McFarland

Wednesday Meditation by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read Luke 18:9-14

The two characters in Jesus’ parable are a tax collector and a Pharisee, and both are rather problematic individuals.

Rome had violently invaded Israel and frequently unleashed brutal violence as the means to keep the people in line.  Tax collectors were Israelites who gathered money from their fellow countrymen to financially bolster the occupying force, often charging a bit extra as a “finder’s fee.”  So the tax collector is obviously not a great choice for a role model.

The Pharisee’s prayer, thanking God that he’s not like all of those people, is pretty boastful, arrogant, and, honestly, kind of insufferable.  But the thing is, he’s not wrong.  The Pharisee is righteous before God because he is following the religious Law.  He’s a Pharisee.  Following the Law is what Pharisees do.  But Jesus isn’t encouraging us to be like him either.  He believes that he is righteous because of what he could do to earn that status.[1]  He trusted in himself that he could be in right relationship with God.

So if we’re not supposed to be like either character, why would Jesus tell this story?  Well, in typical human fashion, we want everything to be all about us, but this parable is not about us at all.  It’s about God.[2] 

At the end of the story, both the tax collector and the Pharisee leave the temple in right relationship with God not because of what they did, but because of what God does.  The tax collector goes home justified which means, in the words of David Lose, he is “accounted righteous by the Holy One of Israel.”[3]  It was not because of anything he did or earned or deserved.  God’s grace made him be in right relationship with God.

And the Pharisee also remains in good standing.  If the problem was his contempt for others, he would have been knocked down a peg in the story…but he wasn’t.  The sticking point is that he trusted only in himself.

One follows the rules but has some serious personality flaws, and God loves him.  One is suck it a corrupt system and messes up all the time, and God loves him.  Jesus doesn’t tell this story as inspiration for how we are to behave or not behave, but to highlight the boundless and limitless love of God.

Do you remember the audience to whom Jesus told this story?  He told this parable to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” (v1) Jesus told this parable to people who thought they were in good standing with God because of what they were able to do.  They trusted in themselves rather than in God’s love, grace, and mercy.

We are loved by God just as we are – the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.  We are made righteous, not by anything we have done or could ever be able to do, but we are made righteous thanks to God’s grace, mercy, and compassion.

God loves us even when we only trust in ourselves, like those in Jesus’ audience.  God loves us even when we’re insufferable and enjoying the view from up here on our high horses, like the Pharisee.  And God loves us even when we’re stuck in a corrupt system and hurt our fellow citizens.  The point of the parable isn’t who we should or should not be, it’s about God and God’s love for us, even at our most undeserving.  Thanks be to God.

[1] David Lose, “Preach This Week, October 23, 2016, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Luke 18:9-14,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2967 (accessed October 12, 2016).
[2] David Lose, “Craft of Preaching, Dear Working Preacher: The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and the Reformation” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2813 (accessed October 12, 2016).
[3] Lose. Preach This Week.

Study Questions

1) In what ways are we like the tax collector, stuck in patterns and systems that are not life-giving for our fellow created beings?

2) In what ways are we like the Pharisee, trusting in our own actions to make us feel worthy of God’s love, rather than relying on God’s promise to always love us?

3) How might we shift our attention and energy from focusing on our own actions to prioritizing God’s grace and compassion? What habits and routines could help adjust our efforts?

Prayer

God of life, you promise to love us and care about us, even at our most undeserving.  When it is tempting to compare ourselves to others, guide our attention to your presence in the world and in our lives.  When it is tempting to feel defeated because we cannot possibly do enough to earn your grace, remind us that you have already established a permanent relationship with us.  When we spend too much time thinking about ourselves, remind us that it’s not about us but about you.  It’s all about you and your grace, your compassion, your love.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Extinguish the candle