First Reading Commentary
Father Richard Ho Lung, founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, a religious Order headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica which serves the poor and the socially rejected, testified: "The poor possess a joy that is pure and highly contagious, for it doesn't come from material comfort and prosperity but from the very gift of being alive each day."
This kind of joy is counter-cultural. By worldly standards, joy or happiness is more often than not based on social recognition and material comfort. Why is it, then, while giving aid, "good Samaritans" often notice that impoverished, struggling souls seemingly do not struggle at all when it comes to being deeply connected to the Lord; and thus possess a joy, which, for the secularist is inexplicable? Certainly those who possess material wealth are called by the Almighty to offer a better quality of life to those who materially have little to nothing. But when given the opportunity to work first hand with the poor, most likely and perhaps unexpectedly the giver of aid will, in turn, receive an inestimable gift from the one who is in need. It's not unusual but often unforeseen when a helping hand is extended and in a twist the one needing help ends up offering something of great spiritual value to the one offering help.
This Reading states that "the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds" and "does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds". Even the person with the largest bank account on planet earth can be lowly if he or she recognizes that their real treasure lies elsewhere. Our own relationship with God begins by our personal invitation to Him to be Lord of our life. Unfortunately, our own will could also diminish this intimate union because of other preoccupations. One valuable lesson to be learned from many of those rejected by society is that God is all that really matters and dependence on Him is the only thing in this life that is infallibly reliable; and we have the power to make that bond permanent. As for reliance on material wealth, blessed Job spoke those very familiar words: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21).
Second Reading Commentary
Like many of Saint Paul's writings, he is expressing ministerial experiences that are strikingly similar to Christ's experience as Man. Specifically here, no one comes to his defense; he has been deserted; and he forgives those who are responsible. Complete confidence and trust in our Lord would seem to be the key to Paul's existence. He proclaims: "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." This is by no means boasting; rather, he is giving witness to the fact that he was able to do everything because of Christ dwelling in him and working through him.
This life is not a bed of roses, nor did Jesus ever promise that it would be. But what Saint Paul and all the saints have discovered is that being defeated is not an option when abandoning one's own will and submitting wholeheartedly to the will of Almighty God. Paul is confident that the crown of righteousness awaits him, and the Lord will safely bring him to His heavenly Kingdom. And since the word "Saint" now precedes his name, his confidence in an eternal reward has been fully realized.
When slowly and meditatively reading Paul's letters, his heart becomes accessible; and what is revealed there is that this man was an unstoppable warrior for Christ; and when taking into consideration the crosses he had to bear in his Christian life, while still willing to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one can unmistakably conclude that this man possessed true inner peace and joy.
What exactly is wrong with the prayer of the Pharisee? He thanks God that he is not greedy, dishonest and adulterous. Surely there's nothing wrong with giving glory and praise to God for giving him the strength and wisdom to avoid these sins. The Pharisee is simply giving credit where credit is due.
In the life of the Church, Vespers or Evening Prayer is designed to give thanks to God for the blessings of the day as stated by Saint Basil: "We give thanks for what has been given us, or what we have done well during this day."
Here's where the trouble starts: The Pharisee says, "I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." On the surface there's really nothing wrong with that either but the intent of his heart is the root of the problem. He's really bragging by proclaiming that he fasts and tithes. He gives credit to God for his avoidance of three specific sins and also acknowledges his good deeds but sets himself apart from the tax collector. In a sense he is saying: "Lord, here is what I do for You; aren't You impressed with me? - because You and I both know that this tax collector doesn't fast and tithe and surely he is greedy, dishonest and adulterous." There is only one judgment Seat and the Pharisee seems to think that there's enough room for God and himself to sit on it. And so, the Pharisee not only judges the tax collector but also fails to do what the tax collector succeeds in doing: acknowledging his own sinfulness.
Once again, in the life of the Church, what follows Vespers, a few hours later, is Compline or Night Prayer which is prayed just before retiring to bed. One of elements of Night Prayer is an examination of conscience. Here is where we acknowledge our failings of the day and express sorrow for them. Humility in part consists of admitting that we have failed God and each other. Any unwillingness to do this or make it a standard practice will eventually allow pride to creep into our lives and then it becomes even more difficult to admit our shortcomings; and if we can't be honest with ourselves, who are we going to be honest with?