Bible Study: 23 Pentecost, Proper 25 (C)

October 27, 2013

Brian Pinter, General Theological Seminary

“The tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Joel 2:23-32Psalm 652 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18Luke 18:9-14

Joel 2:23-32

The book of the prophet Joel addressed a message of hope to an Israelite people who had experienced devastation by locusts and drought. For those who survived as subsistence, shallow plow farmers, anything that affected crop production – floods, insects, lack of rain, etc. – had profound and lasting effects on their emotional well being and religious imagination. The Israelites perceived the end of these disasters as a sign that Yahweh had not abandoned his people, and in fact, had vindicated them.

Our reading today from Joel illustrates the profound sense of solidarity the people of Israel felt from their God. No event, no experience, nothing at all escaped God’s providential and compassionate gaze. God stood by them through the lean years of trial, and now God’s healing presence feels tangible in a time of plenty. This text evinces the heart of a people who oriented every moment of their lives to be in God. They never conceived of themselves as being alone nor was any moment separate from God. Nothing, neither hardship nor joy, had any meaning outside of their relationship with their God.

How does the joy expressed in this text serve as a call for you to re-orient all your thoughts and actions to a perspective that is in God?

Is there a word, phrase or image from today’s passage that resonates with you?

Psalm 65

This psalm was most likely sung in the Temple at the beginning of a new agricultural year. Recalling God’s blessings upon Israel in the past, the psalmist looks to Yahweh for hope – and rain – as the planting begins anew.

Like today’s passage from the prophet Joel, this psalm illustrates Israel rooting all activity in the context of God. In this way, all work is sanctified, and nothing falls out of God’s purview or blessing.

Our contemporary culture moves us to separate our religiosity to the sphere of private life and Sunday worship. But this psalm calls us to recognize that everything we undertake in life is significant to God, especially the work we do for our “bread and cheese,” so to speak! God cares profoundly about this dimension of our lives and longs bless and affirm our work. More significantly, the psalmist touches a deep desire that rests in the hearts of all people – to experience God’s blessing on what we choose to pour our energies into for our sustenance.

How can you “sanctify your work,” whatever it is, and root it in the context of God?

Is there a word, phrase or image from today’s psalm that resonates with you?

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Although scholars have long questioned the Pauline authorship of the two letters to Timothy, Second Timothy, from which our reading today is drawn, seems a more likely candidate of the two to be from Paul’s pen (at least in part).

Chronologically speaking, Paul writes this letter while under arrest in Rome, shortly before his death. His rhetoric and sentiments are those of a man looking back over a life well lived. Paul faces death at peace with his life, knowing that he did his best in carrying out the work God asked him to do. And now he is prepared for the final letting go. Paul’s life, from the time of his calling on the road to Damascus to this point, has been a grand exercise in letting go of his own plans, desires, hopes.

As Paul says in verse 6, he has allowed himself to be poured out as a libation, a drink for others of God’s grace. Paul here teaches an important lesson – our lives are not about us. We are called to be poured out for others, and it is only in that great act that we will find the peace and satisfaction that Paul speaks of here.

How are Paul’s words a challenge and/or a comfort to you?

What do you feel you must still let go of in order to achieve the peace Paul says he is feeling?

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus teaches a message in our gospel reading today that most of us do not want to hear: The way up is to go down. We cannot “earn” God’s approval by showing ourselves to be loyal, disciplined, rigorous soldiers. Rather, we fall into God and God’s mercy, compassion, and love through humility and the acknowledgement of our brokenness. The crack in our hearts – the broken place that this little tax collector seems to be keenly aware of – is where the light gets in.

Now, the things that the Pharisee is doing – fasting, praying, almsgiving – are all good and necessary parts of authentic religious practice. But the Pharisee has committed the greatest sin; he has given into the greatest temptation – doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Ultimately, his worship is directed toward himself, not God. His own egotism has taken the good practices of religion and put them to an insidious use – self-inflation and judgment.

In the end, Jesus is calling for authenticity of motivation; calling us to do the right thing for the right reason. More significantly, he invites us to fall into the mercy of a loving God who recognizes and embraces our brokenness, if we will allow God to do so.

Where do we face temptations in our spiritual lives to do the right thing for the wrong reason?

Where in yourself do you see the proud Pharisee, and the humble tax collector?

Comments

  1. JudithWedemeier says:

    THANKS TO YOU FOR VOICING A MUCH-NEEDED POINT. IT IS TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED.

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