Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday 27 October 2013 Ordinary 30

Sunday 27 October 2013 Ordinary Time 30

Theme(s): God justifies sinners / Fight the good fight

Sentence: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. Psalm 84:1


Jesus our Lord,
you have taught us that judgment begins at the house of God;
save us from our self-satisfaction, rigidity and corruption,
so that we may stand ready to do your will.

Readings, related:

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Psalm 84:1-7
2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14


Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

In these verses we have a corporate version of the tax collector in the gospel reading: Jeremiah speaks words of confession of Israel/Judah's many sins. 

In the first part of the reading God is mindful to 'remember their iniquity and punish their sins' (v. 10) but in the second part of the reading, Jeremiah cries more deeply the confession of sin and pleads that God might 'not spurn us' (v. 21).

Psalm 84:1-7

This psalm connects to our reading in the gospel by exalting the virtues of the temple (in which the two men in the gospel parable are praying).

In these seven verses we have a wonderful eulogy to the temple as the earthly house of God in which the Lord dwells. Who would not desire to be there to be with the Lord? Who would not be happy, ever singing God's praise in such a place?

The reading misses the lovely verse 10, 'For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.'

2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18

Paul is writing at the end of his ... life? (vss. 6-8) or ministry to this point? (vss. 16-18). The latter reading is consistent with Paul thinking his earthly life is at an end and the heavenly life will shortly begin.

A 'libation' is drink poured out sacrificially on an altar. Paul has given his life for Christ and now, through death, he seeks (changing metaphors) a 'crown of righteousness.'

We might usefully cross-check with the gospel reading and ask whether Paul is in danger of declaring himself to be righteous like his Pharisaical colleague (Paul, remember, was a Pharisee). But Paul voids this danger through the words he uses which unmistakably point to the role of God in enabling him him to have fought the good fight of faith and to have finished the race (see v. 17 'the Lord stood by me and gave me strength').

V. 16 has more than a hint of identification with Christ on the cross (whose disciples deserted him). Enigmatically, the reference to being rescued from 'the lion's mouth' implies Paul had his own brush with another form of Roman execution. We do not know whether the rescue was in the form of his release from imprisonment before going to the Colisseum, or from the mortal attack of a lion in the arena itself.

For ourselves the question might be whether we too are fighting the good fight faithfully?

Luke 18:9-14

There is nothing quite like this parable to make sinners feel self-righteous (about not being 'up themselves' like the Pharisee) ... which is perhaps not the intention of Jesus!

The opening to the telling of the parable (v. 9) parallels the opening to the telling of the parable at the beginning of the chapter (v. 1). Presumably Luke has to hand two parables he wants to share with us, whether or not he sees a connecting theme between them. (There is a slight connecting theme of 'prayer' but only slight because prayer is the theme of the first parable and an incidental detail in the second).

The points of the parable are twofold and, well, pointed. It is told against those who either 'trusted in themselves that they were righteous' and/or 'regard others with contempt'. Few of us have never suffered from either fault. We do well to listen carefully.

The structure of the parable is simple. Two deliberately contrasting figures, a Pharisee (i.e. respected religious adherent of the Jewish faith) and a tax collector (i.e. a despised, likely greedy lackey of the imperialist Romans, at odds with fellow Jews) perform the same action, going up to the temple to pray. 

The Pharisee prays a prayer of thanksgiving, which is directed at himself and his many virtues. We might note that his virtues are not that virtuous: I guess most readers here could also say that we are not a thief, rogue, adulterer or cheat-on-our-fellow-citizens. Many of us would tithe and some of us might fast regularly. We could note, with careful observation of detail, that the Pharisee does not pray, 'Thank you God for enabling me to not be like ...' Rather the prayer has the effect of drawing God's attention to how successful the Pharisee has been in being virtuous. In sum, the Pharisee exalts himself before God (and, in terms of the narrative, before those hearing his prayer).

The tax collector prays a prayer of confession which is directed to God and God's many mercies. 'God be merciful to me, a sinner!' His demeanour matches his words as we are told that he stood far off (in an obscure corner of the temple?), refused to look to heaven and beat his breast. His prayer is both a prayer of confession, I am a sinner, and a prayer of intercession, God, be merciful to me.

Jesus tells us that that man went home 'justified rather than the other.' To that key judgment of the situation is added a familiar saying from elsewhere in the gospels, that the humble will be exalted and the exalted humbled (e.g. 13:30; 14:11; Matt 18:4; 23:12).

It is worth pausing on the word 'justified.' Sometimes the writings of Paul with his key theme that God justifies sinners (and sinners do not justify themselves through good works) are pitted against Jesus and his teaching. But here Jesus and Paul are one: our apparent righteous status does not justify us, nor do our good works and hard earned virtues, only throwing ourselves on the mercy of God leads to justification.

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