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Have mercy on me, a sinful one

October 27, 2013

A reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary time, year C. The readings are Sirach 35:15-17, 20-22; Psalm 34 ; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 and Luke 18:9-14.

“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” That’s the Jesus Prayer, perhaps you know it: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinful one.” I don’t like that prayer. I don’t. I don’t like to think of myself as a sinner: a sinful one. Who does?

I was just reading the little introduction to today’s readings in the Living With Christ missal, written by Bernadette Gasslein, and she says that when the new translation of the Mass was coming out, one of the parts people objected to the most was “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It’s true, eh? Now most of us who are used to the Mass in other languages were already used to “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”, but those who only knew the Mass in English were not happy about that one. Because who wants to think of themselves as a sinner? That’s why people don’t go to Confession. And then, after “my most grievous fault” what do we do? “Lord, have mercy on me.” I don’t like that. “Have mercy!” It makes me think of an evil king that’s going to take my head off for no reason – like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, “off with her head!” – and I have to beg for my life: “have mercy on me, please!” I don’t like that because I don’t think God is an evil king that’s going to take my head off for no reason. And I don’t think I have to beg for my life.
In fact, God is the just judge that’s described in today’s first reading from the Book of Sirach.  He is a judge who is fair; He is just; completely impartial. And he hears the cries of the poor. The Lord is near the poor and He is near the broken-hearted. And, while I don’t like to think of myself as a sinner, I’m ok with being the poor and broken-hearted. We are the poor and the broken-hearted! It doesn’t say that God is not near to those whose hearts are not broken, but apparently He’s especially close to the broken-hearted; to the lowly. The Lord hears the prayers of the humble.

And that’s the problem with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel parable. He may very well have been a good man; but he was not humble before God. Listen to Paul in the second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy. It sounds like he may be saying how great he is because he ran the race and fought the good fight, but listen, it’s not Paul who crowns himself. God will crown him. Paul is nothing without God. That’s the difference. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.

But it’s not like God needs us to be humble because he wants to make sure that we are less than him. That’s not it. It’s that when we are faced with the awesome presence of God, we recognize how insignificant we are and that is humbling! Remember in February when I spoke about “the call”? And I said that God calls everyone and before the Call there is a personal encounter with God; and right after the encounter with God what happens? We are humbled. We realise how little we are. It happened to Peter. He said, “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) It happened to Paul. He says that he was “untimely born” and the “least of the apostles.” (1 Cor 15:8-9) It happened to Ezekiel, to Jeremiah – to everyone who’s had a personal encounter with God.

And when we realise that even though we are nothing, we are insignificant – the Psalms say that we are like the blades of grass that wither and fade – and still God loves us so much… we are nothing and for God we are everything. You are insignificant and God thinks you are the most important thing. If you were the only human being in the world, God would still have become a human being and died for you; just for you (And you know what that means, eh? If you were the only human it means that you would have been the one nailing him to the cross, ‘cause there’d be no one else!) God loves you so much – THAT is humbling and should lead us to prayer, to forgiveness, to praise and thanksgiving – which are all great ways to pray.

The truth is the God is not fair. If He was just, we’d all get what we deserve, which is eternal separation from God. God is not just; He gives us what we do not deserve, because of love. He is merciful because He loves us! Mercy is Love. That is humbling!

And you know what’s worse than being full of pride and criticizing others in our prayer? It’s feeling like we are not good enough. Sometimes we think we’re not worthy, we feel like there is no way that God will love us or even care about us, and so we stop praying. That is a form of pride! Sometimes we’re so ashamed and tired of the same sins – it’s always the same sin, over and over again, so what do we do? We stop praying. We stop communicating with God. We feel bad and so we stop going to Mass. And the people who prefer to not go to Communion rather than going to Confession. That’s pride!

I’ll give you an example, because we all do it with each other too. Let’s say that you promise something to someone and then you forget, so you feel bad and you promise that it will never happen again. Two weeks later, it happens again. You’re ashamed. You feel bad. But instead of calling your friend to apologize again, you just don’t call. You disappear. Maybe if you ignore it, it will go away. And next thing you know, years have gone by and you haven’t spoken to your friend. We do it to each other all the time. And we also do it to God. Don’t let your sinfulness get in the way of your relationship with God. We’re all sinners! You’re going to sin. You’re going to fall. You’re going to fail. So what? God doesn’t care that you’re a sinner; God cares that you don’t communicate with Him. You won’t stay out of Heaven ‘cause you’re a sinner; You’ll stay out of Heaven because you stop communicating with God. Always bring your sinfulness in prayer to God. Remember, “The prayer of the humble and lowly (and I would say the sinner and broken-hearted) pierces the clouds and it will not rest until it reaches its goal.” (Sirach 35:20)

 There’s a beautiful Psalm, Psalm 51 that we pray every Friday, Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours: “Have mercy on me, O God; in your kindness; in your compassion blot out my offense. Wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.” Do you know who wrote it? King David. You know why? He had lusted after and committed adultery with the wife of his good friend and top general. And when he found out that she was pregnant arranged to have him killed in battle. Then he took her as his wife. You think your sin is bad. David was a sinful man; but he is described in scripture as a man after God own heart. Don’t get hung up on your sinfulness; just always be a person after God’s own heart.

Let’s pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinful one.”

From → English, Reflections

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