishments and our imperfect love can be acceptable to God.
We shall do this every Sunday until our whole life will become a libation poured out to His glory, and the Lord will exalt us in His Kingdom.