CACINA

A New View

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, forgiveness, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Rev. Martha on October 20, 2016

30th Sunday 10-23-16 yr c Sirach 35: 12-18; Ps 34; 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14

 

Every once in a while, we’re given the chance to look at something in a different way. For example, you might go on a ride down a familiar road, but this time someone else is driving, and you see a house or a business or a tree you don’t remember ever seeing before.

Sometimes this happens with Bible stories. But this new awareness is not always pleasant.  Take, for instance, the Pharisee in today’s Gospel.  Reading the Gospel of Luke, it’s hard not to develop an attitude about Pharisees.  In chapter 5, when Jesus heals a paralytic, the Pharisees begin a controversy about forgiveness of sins, laws about fasting, observance of the Sabbath, and Jesus’ habit of eating with “sinners” and tax collectors. In chapter 7, the Pharisees refuse to let John baptize them.  In chapter 11 Jesus harshly criticizes the Pharisees for their attention to minor details of the Jewish laws, yet failure to love of God.  In chapter 12, Jesus says plainly, “Beware of the leaven, that is, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees”.

Yet in Chapter 13, the Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him that Herod wants to kill him. Maybe they weren’t all bad.  What was the common view of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time?  And what were their prayers like?

Well, there were many devout and sincere Pharisees, spending their days studying and discussing the laws of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. They lived lives dedicated to careful and meticulous observance of those laws.  Pharisees could routinely quote entire books by memory. It’s hard not to admire their dedication; they seemed to love God.  Most Jews who went to worship in the temple stood and said their prayers aloud – it was the custom, and not a way this particular Pharisee might show off.  But Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor as yourself) somehow was set aside.  His prayer seems to follow the ancient commandments; still, the love commandment is missing.

One of best books I’ve read about the Parables of Jesus says that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were highly respected among most Jews, and were considered righteous. And the Pharisee in this passage far exceeded any of the laws for fasting or tithing.  To the people listening to Jesus, this Pharisee would have been the hero of the story, far better than any tax collector.

Tax collectors, of course, are rarely heroes. But in 33 A.D., the view of a tax collector was very negative.  They were collaborators with the Romans, they enforced an extremely heavy tax burden on the people, they were notorious for dishonesty and extortion, and were classified with murderers and traitors.  At one point they were not allowed even to be witnesses in court.  Some people have suggested that a tax collector wouldn’t have been allowed in the temple, but that is an exaggeration.  But everyone understood why the tax collector would not even raise his eyes to heaven, for failure to rise your eyes was a sign of nearly unpardonable guilt and shame in many cultures.  The tax collector would be, clearly, the bad guy to those listening to Jesus; and that would be supported by his apparent estimation of himself.

Imagine then, the how stunned people were when Jesus declared the Tax collector the one who was justified. Knowing this helps us to better understand the reading.  We need to look again at why Jesus told this parable and why Luke included it in his Gospel.  And of course, we need to consider what this might have to do with us, and not just that the Pharisee sounds like an empty braggart to our ears.

The opening verse of the reading is a good place to start. “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Up front we know this isn’t going to be warm and fuzzy, my friends.  Jesus identifies two problems.  One is when we choose to be judge of our own goodness.  Ah, that is so easy.  It’s risk free – there is no chance that anyone will bring up any of my faults.  We always have a reason why we’re right when we judge ourselves.  It puffs up our ego, no painful change or correction is required.  We feel powerful and in charge, able to be faultless without anyone else’s help.

Of course, doing this robs us of any opportunity to see any other point of view, or grow in faith or in relationship to God or our fellow human beings – in fact, it isolates us and stunts our growth. Which leads to the second problem – when I think my self-perceived goodness makes me inherently better than other people, and above the need for God’s forgiveness.  If that is the case, then I have broken both the commandments to love God and to love my neighbor as myself.  Breaking both of them puts us a bad place indeed.

What is it like when guilt and shame bursts into our self-assessment? A friend sent me a link to a site on the internet that will tell you where you rank, both by income or assets, in the world’s wealth. With my little monthly pension and social security, I am in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest people!!  It ruined my day to realize the bottom 5% is dying from preventable disease and starvation.  I went from what I perceived as a position of grace to feeling like a self-centered miser complicit in the world’s poverty.   My privileged status is largely an accident of birth.  It gave me much more compassion for the tax collector, and reason to relate to his prayer.

