and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what you will speak,
for you will speak peace
to your people,
to your faithful,
to those who turn to you in their hearts.
(adapted from Psalm 85:7, 8)
Today's passage from Luke begins, "Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." Noting the "then," I looked back to see what had been happening just before he told them the parable.
Jesus had responded to the question by the Pharisees of when the kingdom of God was coming. He told them that it wouldn't be coming with things that could be observed because it was already among them. We read this as a statement that God's kingdom was already evident in the ministry of Christ.
Jesus had then turned to his disciples and told them that they shouldn't be misled as to the days of the Son of Man. He reminded them of what had happened to the unfaithful in the time of Noah and of Lot. Some enjoying themselves, tending to their own needs, then came destruction and only a few survived.
The widow in the parable has been waiting for justice, pleading for vindication, for a long time. The early church could have seen the parallel in her situation and theirs. By the time that the Gospel of Luke was written, the early church had been waiting for the reappearance of Christ for a long time. In many, many ways the church continues to wait for justice for the weak and their vindication against the powerful.
The widow persistently and publicly continued to ask for justice from a judge who had power but was not himself just. He finally gave in to her, saying "I'm tired of her bothering me."
Jesus told them to learn from what the judge said.
Commentators split at this point. Some say that Jesus is telling them to keep praying to God, to keep arguing, pleading, seeking justification. Others don't like the idea of all of God being represented by an unjust judge so they put the emphasis on the need for God's people to keep pleading with those who have power.
In either case, Jesus intends for us to keep praying.
Then, Jesus tells them the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. If we read this parable as a comfort to us because we are so much superior in our righteousness than the Pharisee, then we have missed the point. I remember someone saying as she began her path toward ordination, "If they want humble, I can be the most humble."
Jesus is speaking to those--that includes us--who think themselves so righteous that they are contemptuous of others who just cannot measure up to their standard. In describing the Pharisee, Jesus is not telling us that there's sometime wrong with fasting or tithing. Nor is he saying that there is anything wrong with going to a holy place to pray.
Further, Jesus is not saying that the sins of the tax collector are to be emulated. What's wrong is not righteousness but self-righteousness. As Fred Craddock puts it in Preaching through the Christian Year C,"The Pharisee trusts in himself; the tax collector trusts in God: that is the difference." He then cautions us that the point of the parable is not to think that the tax collector should be proud and thankful that he is not like the Pharisee, and that we shouldn't be either.
I'm looking at this psalm today as a primer on a kind of prayer--a prayer when we want our lives to be different and we admit that we may have had some responsibility in their not being what we would have been, what we want them to be.
1. Remind the Lord, "You have been favorable to us." List some specifics. Of course, the Lord already is quite aware of this. The reminder is really for you.
2. State plainly what you want, "Restore us, Of God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us." Probably implicit is that God's indignation will no longer be needed because you intend in the future to act like a person worthy of that salvation you're asking for.
3. State just as plainly how bad things are when you are not right with God. "Will you be angry with us forever?"
4. Now, that you have listed your wants, be ready to hear what God wants, "Let me hear what the Lord will speak."
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,5. Affirm God's gifts and your own promise to be worthy of receiving them "Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps."
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Prayer for Today: Pray Psalm 85, focusing on the verses that fit the kind of day you are having today.