Meditation on Luke 18:9-14
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
Oct. 20, 2019
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Did I tell you my mom is here? Her name is Elaine. She arrived Tuesday night, and I have been taking her around town, eating at the Warehouse, The Mill, and Bob Evans, getting Buckeye ice cream at Medberry Market–$1.50 for a kid’s cone and it’s a lot of ice cream! Checking out the shops of Roscoe Village. Buying chocolate and peanut butter fudge at the General Store. Stopping at Aldi’s and Buehler’s, taking an awesome tour of the library. Coming to choir practice and doing home visits and home communion with me. And today, we will get to experience our fall picnic, corn maize, hayride, and campfire for the first time. I have heard we are back in the low 70s this afternoon! That’s going to feel good after a chilly week. Living in Florida for almost 3 decades, if it is below 80, Mom feels cold.
Weather aside, she understands, why I like it here so much–why Coshocton is good for me and my family.
Thank you for your warm welcome for her. I don’t think she expected that you would treat her like you already know her, though she is an outsider, a stranger. She has received many hugs. You don’t treat her like a stranger, because you know me.
She can see that I love you and that you accept me as your pastor and friend. You accept that my care and concern for you, for the whole church, are real. We are learning from one another as we hear each other’s stories. We have different views and expectations at times, just because we have lived in different places, have had different experiences and because we have different callings.
You know that I want to be a blessing to you—to help you heal from your wounds, find peace and comfort amidst the chaos of life, to challenge you with God’s Word and help you grow in love and service, faith and confidence in who you are in Jesus Christ. I want to help you take some risks and step out of your comfort zone, for the sake of the Lord and Kingdom growth and for your well-being and the well-being of your community. And you know that I need your help and support, so that I may be faithful to God’s call. And that we both must trust the Lord to lead us to minister together with love.
I have found kindness here. I have felt the grace of God in this place. You could have treated me like an outsider. That would be the human temptation when we meet a stranger who doesn’t know all our history and traditions and all our relationships, joys and losses. But the love and grace of God for us lead us to think and behave differently than the world would have us live. The Spirit changes us, more and more, as we embrace the God who is with us, helping us every day.
Our lives are intimately intertwined—you, me and our community. We have a common ancestry of dust, breathed into life by the same God. We are all sinners, in the hands of a loving God, changed and changing, made new! Saved by grace.
Today’s passage in Luke 18, beginning at verse 9 is about the importance of humble prayer, realizing our need for God’s grace and how we could lose sight of that and become prideful of our own religious practices, forgetting our faith–everything we have– is a gift from the Lord. It follows a parable about our need to be persistent in our prayer and never give up. The widow keeps asking for justice from the unjust judge—who turns her down repeatedly, until finally he gives in, saying, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Today’s passage, starting at verse 9, begins by Luke explaining the purpose and meaning of the parable. “He also told this parable,” Luke says, “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” Notice that the parable is for “some,” and yet here it is in the New Testament, which means the lesson is NOT just for some; it’s for the whole Church, for all people who sincerely desire to follow Jesus and be more like Him.
The Pharisee comes to the Lord’s House, in Luke 18, to be reassured that he is wonderful—better than other people—and have everyone see him as wonderful. Yet, he is disconnected, uncaring, standing apart from others he considers unclean. He believes that God favors him because he isn’t a thief, a rogue, adulterer, or the person praying next to him, “this tax collector.”
“I thank you, God, that I am not like other men,” the Pharisee says, but the Greek word translated men refers to “the people of the land”—unrighteous commoners despised by those who strictly observe the law. The Pharisees, says NT scholar Kenneth Bailey, “thought of the law as a garden of flowers. To protect the garden and the flowers, they opted to build a fence around the law,” going beyond the requirements to ensure that no part was violated…The written law only required fasting on the annual day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, chose to fast two days before and two days after each of the three major feasts (or 12 days a year!) But this pious man announces to God and to others (as he is praying aloud) that he puts a fence around the fence. He fasts two days every week!
Also, the faithful in the OT were commanded to tithe, or give 10 percent of the increase, from their grain, oil and wine. In NT times, the rule became that the faithful must give 10 percent of the increase of everything that “was used for food, watched over, and grows from the soil.” But this Pharisee beats all others in his show of devotion and generosity to God; he tithes from all that he possesses!
But the way the Pharisee is speaking to God is not prayer as Jesus taught us. How we pray reveals what we believe about the Lord and the condition of our hearts. It shows whom we serve, and how we feel about ourselves and others.
Prayer, even for those whose hearts are in the right place, is as challenging for us as it was for the disciples in Jesus’ time. In Matthew 6:9-13 (NRSV): Jesus says, when his disciples ask for help, “Pray then in this way, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
And in Luke 11:1-4 NRSV, Jesus “was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’”
So, what of the tax collector, despised not just by this hypothetical Pharisee of a parable, but despised by many Jewish people? They are working for the enemy—supporting their families by collecting taxes from their neighbors for the oppressive Roman Empire. Many, in fact, are greedy and keep a large portion of what they collect for themselves. Luke’s earliest audience would have reacted with astonishment for a tax collector to be seen as a model of humility and made righteous because of his godly attitude and actions. Just as last week’s gospel featured an enemy of the Jewish people, a Samaritan, as the model of gratitude and humility as the only one of 10 lepers to return to Christ to offer his thanks and praise.
Sisters and brothers, Luke’s message is for all the Church and not just for some who might be tempted to trust in themselves, rather than trust in the Lord. We are not righteous because of what we do, our religious practices, which might lead us to arrogance. The love and grace of God for us lead us to think and behave differently than the world would have us live. The Spirit changes us, more and more, as we embrace the God who is with us, helping us every day to be gentle and merciful, as the Heavenly Father is gentle and merciful with us.
Our lives are intimately intertwined, connected—you, me and our community.
We are all sinners, in the hands of a loving God, changed and changing, made new! Saved by grace.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the holy mystery of your grace, for sending your Son to be our Savior, when we were perishing in our sins. And then, for sending your Spirit to empower us to live as your people, showing mercy and grace to others. Help us to be faithful to the end, to serve you with our tithes and our lives, and to pray as the humble tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” In Christ we pray. Amen.