I was struck by this passage from our first reading from the book of Sirach today:
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.
The word “pierced” immediately conjured associations of Christ crucified, and the rest of the passage recalled the verse from Isaiah 55:10-11 which we Christians always read in terms of Christ:
My word [that] goes out from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and succeed in the purpose for which I sent it.
Christ “pierced the clouds” in his ascension, and is now seated at the right hand of the Most High, where he intercedes for us sinners.
Luke’s telling of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector suffers a bit, as do many of the parables, both from over-familiarity with the story, and under-familiarity with the social context in which the story was told. I always like it when preachers/homilists retell a parable in contemporary imagery, so here’s my attempt:
Two people went up to the church to pray; one was a preacher, and the other was a politician.
The preacher went up to the front of the church, and spoke this prayer:
“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this politician. I read my Bible every day, say grace at every meal, and give generously to charity.”
But the politician stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but bowed his head and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’
Let the lowly hear and be glad:
the LORD listens to their pleas.