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Tuesday, October 23, 2007
God sustains humankind and all that exists with gifts of love. This premise is central in the readings today. As we place ourselves in God’s presence, we are mindful that the things we do don’t make us deserve the richness of God’s grace and mercy – these are gifts. We ground our lives in prayers of thanksgiving for such daily blessings. Luke 18:9–14 Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector extends the theme of prayer from the previous parable of the widow and the unjust judge. To Jesus’ hearers, a story that begins, “two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector,” is going to be a story of contrasts. Tax collectors were considered outsiders. They were collaborators with the Romans and, because of their frequent contact with Gentiles, were often ritually unclean and unable to participate in temple worship. The tax collector in Jesus’ story identifies himself as “a sinner.” Pharisees, on the other hand, dedicated themselves to the purity laws and temple worship. The Pharisee in the parable is convinced of his religious superiority and righteousness – right standing – with God. Jesus places the focus of the parable not on the Pharisee, but on the classic outsider, the tax collector. Here is a person who is convinced only of unworthiness. The tax collector places himself in God’s presence in the hope that, even though he is far from the centre of things both in the temple and in the community of the faithful, God will hear the anguished cry that he pours out. Jesus commends the tax collector for confessing the truth of his position before God. In this story of contrasts, the Pharisee who stands “by himself” is living a delusion. Neither he nor the tax collector, nor Jesus’ hearers, nor the readers of Luke’s gospel stand by themselves. Without God’s mercy, the tax collector and the Pharisee do not “have a prayer.” In this pair of parables at the beginning of Luke 18, Jesus lifts up the importance of prayer (verse 1) by lifting up the determination of the widow and the humility of the tax collector. In doing so, Jesus says something about the promise of persistent prayer and peril of presumptuous prayer. It is important to note that humility connotes a sense of “being grounded” rather than “being a doormat.” The root of humility is the Latin humus, “earth” or “ground.” To have humility as a disciple suggests grounding one’s life in God’s love – admitting mistakes and learning from them, being thankful instead of boastful, and serving with dignity. The prophet speaks of humankind’s dependence on God’s grace and mercy in Joel 2:23–32. It is God who provided the rain in the past and, despite lean years, it is God who will bring blessings in the future. The righteous live in recognition of their reliance on such gifts. Again in Psalm 65, the psalmist declares that it is God who sustains all life on earth. As God pours out blessings on the earth, God’s people respond in pouring out thanks and praise. In 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18, we hear Paul reflecting on ministry. Paul recognizes that, while he has kept the faith and poured his life into vocation as an apostle, it is God who gave Paul strength, who was a constant presence who rescued Paul time and again. As our lives are grounded in the loving ways of God’s reign, we are thankful and grateful to God. In humility, the tax collector expressed the truth of who he was in relation to God. God invites us to be equally truthful and to open our hearts to receive God’s gifts of grace and salvation. What does it mean to pour our hearts out to God? When God pours blessing and mercy upon us, what is our response?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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