We are coming to the end of what Pope Francis called 24 Hours for the Lord, which he asked the whole Church to celebrate on these two days in the middle of Lent. He asked for this because he sees a world in which there is suffering and danger and real fears about the future and he encourages us saying: ‘Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer!’ And he explained that this 24 hours of prayer in churches around the globe ‘is meant to be a sign of (the world’s) need for prayer’.
The Gospel today is also about prayer: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray’. As so often in the teaching of Jesus the respected, powerful one comes off badly and the person that was looked down on and ignored turns out to be the one who ‘went home again at rights with God’. Only one of the two men understood what prayer is about.
Jesus came to be united with the human family, but especially to share the weakness, the suffering and the exclusion which plagues human life, and some lives much more than others. He didn’t come to offer easy answers; he came to share the awfulness and the anguish – right to that point on the Cross when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Only by sharing human suffering right up to his most cruel death, could he show us that no illness, no fear, no sense of being abandoned can defeat God’s healing love.
Jesus was asked why he was turning the world upside down, concentrating not on the rich and powerful but on the outcasts, the broken hearted and the suffering He explained by referring to the sick: ‘Those who are well don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners’. (Lk 5:31) In other words, those who understand their weakness and their need of help are the ones who are open to being healed.
He was also telling his listeners that no matter how well a person seems, all of us are completely dependent on the divine physician, the merciful love of God, to lead us to the endless happiness for which we long --- but which we could never provide for ourselves. That is why the Pharisee in the temple was fooling himself and the tax collector realised the truth – nobody can pray properly without realising his weakness and his need.
The experience of sickness makes us see our weakness, our fragility, our need of God’s healing love. In the Sacrament of Anointing we are about to celebrate the healing love of God for the sick, the love that Jesus always showed to the sick around him. We also celebrate the fact that the same healing love is needed by, and is offered to, all of us and that all of us need God’s love every bit as much as they those who are ill. We need to know our own weaknesses, or as Pope Francis put it we need to know our need of prayer.I said earlier that Jesus was turning the world upside down. In fact it would be more correct to say that he was turning it the right way up. When we see life Christ’s way we see that our pride, our ambitions and our plans, all the things the Pharisee was boasting about, are powerless to fulfil all our hopes. But we also see that they are unnecessary; something so much greater is offered to us in Christ:The foolishness of God is wiser that human wisdomand the weakness of God is stronger than human strength(I Cor 1; 24, 25).That is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. That is what our prayers ask the Lord to give us, the power and the wisdom of God shown in the crucified and risen Christ.
Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.