1.Sirach 35:15-17,20-22
2. Timothy 4: 6-8,16-18
Gospel: Luke 18: 9-14

                              "The secret behind good worship"

A certain president happened to visit a prison and thus talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the president stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. " well," remarked president, " I really suppose you are an innocent victim too?" " No Sir, I' am not," replied the inmate. " I am guilty and deserve my punishment." Turning to the warden the president said, "Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people here!" The biblical saying proves true, " God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." ( 1Pet 5:5).

Dear friends in Christ, today's gospel is one to which every believer needs to pay close attention. It is the story of two believers, a Pharisee and a tax collector. It should be noted that both men were believers in the same God, both belonged to the same religion and both worshipped in the same temple. Both men were active believers who participated in the temple worship and said their daily prayers but what do we see? At the end of the worship one of them went home at peace with God however, the other did not. Being all believers in God, we need to pay attention to this story not only to learn the secret of offering a worship acceptable to God but also of leading a life of faith that leads to justification and not disappointment at the end of the day.

The parable we have heard from the gospel will help us to understand different positions of the two men who were in the temple praying. By beginning with a Pharisee. The Pharisees were in fact, very disciplined and devout men of religion. Pharisees were serious-minded believers who had committed themselves to a life of regular prayer and observance of God's law. They really went beyond the requirement of the law. They fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, even though the law the law only required people to fast once a year, that is on the day of atonement. They gave tithes of all their income and just of the required parts. When the Pharisee in the parable said, "  I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income" (Lk 18: 11-12) really he wasn't kidding. Indeed few Christians today can measure up to the visible moral standards of the Pharisees.

The tax collectors, on the other hand were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. Since they worked for the Pagan Romans, mixed up with them and constantly handled their unclean money, it is under this background tax collectors were said to be in a state of ritual uncleanliness. As far as the religion of the day was concerned tax collectors were regarded as the public sinners of the highest order, moreover the sinners on the highway to hell. Nevertheless, the tax collectors recognized that the voice of people always is not the voice of God. They still hoped for salvation not the merit of any religious or moral achievements of theirs but on the gracious mercy of God.

Believing in God does not really save anybody. James really tells us that the devil himself believes in God and trembles with fear ( James2:19). Here what really matters is what people believe about God and how their faith in God affects their view of themselves and of others. The problem with the Pharisees was the fact that, they believed in God who could discriminate people, who could punish His offenders and God who loves good people and hate bad people. Thus people behave like God they believe in. It is under this background that the Pharisees contempt at people whom they conceived to be sinners like the tax collectors, prostitutes and so forth. On the other hand the tax collector trusted not in himself or in anything he had done but only in God's mercy. Standing far off, he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, " God be merciful to me, a sinner!" ( v.13) This is the man who went home at peace with God and not the self-righteous Pharisee.

Like the Pharisee and the tax collector we too have come to God's house to offer worship and prayers. Like them we too hope to go home at the end of this service reconciled at peace with God. Then let us learn from the tax collector the secret of worshipping  in a manner that is acceptable to God. First and foremost, we should not listen to other people or even to our own consciences when they tell us that God is so angry with us that He cannot possible forgive us. Secondly, we must acknowledge our sinfulness and entrust ourselves to generous mercy of God which is bigger than any sins we have committed. Finally we promise God never to look  down on our fellow sinners but to help them in their search for God, just as the tax collector is helping today in our search for God. Bear in mind that God always opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Finally I would like to provide you with example in areas where people lack humility. First, let us start with children and teenagers. How many boast of how smart they are in school? Many because they boast of their academic successes, put down the other children and teens, consequently destroying their self-confidence. Second, then we have those cooks who boast that they are better cooks than anyone else. While it cannot be denied that there are those who are good cooks, everybody can't be a best cook! As you can see humility can even be practiced in the kitchen.  Third, there are those who boast that they are holier than others because they perform so many hours of adoration per month or say so many rosaries, and attend Masses. While these pious devotions are commendable, by boasting of them, one becomes no different than the Pharisees.

In our daily lives by placing ourselves above all others, we are calling upon ourselves the Lord's judgment. The end result will be that we will be among  the last. It is better to practice daily humility in our lives, praising  and encouraging others. Then the Lord God shall exalt us because of our genuine humility.

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Chapisha Maoni