XXI Pentecost, Year C
Jl 2:23-32 or * Sir 35:12-17 or Jer 14:7-10,19-22
Ps 65 * Ps 84:1-7
2 Tm 4:6-8,16-18
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall
be those whom the LORD calls.
* (Sirach 35:12-14)
Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. Divine Justice Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him there is no partiality. He will not show partiality to the poor; but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
* (Jeremiah 14:7-10)
Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O LORD, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! Thus says the LORD concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.
* (Jeremiah 14:19-22)
Have you completely rejected Judah? Does your heart loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace, but find no good; for a time of healing, but there is terror instead. We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O LORD our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.
(2 Timothy 4:6-8)
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:16-18)
At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But 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. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 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!’ 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."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Oh boy, time to have fun. Time to slam the religious, the pious, the well-intended, the legalistic, the conservative. How fun. To lay on some kind of criticism from Feuerbach or Nietzsche or Carl Sagan or Karl Marx. How fun. To castigate the hypocrites that fill the pews of the churches, that pretend to be Christians but are not. How fun to lay on them the criticism that they are narrow minded, parochial simpletons in their silly naivete. Oh boy, how much fun we could have today.
And we would miss the point, for while it is tempting to criticize those further to the right or left than we are, we would only be engaged in scapegoating. We, no matter how we slice or dice it, must first be the Pharisee before we can be the publican. Our interpretive strategy suggests that we must first identify how our religious expression is like that of the Pharisee. We Christians can do no other. We are part of the in group now. We are saved. Just as the Pharisee thought of himself.
Nor can we scapegoat the Pharisee. This is a form of anti-Semitism. One of the most beneficial aspects in the science of Christian theology and biblical studies in the 20th century has been the rediscovery of both ancient and modern Judaism. Unfortunately it has come with a high price for the Jewish people. But Jewish Christian dialogue and the growing appreciation for the Jewishness of the New Testament, and Jesus, have proven to be essential assets in proper Christian thought.
The Pharisee embodies what Kierkegaard might call the ‘religious’ in Either/Or. The Pharisee is a type of person whose primary religious identity comes at the cost of others. He was not this or this or that. He knew right from wrong. He chose the right and condemned those who chose the wrong. He was on the side of God and sought God’s ways. Nothing wrong with any of that, right?
Wrong. This Pharisee has God wrong. God is not about who is better than, smarter than, prettier than, richer than, holier than. God does not discriminate, God does not compare us with one another. The Pharisee was bound by his dedication to the Torah, and that would be a beautiful thing but his hermeneutic suffered. He had God wrong. The God who blesses the religious person is a God who can be manipulated. A God who recognizes the selfish perceptions of our zeal would have to be a god of wrath and violence and justice and judgement. In short, if God is like the Pharisee thinks God is, most of us are in some deep doo-doo, as we fall far short of this one’s righteousness.
On the other hand, there is a guy, a tax collector, just the kind of person you really want to have for a friend, right? A tax collector? How many people do you know go around bragging they work for the IRS? How shall we perceive this one? As a Roman shill, or perhaps a thief? Do you think the Zealots invited guys like this to their parties?
The prayer of the publican is well known, he seeks forgiveness. This is the God who answers, this is the One revealed in the character of Jesus. The publican is not expressing some poor old ‘woe is me’ syndrome; he simply and honestly acknowledges himself for how he acts. He sins, therefore he is a sinner in need of mercy and healing.
We have heard this parable preached where Catholics are the Pharisee and Baptists are the Publican; we have heard it preached as supercessionism, treating the Pharisee’s spirituality as ‘works-righteousness’, but that of the publican as good Christian humility. To preach the parable this way or any way that scapegoats anyone at any time is to engage the parable, not from Jesus’ point of view, but from the perspective of the satanic mechanism.
Recalling our comments on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we might say that each one gets the god in whom he believes. Alas for the Christian who believes in a violent retributive God.
Religion does not save. The Christian religion does not save. Being a Christian does not save you. What then effects our salvation? Trust in the merciful God whom we believe has been revealed in the person of Jesus. It is this trust that God is not violent, retributive or retaliatory. It is faith that the One who has created treats us with a justice that is higher than any human justice we may conceive. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul opens to us this way of justice; it is justice for all! All are brought under judgement, all are forgiven.
Now let us ask this question: are we suggesting some sort of universalism? The short answer is no. God, maker of heaven and earth, is not bound by any a priori law. What we are saying is that our perspective suffers from the myopia of notions of justice that stem from ancient times, the times of the formation of human culture and the beginnings of prohibition, taboos and punishment. We humans have got to see that our perspective is skewed, no matter what our religious affiliation, as long as we fail to hear the inclusiveness of Jesus’ God, we will fail to see the God of the Gospel. As long as we exclude others we ourselves must keep open the possibility that we are excluded. Who can say for certain that their interpretation, their doctrine, their theology is 100% pure Christian thought? The Nazarene? The Roman Catholic? The Reformed? And the list could go on and on.
We Christians have often and loudly proclaimed that we have a religion of grace but we live in our relationships like we have a religion of taboos, laws. We claim a God who forgives but we do not forgive each other let alone our enemies. We say that we believe in the mercy of Jesus but are unwilling to follow him where the rubber meets the road in expressing that mercy. Has modern Christianity succumbed to the comfortable (numb!) spirituality of the Pharisee in this parable?