In order to be able to live simply, sometimes a bit of perspective is going to be helpful – so we need to go on a journey today into the vastness of the universe – which scientists just last week announced was even bigger than previously known.
Unless we are in the legal profession, it is unlikely that either you or I would have been in a law court very often. Yet we are very familiar with the goings on from the numerous TV shows and movies that are either set in and around courtrooms and trials, or that include a trial as a key theme. Sometimes legal cases become so significant that they are reported widely in the media and in their own way become part of our common history.
If we want to understand the parable that lies at the heart of our Gospel this week, from Luke chapter 18, we should hold the image of a lawsuit in mind, even though it seems at first glance to be describing a religious event. In reality, like the parable that begins chapter 18 which we heard last Sunday – the one about the widow and the corrupt judge – this parable also is really another lawsuit. Another way of saying this is that the Pharisee in the Temple has turned what should be an encounter with God into a contest. His ‘prayer’ – if we can call it that – consists simply of letting God know all about his various good points where he exalts himself by dumping on the tax collector. We shouldn’t entirely belittle the Pharisee who is clearly holding his religious values dearly – fasting twice a week and tithing on all that he earns. Yet Jesus wants us to know that we are always more than a set of external actions and habits.
The tax collector, on the other hand, because of his small and simple faith is able to see right through to the very heart of a great God, as he casts himself on the divine mercy. Jesus reveals what the divine judge would say about this: it is the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, who returns home ‘at rights with God.’ In other words, he was vindicated before the judge. God finds in his favour. The wider context of these two parables is the final law court, in which God’s chosen people will be vindicated after their life of suffering, holiness and service. Although each of us may have many enemies – both outside and inside – these parables declare that God will act to show us who his people truly are. At the present moment it is not enough to simply look for the outward badges of virtue or the observance of the small details of God’s law.
God’s intention is to put all the wrongs of the world to rights. If you want to see where this final vindication is anticipated in the present world, look for where there is genuine repentance, and a genuine placing of oneself on the mercy of God. ‘This one went home at rights with God’ – those are among the most comforting words in the whole gospel.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (14 mins 35)
Sunday 30, Year C. Luke 18:9-14