October 27, 2019: Praying in Public

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s passage has Jesus telling the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, full of his own perceived goodness in the sight of the law, was shown at a great disadvantage. The tax collector, understanding the level of his sin, prayed for mercy. Jesus cautioned that all who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

One Sunday, after the congregation had just finished saying a prayer of confession, a young man sitting next to me in choir asked, “Why is this prayer so awful? I don’t think I’m that bad.” I suggested that the prayer may seem to be a bit over the top because sin is so insidious. He asked what that meant. I said that we cannot avoid sin, “For example: do you know where your blue shirt was made? Are you sure it was not made in some sweatshop in Asia? What about driving five or more miles faster than the posted speed limit because you didn’t want to be late for Sunday school?”

He asked incredulously, “You know about that?” “I’ve done it myself. We think it’s okay because it seems like a good reason. This is the slippery slope into sin, usually when we provide our own under-standing to our thoughts and actions. We ask for God’s forgiveness because we cannot avoid sin completely.” Every time we say a prayer of confession, I think of this person and his question.

Jesus wants us to be genuinely humble, understanding that without Jesus’ death and resurrection, without the grace of God, we would be totally lost to sin. My personal pattern for prayer is this: Praise God, thanksgiving, confession, request, and praise God again.


Martha E. Griffis, Central Moravian Church
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania