Jesus’ parables frequently end with a twist, a reversal of conventional thought. Today’s reading is full of reversal. It describes two persons who go to the Temple to pray. One is a Pharisee, and the other is a tax collector.
If we were Jesus’ contemporaries listening to this story, we would not be surprised at the Pharisee’s belief in himself and his faithfulness to the covenant with God—his fasting, tithing, and moral practices. There is nothing wrong with these rituals. In fact, they are manifestations of his desire to be faithful to God in his everyday living. Surely there is no fault to be found with solid Christian practices of daily prayer, involvement in local or distant mission, or regular worship attendance.
Listeners to Jesus’ story would also understand that the tax collector is complicit with Roman government subjugation. He collects money from his people and gives it to foreign authorities. The Pharisee is not a sinner; the tax collector is not a saint.
The twist in the story comes when listeners hear that the Pharisee was one who had no empathy for another human being. The Pharisee prays in the presence of the tax collector, who stands far off. He notices him but has no compassion for his plight. This is where the reversal of the story comes in.
Luke tells the story to a Christian audience, and thus the message here is not so much about the Pharisees of Jesus’ day as it is about the disciples of Jesus then and now. Do not be judgmental. Do not think of yourself too highly compared to other human beings, whoever they are—even one who collaborates with the enemy!
Dear God, save us from judging others, and guide us in the pathway of humility. Amen.
The theme in the readings from the Hebrew scriptures is “abundance.” Joel speaks of the time of plenty in the land of Israel. This abundance is not only physical, for it includes a generous outpouring of the Spirit of God. The psalmist sings of abundant rain that allows the land to flourish. The hills, meadows, and valleys all sing praise to God. Second Timothy 4 contains the scriptural passage that brings us closest to the death of Paul. The apostle has been abandoned by many, but the Lord stands by him as he faces his likely imminent death. In the Gospel, Jesus warns us about the dangers of pride. The Pharisee in the parable thinks his personal goodness brings favor with God, but God desires a humble heart.
Read Joel 2:23-32. How has rain been a sign of God’s impending provision in your life?
Read Psalm 65. How has God’s forgiveness freed you to participate in creation’s joy?
Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. When has God strengthened you in the face of evil?
Read Luke 18:9-14. What aspect of your life do you need to approach with renewed humility?
Respond by posting a prayer.