Just three weeks left in what has been a completely frustrating, annoying and sickening election cycle. Political campaigns are always full of self-righteous rhetoric and criticism of the opponent. It’s an adversarial process that naturally produces the need to differentiate one candidate from the other, either by elevating oneself or by denigrating the opponent. But this Presidential campaign has taken on an ugliness in the rhetoric that is unprecedented, at least in the modern history of campaigns.
As we look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, our emotions might be a little raw after being pounded by relentless campaign messaging extolling the virtues of one candidate or pointing out the ugliness in the other. In a sense, this is what the Pharisee in the parable is doing, campaigning before God, laying claim to all the great things he has done in God’s honor, fasting and tithing and placing himself above those who lie, cheat and steal, and pouring out his contempt on those terrible sinners.
The Pharisees were the good religious people of their time. They were the ones who went to church regularly, observed the laws given to them through their scriptures. They prayed and worshiped, and fasted and gave generously. They believed that pious devotion to God was an important part of living a faithful life. The problem with it was that some Pharisees, like the one pictured in the parable, had used their piety to build up a sense of pride which divided them from others, instead of using their piety to draw others to God.
The Tax Collectors were outcasts in society, foreigners and opportunists. They were puppets of the Roman Empire who were allowed to collect whatever they could from people, as long as they gave over to the Romans what was required. There is no question that Tax Collectors were guilty of corrupt practices and in many ways deserved the distrust and contempt of society.
While the world’s judgment on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector was established and impossible to overcome, when standing before God, something new happens. The prayer of the Tax Collector is honored while the prayer of the Pharisee rings hollow as he tries in vain to prove how worthy he is to a God that knows his own heart. The Pharisee keeps campaigning before God, but the Tax Collector makes the ultimate concession speech: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” God does not see these two children in the way the world sees them, or in the way they see themselves. God has leveled the playing field. May we see the world through God’s eyes, and not worry about making the next campaign speech.
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Devotions for Week of October 23, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.