In this parable of contrast, the Pharisee actually asks God to compare and contrast his life with that of the tax collector, hoping for a favorable result. But the resulting contrast reveals both his shallow spirituality and his self-righteousness. Conversely, the tax collector offers a profound seven-word mantra that embraces two significant realities: He is a sinner, broken before God; and the God of mercy is his only hope. Clearly the qualities that drive this second prayer are humility, transparency, and vulnerability, none of which appears in the Pharisee’s prayer. This second prayer is not overtly thankful, but gratitude forms the foundation of the tax collector’s confessional stance before God.
We have choices to make about the ever-present interplay between light and dark in our lives. We tend to polish brightly the light side of ourselves, while hiding the shadowy dark side from everyone else, even ourselves. In vain we hope that others —especially God!—will not notice the shadow. This dishonesty about ourselves makes gratitude especially difficult to embrace.
In his confessional prayer, the tax collector achieves an honesty and humility about himself that allows the juxtaposition of his confessed sin and God’s mercy to be life-giving! His prayer anchors his real life of quiet desperation, which he is powerless to change, in the real mercy of God’s almighty power and love.
The tax collector may not name his experience either as grace or gratitude. But as he leaves the Temple, God declares him justified. Perhaps he realizes he has been made “right” before God. His steps are lighter, his breathing more relaxed, for at some level he knows God has heard him yet again, and he is thankful.
Ask God to help you know the depth of God’s mercy for you. Feel the darkness recede, and be thankful.
The Hebrew scripture readings declare the salvation of humankind and insist that the initiative for that sal- vation comes from God alone. The prophet Joel looks forward to the day when all Israel’s sons and daughters will become as prophets in the land. Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving for the “God of our salvation.” The writer of Second Timothy elevates his own achievements by means of athletic imagery, but the reading concludes with an acknowledgment that strength and deliverance have come and will come from God. The story of the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke suggests the perils of ignoring the fundamental truth of Joel 2 and Psalm 65. The Pharisee presumes that his achievements are his alone; the tax collector knows that prayer begins and ends with a cry to God for mercy.
• Read Joel 2:23-32. In the face of tragedy, how can we encourage one another to see with Joel’s eyes?
• Read Psalm 65. What in the created world brings words of praise of the Creator to your lips? What ridges and furrows in your life need God’s softening?
• Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18. What would it look like in your life to run the race God has set before you without striving to outrun others?
• Read Luke 18:9-14. Where might God be inviting your grati- tude? How can your gratitude to God lead to tangible love of a neighbor you might have otherwise disregarded?
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