Joel 2:23-32 Psalm 65 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14
Today’s gospel parable is told, the scripture says, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded other with contempt.” Before we even hear the parable, we know it will be one with a bite for we know the righteous trust in the Lord, not themselves. Regarding others with contempt is another red flag. The righteous have compassion, not contempt for others.
Thus, Jesus tells us the parable of two men who have gone to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, which is to say a faithful Jew, and the other a tax collector, which is to say sinner. As far as the listeners are concerned, tax collectors are the lowest of the low. The prayer of the Pharisee is a prayer of thanksgiving for being better than others – especially the tax collector who is there praying. The Pharisee then goes so far as to list his righteous acts in his prayer – fasting and tithing.
The tax collector’s prayer is simply, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He averts his eyes and beats his breast in shame as he prays. He humbles himself while the Pharisee exalts himself and Jesus says “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Although Jesus tells this parable to challenge the Pharisees, they, most likely, do not hear the message – after all, people who trust in themselves tend to be arrogant and closed minded. Jesus, here, is teaching the importance of trusting in God, compassion and humility.
Humility comes when we understand that faith itself is a gift from God. Experiences in life have a great deal of influence on our ability to recognized and accept God’s gifts. Receiving the gift of faith does not put in the judgement seat. We are not given this gift to judge others. Faith comes from knowing that we are loved by God and this love fills our hearts with love for others. As we place our trust in God, we feel compassion for those who struggle.
Sooner or later, those who trust in themselves will be disappointed. The faithful, however, can find reasons to be thankful even when their world is turned upside down.
In 2 Timothy, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul is facing the end of his life and he knows it. His death will not be from natural causes. No, he knows he will be executed because of his faith. Still, Paul is not worried, he is at peace.
Paul says of his life, “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Note the difference between his words and the words of the Pharisee.
The Pharisee is pleased with himself for doing what he is supposed to do – he observes ritual practices and he tithes. Paul is pleased with what Christ has accomplished through him. As our bishop pointed out in his sermon here yesterday at the ECW Gathering Eucharist, Paul has a tendency to boast, but that is not the case here. Paul gives thanks to God for standing by him and giving him the strength to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
Paul is an example of one who has received the gift of faith and put his trust in the Lord. In today’s collect, we prayed that God might “increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity.” It is a prayer that acknowledges these are gifts of the Spirits.
We also prayed to God, “make us love what you command.” This is a prayer that our hearts might be so filled with God’s love that we might want what God wants rather than serve others and give because we, like the Pharisee, believe it is what is right. To love others because we are supposed to love our neighbors is not to love. To love others because we see them as God sees them is to truly love.
Trust in God is not achieved by determination, it is achieved by humbling ourselves and accepting God’s help. Many of us struggle with this, we want to be independent, we want to be strong, we don’t want to accept help from others – not even God.
It is the tax collector who bears his soul and asks for mercy, who is heard and whose prayers are answered. It is Paul who persecuts the early Christians, who is humbled when he meets the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. He is then given the strength to carry the message of God’s love to the Gentiles. Both Paul and the tax collector in this parable receive the greatest gift imaginable – the love of God. The love which is quick to forgive, fills our hearts, and calls us into service.
This gift is available to each us no matter what we’ve done or not done in our lives. God’s love can transform our lives and help us see people as God sees them – and us.
Let us pray.
Loving God, fill us, we pray with the strength of your love that we might see the world through your sees. Help us to grow in faith and love that we might answer your call to service. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.