Our readings this week are about prayer, not so much the words of prayer–Jesus warned about prayer being just words– but about attitudes that make prayer possible.
The gift of prayer is always ours, like rain and snow it comes down from heaven, but then there’s the ground it falls on.
In yesterday’s first reading, Queen Esther and her servants “ lay prostrate on the ground, from morning until evening” praying for deliverance from their enemies. Their prayer is similar to Jesus who prayed prostrate on the ground in Gethsemane. They’re fearful, without resources, humbled, but they do not settle for being humbled, they reach out to the One who can help. Humility leads them to pray.
Esther gets more than she asks for– an immediate, surprising victory over her enemies. Jesus is also heard– after he drinks the cup of suffering– with resurrection. Humility leads to prayer.
Today’s reading looks at anger and its relationship to prayer.
God gets no pleasure from the death of the wicked, Ezekiel says in our first reading, but God rejoices when someone ‘turns from his evil way that he may live,” God is not an angry God, looking to punish. God looks for reconciliation. (Ezekiel 18:21-28)
Jesus also looks for reconciliation, the gospel reminds us, and he sees it as a condition for prayer.
“If you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
A reconciling person lives respectfully in this world. “Respect” is a wonderful word. It means “to look again” in Latin, to look again at someone to see a value we’ve denied or missed in them. It also means looking again at the world around us, or the family we live in. We can give up hope; we can lose our appreciation of them. Be reconciled, be ready “to look again” Jesus says, or you can miss the gift God gives at the altar.
The anger Jesus condemns in the gospel is that definitive anger that “kills” another, that condemns forever.
The sign of peace we offer at Mass is a sign of God’s call for reconciliation.
Respect is a form of love, St. Paul of the Cross writes, “love toward your neighbor, putting up with the faults of others, looking at all with charity and compassion, having a good opinion of everyone and a bad opinion only of yourself. A simple eye lets you see your neighbor as full of virtues and yourself full of vices, but without discouragement, peacefully, humbly.” (Letter 525)
let me look again at those I judge,
let me see them again as you do,
with mercy and forgiveness.
Make me an instrument of your peace,
bringing life and hope to others, not death