Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18: 9 – 14
I will be honest with you. I am a perfectionist. I want to do things in a perfect way, for instance when writing. I once wrote a Psalm for The Psalm Project, an initiative of a friend of mine to recompose the Genevan Psalms. After the booklet going with the CD was published, I discovered that I had made a grammatical error in the lyrics. I could hardly forgive myself.
In my religious upbringing I somehow got the image of God as someone being very critical of all my thoughts and actions. I did my best to be obedient to the demands of this God. But I also experienced that I couldn’t live up to the image of a perfect christian, which often gave me feelings of failure and guilt.
In the parable Jesus is telling in the reading of today, a whole different image of God emerges. Here is a Pharisee, praying in the Temple, boasting about himself as being morally perfect and superior in comparison to other people. He actually doesn’t need God. There is a tax collector, hiding in the shadows, also praying, but in the opposite way, full of remorse.
Then, in Eugene Peterson’s translation of The Message, Jesus comments: “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
In Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, which I was reading yesterday, he is also reflecting on this parable. He writes that in this parable Jesus invites us to struggle with the contrast between a spirituality of perfection and of imperfection. And that Jesus, with his nondual way of thinking, turns it upside down. Being righteous has nothing to do with meritocracy, where the good ones win and the bad ones lose. He ends his reflection by saying: “I’m convinced that Jesus’ good news is that God’s choice is always for the excluded one. Jesus learned this from his Jewish tradition: God always chooses the rejected son, the barren woman, the people enslaved in Egypt or exiled in Babylon. It’s not a winner’s script in the Bible, it’s a loser’s script. It’s a loser’s script where, ironically, everybody wins.”
Dear God, full of mercy and grace, thank you for your endless compassion with losers. Thank you for revealing yourself in Jesus Christ, who embodies this compassion. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who teaches us to be compassionate with others. Glory be your name. Amen.
– Egbert van der Stouw
Protestantse Kerk in Nederland (PKN)