“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.” The Book of Sirach gives us good advice for how we ought to relate to God. We are reminded subtly that Fear of the Lord is a gift from God—a Gift of the Holy Spirit. We ought to tremble in God’s presence as recognize our smallness in comparison to God’s majesty. Humility and awe in His presence will lead us to recognize our need for God’s mercy and inspire us to proper gratitude for the gifts we receive, especially the gift of the forgiveness of our sins.
The tax collector in our Gospel passage embodies this humility in prayer. He knows his unworthiness but throws himself on God’s mercy anyway. He “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.'” This tax collector’s honesty and humility earns him high praise from Jesus: “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.” God’s forgiveness is a gift we have not earned; Christ Jesus earned it for us by humbly emptying Himself on the Cross. In His humility Jesus was exalted, and through His humility we too are exalted.
Jesus has called us, sinners though we have been, to become saints. Jesus wants us, weak as we are, to be the members of His Body at work in the world. Jesus needs us, ungrateful children that we are, to use the gifts He has given us for the upbuilding of the Church and the salvation of souls. In honesty and humility, we can ask for whatever we need. If we keep a good perspective in our relationship with God, our prayers will be heartfelt, honest, and effective. The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. May we be wise and humble stewards of God’s generous gifts, including His gift of mercy.