The text this week is Luke 18:9-14.
There are two men in this story and both are attending the same church service. Both have dedicated a certain portion of their day to be in the temple, to say their prayers, to pay their tithes, to perform the appropriate rituals for the day. The two are way more similar in status than we might think.
These next few paragraphs are from my very good friend, the Rev. Linda Pepe who sites Robert Lithicum. "The Pharisee's job was to teach the people the interpretation of, or more accurately, the official misinterpretation of the Torah so that they would believe that this unjust way their society operated was society as God designed and intended it to be. In other words, “if you’re a good Jew, obedient to the Torah, you’ll pay your taxes and tolls and never question it."
The the tax collector was also part of the elite class of society. However, he was on the very bottom of the elite; he held no status and was looked down on by everyone higher than he. His job paid so little that he couldn’t possibly make ends meet for his family on his salary, so he was encouraged by his superiors to extort money from the peasants... So to be clear... the tax collector was working for the Pharisee!"
Two men in this story and both are attending the same church service. Both have dedicated a certain portion of their day to be in the temple, to say their prayers, to pay their tithes, to perform the appropriate rituals for the day.
The first recites the ritualistic prayer known as the three blessings. It begins with thanking God for who he was not and ends with thanking God for him not being a Gentile, a slave or a woman.
I read an article by Chana Weisberg, on why this shouldn't be offensive to a woman, for example. Essentially, she says that when a person prays these words, for starters, they are affirming who God created them to be. As if reminding themselves, God did not make us to be anyone but who we are. We must then go about the rest of the day in our own skin, with our own gifts, our own skills, all under the guidance and Lordship of God who has made us thus.
The other thing she says is that she holds hope that when men pray this each day that also are acknowledging the world as it is, with all its flaws - it's mistreatment of women and slaves and Gentiles. When we acknowledge who we are not, we both acknowledge who we are and the privileges we carry with us. As we understand our privilege, we are more apt to work for justice and equality, love and respect.
The other man seemed to get that perhaps before he recited the three blessings. Maybe he understood the privilege with which he lived. Perhaps he simply couldn't say the proforma prayer anymore - there were too many women who could no longer feed their families if they were to pay taxes. There were too many slaves in and around the houses he frequented.
There were too many people who had to suffer in order for the elite to decorate their homes and buy a new car and have the latest iphone. Oh wait. That's us.
God, be merciful to us, sinners.
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