Achievement & Extortion: Luke 18
#Achievement&Extortion is the Podcast for October 23, 2016. The Father in Heaven wants a relationship with you. Relationships need trust. What could possibly get in the way of our good intentions? Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Pharisees #TaxCollectors #HolyLiving #Humility #Luke18 #Luke
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For Listener Supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/23/2016 The 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 18:9-14.
The reason there are no atheists in foxholes is because death presents us with the fact we did not give ourselves life. Yet, before we get to face death, there is life in between. There is achievement, especially in America. We earn, earn, earn, so we can spend, spend, spend. That earning and spending can create an interesting prism through which we see the world. Yet, Jesus shows us that the idea that we have done something on our own is not just in our day and age.
What do a righteous person who glories in his holiness and a tax collector who lives a corrupt life have in common? They both trust their own achievement. The righteous person believes they deserve God. The unrepentant tax collector believes they don’t need God. It is two sides of the same coin, actually.
The righteous believe they deserve God because they have done good things. Truly, they HAVE done good things. They fast twice a week. The Bible is full of how fasting is a way to know that life is more than just satisfying the body. When we refuse the body’s desires, we can then depend upon the Lord to see us through until the next meal. Fasting reveals our dependence upon God, usually. The Pharisee in our story fasts.
The holy person tithes. I go to a tithing church. Tithing is giving 10% of your gross income, before you give taxes to the government or pay any bills. It is the equivalent of bringing a tenth of your harvest to the Lord as an offering of thanks for God giving you the ability to make a living. Basically, it says that God is more important than money. It is a statement about the seriousness of our relationship with God. The Pharisee in our story tithes.
The holy person goes to church. Assuming that you can go it alone spiritually denies that we were made to be in community. One simple biological fact points to this truth: you can’t make a baby by yourself. Even in a test tube, there needs to be two parts. Humans were made to do everything together, even worship God. Coming together for worship says that we acknowledge that we cannot make it alone. We need the Lord and we need others. The Pharisee was in church when he saw the tax collector.
All of these things, fasting, tithing, and going to church are essential to loving God. They become a problem, though, when we think that they are reasons for God to love us. When they become badges of honor where we think we deserve certain treatment from others, including God, they are no longer offerings to the Lover of our soul. They are work that deserves wages.
When we think we have worked and deserve payment, the dynamic of the relationship with God totally changes. We often forget that God gave us life. He gave us others who have reached out to help us over the years. He has given us the ability to live out our vocation. He walks along-side us when people do us wrong, or when life takes an awful turn. When we think that we have been good enough, the relationship turns from love to entitlement. When we are entitled, then why do we need to trust? That is the problem with the Pharisee in the story from Luke.
An unrepentant tax collector, not like the one in our story, usually thinks they don’t need God in the first place. They know how the world really works. You got to get yours before someone else takes it. You got to work the system. To cheat people, like the tax collector usually does, is to not trust that God will take care of you. To lie, like most tax collectors did in those days, is to believe that God will not protect you or heal you. Tax collectors treated people like they were objects to be exploited instead of human beings to be loved. If someone was down on their luck, that was just an opportunity to manipulate them into giving more tax money, even more than they owed. It would not be uncommon for a tax collector to come to despise the “suckers” from whom he collected.
When you objectify someone so that you can hate them, you are acting like a god. You have set yourself up as the one who knows another person’s heart and life. You do it to judge them to be lesser than you. If they are lesser than you, then you don’t have to treat them well. Having underlings makes you just as important as God is the logic.
In the end, the irony of the whole situation in the Gospel of Luke is that the Pharisee treats the tax collector in our story just like tax collectors treated others. Usually tax collectors exploited others for their own gain. In our story, the Pharisee is exploiting the tax collector’s position in life so he can say to the Lord, “Hey, Lord, I am righteous. He is not. You should favor me.” (As if the favor of the Lord is in short supply.)
The favor of the Lord is not what we should be about. In a reversal of moves, which is one of Luke’s favorite things to do, we see that THIS tax collector is different. This tax collector is repentant and sorry for his sins. When we admit our sins, we are admitting that God is the one who created all things, set them in order, and has a way of life for us to live. It is a way of life that is not about exploiting one another. So, this tax collector probably had plenty to confess. His life was not what it should be. This being said, his contrition, humility, and confession are all things we should emulate in every interaction with every other human being. To be humble, you have to trust others, or the Other.
Just like we do with others, the Father in Heaven wants our trust, not our manipulation. Haven’t you met someone who seems to always want something from you? Doesn’t that get old? Don’t you lock up everything you own or have available in your heart when they come by? It is like they think they deserve our stuff! Well, how different is it when we pray to the Father with the prayer, “Lord, I did this and this, and this, why couldn’t you just do that?”; Or the, “At least I am not like my brother-in-law who acts like he doesn’t need you?”. We act like we deserve the blessings when we are manipulating the Lord.
So, let’s do a reset button on life. Breathe in. Breathe out. The fact you are breathing is a gift from the Father in Heaven. Before we were born, he knew us, is what Jeremiah shows. He counted the hairs on our head, Luke 12:7. He delights in us, Psalm 18:19. He treasures us more than the beauty of creation, Matthew 6:28. (Even more than things like the Grand Canyon!) The Lord pursues us like a red hot lover, the entire book of the Song of Songs. Jesus wants to hang out with us all the time, Matthew 28:20. He is preparing mansions for us in heaven, John 14:2. He gives us who are married children and that is a blessing, most days. Some think best of all, when he wanted us to give him more disciples, he gave us sex within marriage! Now, THAT is an amazing God!
Of course, I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The Lord, our God, has given us all this wonderful stuff just because he loves us. “God so loved the world,” John 3:16. What he desires is for us to love him back. That is the starting point. Love needs to have trust as part of the relationship. The relationship needs to be real. The relationship needs to be one of mutual gift giving—NOT manipulation to get the money, or prestige for being holy, that we crave.
Is God the priority of your life? Do you trust him? Can we tell? Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2016.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian