God’s strange and wonderful notion of righteousness

File:Pharisien et publicain.jpg

Watching for the Morning of October 23, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 25 / Lectionary 30

A Pharisee and a publican – a tax gatherer – stand near one another in the temple and we hear the prayers they offer. The Pharisee gives God thanks that he is not like others; the tax gatherer asks for mercy.  The Pharisee has been a religious man, dutifully offering to God his acts of devotion. The tax-gatherer has lacked the privilege of living a holy life. He is not one of those among the wealthy elite who contracts with Rome to administer the collection of taxes (paying the taxes up front and gaining a free hand to recover all that he can); he is one of the hirelings at the tollbooths rummaging through the carts and extorting what he must from the peasants bringing their goods to market. He is the one who daily faces the hostility of people forced to pay their foreign overlords and local rulers. He is the symbol of betrayal and oppression. He is the social outcast. And, for all his rummaging among farm goods, he is perpetually ritually unclean. He is one of those “sinners” Jesus welcomes into the household of God.

He knows he is immersed in a broken world and yearns for God to come and make it whole. He yearns for a world free from the grind of poverty and oppression. He yearns for a world where no one is cast off as unclean. He yearns for God’s transformation of all things. It is his prayer, says Jesus, that God hears, not the prayer of the self-satisfied. It is he, says Jesus, who goes down to his home in a right relationship with God.

Such prayer for mercy is also heard this Sunday in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah. The nation is on a downward course. It has turned from God’s justice and mercy and hastens towards judgment and destruction at the hands of Babylon. Afflicted already by God’s judgment in the form of a terrible drought, the prophet cries out for mercy, for God’s deliverance, for God not to hold their sin against them.

The prayer of the palmist, Sunday, is the joyful face of the prayer for mercy.   The pilgrims’ long journey is nearly over. From a distance, they behold the temple rising above the holy city and they are filled with anticipation and joy at coming into God’s presence there. And the reading from 2 Timothy is also an expression of such joyful anticipation. Though Paul, in prison in Rome, faces the possibility of death, his eyes are raised to his ultimate deliverance. God’s strange and righteous healing of the world is near at hand. Indeed, we taste its first fruits in this one who speaks in parables.

The Prayer for October 23, 2016

We have no good, O God, except at your hand.
Make us ever mindful of your bounty
that we may receive all things with humility and gratefulness;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 23, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 14:1-9 (appointed 14:7-10, 19-22)
“Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake.”
– The prophet cries out to God for deliverance during a time of devastating drought.

Psalmody: Psalm 84:1-7
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.” – A song of praise as the pilgrim finally draws near to Jerusalem and gazes upon the temple.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – The concluding sections of a letter from Paul, or in Paul’s name, to his protégé Timothy from prison in Rome as Paul faces his pending execution.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” – Having spoken of the necessity of praying always, Jesus tells a parable about the proper shape of prayer, and God’s pending transformation of the world.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APharisien_et_publicain.jpg By Rvalette (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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