This is the third of four short meditations on prayer based on Luke 18:9-14:
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that 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.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14 NRSV)
Another thing this parable teaches us that prayer can help us to see ourselves more clearly.
We all know what a blind spot is. We have blind spots when there is “an obstruction in our visual field.” We talk about blind spots when we are driving. We talk about blind spots in all kinds of life.
And we can also talk about blind spots in our spiritual lives.
This parable challenges those who appear to be righteous because they do all they are supposed to do, or they sound really spiritual, or really smart, and yet, underneath — when you get an opportunity to hear their inward prayers — when the all the smoke clears, we see that this person has some serious blind spots.
It’s like their hands are covering their eyes and are unable to see their true-selves.
The critical point isn’t that we somehow get to a place where we have no blind spots, but rather that we continually go to God in vulnerability, seeking mercy, and asking to see clearly.
One good test for blind spot is: do you have certain issues that are completely off limits or are there questions that are not allowed to be asked?
This parable shows us that prayer is a kind of lens that helps us see ourselves for who we are. In prayer, that lens can get whipped clean by God’s good grace. Prayer is the act of removing our hands from our face and looking into that lens or mirror and asking God to grant us mercy.
I think that this is exactly what the tax collector reflects for us. He comes to pray his prayer of vulnerability and openness – he is asking for God to help him understand himself and to help him be transformed in that understanding.
St. Teresa of Avila’s stark admonition, “For the most part all our trials and disturbances come from our not understanding ourselves.”
- Where are my blind spots and am I willing to ask God to help me see them clearly?