October 21, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Going up and down in prayer.
The THEME FOR THIS SUNDAY CONTINUES to be prayer. Last Sunday we heard the parable of the widow and the unjust judge. In that parable the theme is: persevere as the Widow did in naming and opposing injustice and thus be God-like. Today we hear the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (publican). It talks about an attitude and prayer but much more.
Two go up and two go down. Going up the Pharisee is first, going down the
Tax collector is first.
Is this a time of private prayer or is it a setting of public worship?
Bailey senses evidence for public worship.
Pharisee in a gesture of religious superiority, stands apart from the
Pharisee— his posture is described briefly, his prayer at great length.
Tax collector–his posture is described in detail, his prayer very briefly.
Pharisee: I,I,I,I, catalogue of virtues, compares with another.
Prayer in Jewish piety involved primarily the offering of thanks/praise
to God for all of His gifts, and petitions for the worshiper’s needs.
This Pharisee does neither. He does not thank God for His gifts but
rather boasts of his own self-achieved righteousness. He has no
requests. Mere self advertisement.
l) stands aloof lest he be defiled by the unrighteous around him, he
2) offers scathing criticism of a tax collector nearby.
3) brags of having not only kept the law but exceeded its demands.
Tax collector. Does not stand aloof but “afar off.” Feels he is not
worthy to stand with God’s people before the altar. His bodily gestures are themselves prayer, eyes not lifted, beats his breast. Does not unroll a catalogue of sins. Does not compare himself with others, trusts in God alone.
PATTERN FOR PRAYER SET FORTH:
Subjects for prayer: self congratulation, boasting of pious achievements, criticism of others are not appropriate.
Humble confession of sin and need, offered in hope that through the atonement sacrifice this sin might be covered and those needs met, is appropriate.
Attitudes: pride no place, humility is required.
Self righteousness distorts the vision. A profoundly moving demonstration of remorse was enacted by a sincerely repentant man before the eyes of the self-righteous Pharisee. He saw only a sinner to be avoided.
KINGDOM THEME OF REVERSAL. The widow who is expected to be weak and powerless is aggressive and courageous; she is described with metaphors from the boxing ring. The tax collector who represents a class who were aggressive and often even brutal, seems submissive and deferential.
PRAYER OR ACTION TENSION. The Gospel of Luke counters such facile polarization by juxtaposing the Samaritan who fulfills the law by showing mercy in a concrete deed with Mary who listens to the word. In this passage he places together a widow who raises her voice in protest against injustice with a tax collector who quietly asks for God’s mercy. For Luke, listening to the word of God, prayer for forgiveness, and concern for alleviating suffering and injustice are wedded inseparably, and no human being should put them asunder.