This is why Luke included this parable- to warn us, to ruin our day, to stun us, to shake us up. He makes us take a second look at our self-assessment.  Do we really follow Jesus or follow our own path, making life as we live it seem much more righteous than it really is?  Are we much more dependent on a merciful God than we’d like to think?  Luke gives us a chance to see ourselves in a different way, and Luke provides the assurance that Our Creator wants to grant us new sight, to forgive our false pride, and to have us part of The Kingdom of God.  Our God is the God of second chances.

 

Keep on Going, Keep on Doing

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on July 10, 2016

15th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-10-16  HT  Deut 30: 10-14, Ps 19, Col 1: 15-20, Luke 10: 25-37

We have to start today back in the Old Testament, specifically in the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Deut 6: 4-9 is part of the Shema, one of the most fundamental prayers of the Jewish faith.  Verse 5 says: “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  Jesus may have heard this on the day of his birth, as it was traditionally said twice each day.

That verse was linked- long before Jesus’ time – with Leviticus 19:15-18. Verse 18 says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Scripture scholars saw these two verses drawn together like magnets, because they used the same Hebrew verb form for the command to love:  we’ahabeta, which is used only 1 other place in the OT.  Any disagreement between Jesus and the lawyer was only over the application and the boundaries of these commands, not the significance of the command to love God and neighbor.  So many difficulties arise not with ideas and ideals, but with making them become reality!

So, Jesus had a history of association with the “wrong people” – remember the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. He touched and healed the “unclean” – lepers, the bleeding woman, and the widow’s dead son.   He ate without the hand wash ritual, he allowed his hungry disciples to pick wheat on the Sabbath.  If the lawyer had any plan to trap Jesus into teaching contrary to the religious Laws, Jesus was prepared, skillfully redirecting the discussion to the intent of the law.  The discussion starts with that curious dance of questions that began any formal Jewish scholarly debate on the Law – but ends with “Go and do likewise”.  It was no longer a debate but a call to action.

Two weeks ago, in the previous chapter of Luke, we read about the disciples wanting to call down fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village which would not welcome them. The breach between the Jews and Samaritans was of long standing and firmly entrenched.  There was a constant attempt to insult and demean each other. The disciples got a swift rebuke, not fire, for Jesus was very tolerant of being turned away.  Again, when Jesus encountered the Samaritan “Woman at the Well”, it was a time of forgiveness and healing.

But this is not a lesson about the Samaritans.   Neither is it an attempt to criticize the priests.   This is a parable, not a diatribe of negativity; it is teaching to a specific point.  The Samaritan is cast as the stereotypical “bad, stupid guy” who is –undisputedly -doing the right thing – in contrast to the stereotypical “good and smart guys” who clearly are not doing what God requires.  The startling contrast gets our attention.

Where is the pivotal point in this parable? The priest sees, and passes by.  The Levite, a Temple assistant, sees, and passes by.  The Samaritan sees, and was moved with compassion at the sight.  Compassion: the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give aid or support, or to show mercy.  I looked it up – and found on the next page of the dictionary the word “compel” – to necessitate or pressure.  I think Jesus is saying that the Love which God wires into us makes us feel the need to be compassionate.  Sharing the suffering of each other is a necessary part of living.  Paraphrasing the words of our first reading today, “(Compassion)….is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts; we only have to carry it out.  For it’s not too mysterious and remote for us.  It’s not up in the sky, nor across the sea.”

Simply asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” assumes there are limits on compassion. Jesus, of course, does not teach a boundary, a limit, on love, and will not permit us to say, “We have loved enough”, nor choose who we will love.  In mathematical terms, nearness + need = neighbor; love creates neighborliness.  To love God with all of one’s being and loving neighbor as self is living out our relationship with God.

One writer called this parable “a little annoying, for it will not let us look away or excuse us from being compassionate”. Some people are put off by the insinuation that we must exhaust ourselves and our resources over every possible instance of need that we hear of.  If you leave these doors today resolved to help everyone, your wallet will be empty and you will be disgruntled and discouraged by the time you reach home. But, the point of the parable is to identify what Christian character is, not prescribe particular action. And we don’t need to always love our neighbors by ourselves.  Community efforts are generally more effective and longer lasting.  We sometimes respond better to needs when we are challenged as a group.

Still, knowing how to implement this parable is not that easy.  So, my message is not “Go and do likewise”, but “Keep going, and keep doing” the outstanding outreach to your community that you’ve already established.  This church has found neighbors at an Elementary school close at hand.  You have been the wise people who brought gifts to area families at Christmas through the Jessie Tree project.  You were the ones who responded to a call for laundry essentials at the nearby housing units last December.  And I believe I heard a resounding “YES! They Heard Me!” from the heavens.