The prayers and sacrifices we make to God mean nothing to him if they do not spring from a heart of love for God and for one's neighbor. How can we expect God to hear our prayers if we do not approach him with humility and a contrite heart? We stand in constant need of his grace and mercy.
That is why the Apostle James tells us that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). Jesus reinforced this warning with a vivid story of two men at prayer. Why did the Lord accept one person’s prayer and reject the other’s prayer?
Luke gives us a hint: despising one’s neighbor closes the door to God’s heart. Contempt is more than being mean-minded. It springs from the assumption that one is qualified to sit in the seat of judgment and to ascertain who is good and just.
Jesus' story caused offense for those who regarded "tax collectors" as unworthy of God's grace and favor. How could Jesus put down a "religious leader" and raise up a "public sinner"? Jesus' parable speaks about the nature of prayer and our relationship with God. It does this by contrasting two very different attitudes towards prayer.
The Pharisee, who represented those who take pride in their religious practices, exalted himself at the expense of others. Absorbed with his own sense of self-satisfaction and self-congratulation his prayer was centered on himself rather than on God.
Rather than praising God and asking God for his mercy and help, this man praised himself while despising those he thought less worthy than himself. The Pharisee tried to justify himself before God and before those he despised; but only God can justify us.
The tax collector, who represented those despised by religious-minded people, humbled himself before God and begged for mercy. His prayer was heard by God because he had true sorrow for his sins. He sought God with humility rather than with pride. This parable presents both an opportunity and a warning. Pride leads to illusion and self-deception.
Humility helps us to see ourselves as we really are and it inclines us to God's grace and mercy. God dwells with the humble of heart who recognize their own sinfulness and who acknowledge God's mercy and saving grace. I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15).
God cannot hear us if we despise others.
Do you humbly seek God's mercy and do you show mercy to others, especially those you find difficult to love and to forgive?