Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 2 Corinthians 8:16-24, Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told a parable about two men praying at a temple, one a Pharisee – a citizen of high standing – and the other a tax collector – a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman empire. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like sinners such as the tax collector, and reminded God that he fasted twice a week and tithed a tenth of his income. The tax collector humbly asked God for mercy. Jesus said the tax collector was the one who went home justified.
This parable is a bit of a paradox. We probably do want to try to live a life that looks more like the Pharisee’s than the tax collector’s. Avoiding sin and practicing spiritual disciplines – such as tithing and fasting –are good choices. Helping exploit the oppressed is not as good a choice. Yet according to Jesus, the state of our heart is at least as important as our actions.
Exalting ourselves is a good indicator we’ve forgotten to be grateful. The Pharisee could tithe and fast because he was in a comfortable position, yet he thanked God for nothing but his own (self-) righteousness. Someone without enough food or money would not have had the luxury of tithing and fasting. We don’t know anything about the tax collector’s circumstances, but we do know he was grateful for the mercy of his creator.
When the Jewish people reached the promised land, they began sacrificing the first fruits of each harvest to the Lord. As they did so, they recited the story of how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt and delivered them to the land of milk and honey. No matter how hard they toiled in the field, they did not take credit for their own well-being, but expressed gratitude to God for making it all possible. Somewhere along the line, the Pharisee seemed to have forgotten this important lesson.
Let’s remember where we came from. While we rejoice that God loves us, let’s also remember God’s love is a gift, not a reward for good behavior. We say grace before we eat, not after.
Comfort: Remember that God loves you.
Challenge: Remember that all you have comes from God.
Prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner!
Discussion: Are you ever tempted to compare yourself to other people? If so, how does it usually make you feel?
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