The Resurrection, Kruiskerk, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’   Luke 18:13.

Click on words highlighted in red for further information.

There is a very old prayer which originated with the Egyptian desert fathers and mothers in the sixth century. It is called the Jesus Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

As you can see, it is in two parts. You begin by breathing in the first half, and breathing out the second half. In that way you allow the Lord to take possession of you as you inhale, and expel the evil within on exhaling. Eventually, after a length of time, this should become habitual, done throughout the day. You first start verbally, then once that is set, it slowly becomes a mental exercise and, eventually, it culminates in the heart as a continuous prayer, lifelong. Our Orthodox Christian teachers consider this prayer to be essential to our spiritual growth. One of its origins is thought to be today’s gospel passage, which contrasts humility with pride. The Pharisee says “I” five times; the tax collector simply asks for pity “on me”. Note the huge difference. Also remember that the tax collectors in Jesus’ day were Jews, appointed by the Roman forces occupying Palestine, who were seen as betraying their homeland, and so were despised by all the other Jews. They associated with the unclean Romans, who were uncircumcised, who ate forbidden foods and believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses. And so our tax collector would be considered to be as bad as the pagan Romans, even though he was apparently allowed into the Temple. But looking at the picture Jesus paints, it is clearly the inner thoughts and bearing which God sees above all. In one person, there is the deadly sin of pride, in the other the saving grace of sorrow before God for sins committed; perhaps pride is the deadliest sin of all. 


Table of the Seven Deadly Sins, attrib. Bosch, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

With the exception of the pride-filled Pharisee, the readings today focus on righteousness, how God will respond to the prayers of those who recognize their proper place before the Almighty, as seen in today’s tax collector, and how God responds to them. St. Paul, clearly facing death for his beliefs, is rock solid in his conviction that God is with him in his terrible situation, and will be with him throughout. Only that Pharisee in the gospel sees himself above all others, essentially with no need of God! He is quite good enough on his own! I refer you to my reflection on hell mentioned in the contemplation for the 27th Sunday three weeks ago. This man would seem to be quite a good candidate for such. He is so full of himself that there seems to be no room for God in his mind or heart. And note, the absence of God is a definition of sin (the opposite of grace, which is the presence of God). 

When we stand in prayer before the Almighty, not one of us is sinless, yet God loves each one of us, warts and all. The wonder of that truth should hit us each time we talk to the Lord. Why on earth are we, fallen creatures and prone to all those sins listed above, still welcomed into God’s presence? Let us be utterly grateful that our God is such and not an avenging angel just waiting for us breathe our last and be cast into everlasting darkness but rather a hovering presence just waiting for us to turn towards the light and be saved. Does this picture below echo God’s power, presence and hope, ever looking for us, ever ready to save us, like the Windhover, zooming down to eviscerate any evil within us, saving us from sin and death?


I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,The Windhover…..

The Windhover, Hopkin’s Poetry.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.