Sunday 23 October 2016

Bible Book:

Luke 18:9-14 Sunday 23 October 2016

Psalm: Psalm 84


We know the sort, don't we?! The ultra-pious, thehyper-spiritual, the ghastly-godly. Not like us, obviously... Weread this little story today, and it challenges us to examineourselves very honestly. How do we see ourselves? How do we seeother people? How do others see us? Perhaps, too, how does God seeus? 'Religion' doesn't always make people more attractive in theeyes of others, even if it can make the religious feel good aboutthemselves. The simple words of the tax-collector have, for atleast 1,500 years, been seen by many Christian traditions as themodel for true, humble, prayer. This is best known, perhaps, as the'Jesus Prayer' in the ancient Eastern Orthodox tradition - a prayerwhich, when repeated many times, helps the one praying to drawcloser to the presence of God by acknowledging that, as frail andflawed humans, we can rely only on God's mercy.

The original story, however, probably had a rather differentpurpose. It asserts that God's people (the "righteous" (v. 9))include those who, for whatever reason, find themselves excluded bythose who see only themselves as "righteous". A tax collector, byhandling Roman currency and dealing with the Roman authorities, wasconsidered unclean and a sinner, and thus, in the eyes of 'clean'Jews (such as the Pharisees), excluded from the temple and thepresence of God. This is what Jesus was challenging. And for Luke,in both his Gospel and Acts, this was very important. He waswriting at a time when the early Christian Church was dividing intotwo, often opposed, groups - Jewish and gentile (non-Jewish)Christianity. (This was the big issue Paul often addressed in hisletters.) The Pharisee, a strict interpreter of Jewish Torah('teaching') also represents Jewish Christians, and thetax-collector, as unclean, represents gentile Christians. And Goddeclares them "justified" (v. 14) (or righteous), not by obedienceto Jewish teaching, but by their humble reliance on God'smercy.

To Ponder

  • Does it help you to make sense of this Gospel story if youunderstand something of its 'original' meaning? Why?
  • As a modern reader, who do you identify with in the story?Why?
  • Have you ever prayed the Jesus Prayer? Does it 'work'?
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