Proper 25c – Sunday, October 23, 2017
This parable falls immediately upon the heels of proper 24c and is seems relatively straight forward. Live life humbly, deep awareness of our shortfallings, and in deep desire for forgiveness. The danger in this interpretation is that we invert the pride present in the Pharisee’s prayer and end up essentially saying, “Thank you God that I am not like those other overly righteous Pharisees and pious types for I have always learned to be humble.” Perhaps, the sin in the Pharisee’s prayer is not entirely his righteous attitude, but his insistence that he is not like those other people and locating his salvation entirely in his own righteousness. The merit of the prayer of the tax collector is not so much about being humble, but recognizing that his righteousness is dependent upon God alone on God’s willingness to forgive. The problem with the simple interpretation of this parable is that as soon as we align ourselves with the righteous pharisee or the humble tax collector we draw a line of division, and relegate God’s transforming activity as only possible in someone else’s life and not our own life. But the Gospel invites all, tax collector or pharisee into a transformed life.
This week we move from Jeremiah to Joel. Joel is an apocalyptic text that focuses on some future event and vindication, a “day of the Lord.” In this particular selection, the prophet first responds with a promise to the end of a plague of locust, likened to an army, and a promise that a plague like it will not happen again. The text then moves to “the Day of the Lord” when all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. In the second half, we see allusions to the Jerusalem temple in operation: smoke, fire, blood, so much that the sun and moon are blotted out, recalling the Exodus as the people moved in the desert following a column of smoke by day and a column of fire by night. This period, this day of the Lord, is a formative period for God’s people, a time when they will once again, as they learned in the Exodus, worship and rely upon God alone.
This text is deeply important to the early church and its mission as it is quoted in the vision of Pentecost in Acts 2:17. This time of renewal is how the church continues to see itself in an egalitarian notion of the Spirit (life) that is unconcerned with age or station in life.
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
“Paul” again returns to his common trope, his life as a sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. He first alludes to himself a drink offering, poured out, every last bit of himself given to God. He continues with this idea of completeness as for a race or a fight, both athletic events that would require training and persistence. He then alludes to a trial where, abandoned by everyone, he still knew Jesus to be with him in his suffering, probably seeing his own life as a reflection of Jesus’ abandonment at the cross. The “defense” is probably a real court trial, but hard to determine which it might be, there are some referred to in Acts. The idea of suffering for the sake of the Gospel is the final inspiration that Paul leaves for Timothy. In fact, Paul makes it clear that in suffering he knows he is doing Gods work, and it is in the midst of that suffering that he most clearly experiences the presence of Christ. Suffering before the powers gives him a wider audience to which to preach the Gospel.