2004—Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
Last week I spoke of the power of prayer and the Red Sox. I knew that many of us were praying for their success, even though as the scripture says. "God has no favorites". After this past week, however, I am beginning to wonder. Maybe God is a Red Sox fan. Certainly, as we hear God hears the "cry of the oppressed" , those who have been "put down" or humbled time and time again.
No, I am not seriously suggesting that God is a Red Sox fan, but certainly the persistence, endurance, reversals we have seen could be a paradigm for understanding the way prayer works. As we heard last week, stay with it. Keep believing. You may be surprised. Prayer and the Red Sox remind us though that nothing is ever a "done deal". There is always the possibility of change!
If last week our scriptures asked us to look at the power of prayer to change and be changed, this week Jesus teaches us something about the "pray-er" and not the "prayer". The question that comes to me is "Who do you think you are"? Ever heard that question? It comes in another form "What makes you think you are so special?" Both are questions that are meant to "put you in your place". Both are intended to make you feel "small" and "insignificant". It's a variation of the statement that the Pharisee makes about the publican. "who does he think he is, coming before God in the temple". It's a variation on the question that those who "are convinced of their own righteousness and look down on everyone else" ask.
Let's ask the question, then about the Pharisee. "Who does he think he is?" Obviously he thinks he is a good man, a religious man who keeps the laws, follows the commandments. He does what he is supposed to. He is not "greedy, dishonest or adulterous" like everyone else. He fasts twice a week and pays tithes on his income. He is a good guy, (a little self-inflated) but a very respectable member of society.
And the tax-collector "Who does he think he is" Obviously, he sees himself as "small, insignificant, a sinner". All he can say, is "have mercy on me"
What really is the difference between the two "pray-ers"? Perhaps the question to ask is " Who do they think God is?" For the Pharisee, it seems like God is a "banker", or an "accountant". (I mean no offense to the professions) The prayer of the "Good man" comes from a self that asks for some kind of "payback" or dividend check. This man's relationship with God is very transactional. You never sense that he has ever encountered the "living" God. You wonder if his life has ever been shaken up by loss, grief, failure, broken relationship.
On the contrary, the publican's image of God is so much more. What? A healer, a just and compassionate judge, a "publican-defender"? The tax-collector has encountered the "living God". He has been shaken up by something, or someone. He comes to God, stripped of any pretension. But he knows deep within that God will hear him, embrace him, be the ground of his life.
If the Pharisee can only say I, I, I. The publican can only whisper, You.
I suppose that only God knows the outcome of the Series but I for one am happy that there is no game scheduled for Friday. (Not that it will be necessary) Friday is when "Joan of Arcadia airs and I have to admit that I am a big fan and If you haven't seen it, it's about Joan of Arcadia to whom God "shows up" from time to time in ordinary guises. As a janitor, a well-dressed woman, a guitar-playing teen-ager. The surprise in the story is you never know where or how God will appear. What's clear though is God is very much "You" for Joan. God is more than a distant religious figure. God is the one who cares what she thinks and feels and how she lives. God is the one continually shaking up the ground of her being, so that she might know God as the air she breathes, the ground she walks on, the ever-present and intimate love that cannot be "named".
Today's scripture invites us to ask ourselves the question "who do you think you are" as a pray-er? Speaking for myself there are days when like the Pharisee I want to keep God at a distance, go about my business and be "good" But there are other days, when I am reminded of "who I am" and "Who God is". And all our talk is reduced to a whisper "You, You Alone, Have mercy on me"