Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Give Me Again the Joy
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector, both of whom went to the temple to pray. Jesus shocked his original Jewish audience with this teaching. They expected that the Pharisee, a prominent leader in their community, would be lifted up by Jesus as the hero—the one they should strive to emulate. Likewise, they were sure that the tax collector, who betrayed his fellow Jews by working with the hated Roman conquerors, would be the villain and fall short of God’s approval.
But Jesus has a way of turning common conventions upside down: the last shall be first, the humble shall be exalted. In this parable the Pharisee was blinded by pride, believing his accomplishments and his social standing made him right with God. He did not understand that a true worshiper must humble himself before God, relying only on God’s great mercy. The tax collector knew himself to be a sinner and that his only hope of salvation was to prostrate himself at God’s feet.
How often today do we fall into the same trap as the Pharisee? We believe we are justified by our good works and neglect to search our hearts, acknowledge our sins, and plead for God’s forgiveness.
The psalmist wrote:
I have sinned against you—only against you—
and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me;
You are justified in condemning me. . . .
Create a pure heart in me, O God,
and put a new and loyal spirit in me. . . .
Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you. (Psalm 51:4, 10, 12)
The tax collector understood this. May we, like him, experience the joy of God’s forgiveness.
Bob Peterson, retired pastor
Reidsville, North Carolina