1 Cor. 13: 1-3
Luke 18: 9-14
Instead of watching the whole Razorback game yesterday, I just watched the highlight reel, because I couldn’t get the espn3 player to rewind while the game was in progress, and the game was in progress for quite a while since there was a rain delay.
The frustrating thing about highlight reels though is that, while it shows you the big plays of 20 yards or so, (of which Arkansas has quite a few) or big defensive plays like fumble recoveries or big sacks, it doesn’t give you the story of the in-between does it.
I remember seeing one highlight of us on the 20 yard line or so, and thinking, “well, how’d we get there in the first place?”
Watching the game this way reminded me of today’s scripture, with the way the Pharisee prayed to God, what looked more like a highlight reel than an honest to God prayer.
Jesus plays a little trick on us with this parable. In the story, the Pharisee points out the tax collector in his prayer. In contrast to the wretched tax collector, the Pharisee does all the right things. He’s a faithful tither, he
But, with his pride and arrogance, he certainly turns the listener off, doesn’t he? No doubt, we all say to ourselves, “well, thank God I’m not like THAT!
But that’s the rub. Just like the Pharisee would be better off if he recognized that he was a lot more like the tax collector than unalike-that is a sinner of God’s own redeeming—we would all no doubt do better to understand that we are a lot more like the Pharisee than we’d care to admit.
How often do our prayers look more like a highlight reel than an honest relationship with God?
Diane Bergant writes in a 2004 article in "America"
"We probably all have long lists of things we would never do. I would never rob a bank, or attack a helpless person, or run off with the pool man. It is beneath my dignity to cheat on a test or purchase clothing I intend to wear only once and then return for refund. God, am I good! But then, I have never been financially hopeless; I have never been under attack myself; and I have never had a pool man. I have never been desperate enough to feel the need to cheat or to finagle clothing. God, am I good? Or have I just been sheltered from some of the hardships that many others face?
How might I act if I were in their difficult situations?We would all benefit from reflecting on whether we are indeed as “righteous” as we claim. Are we genuinely virtuous, or have we been preserved from circumstances that might bring out the worst in us? Is our goodness tried and true, or is it simply the habitual behavior expected of “people like us”?"
The Jesus prayer, petition to God, that some who endeavor to live a life of “unceasing” prayer repeat over and over and over again. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Kyrie Eleison, Mr. Mister song. Loved it as a kid. Lord Have Mercy.
Today we are visiting a Benedictine monastery in Shawnee, where no doubt some of the monks there are formed by prayers like the Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer in particular comes out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but the sentiment is the same in the rosary, which many western monks like the Benedictines use for their own prayer life.
Wouldn’t you think that if any Christians had a right to brag to God, it would be those who devote their entire lives to prayer and service—who live in a way that is so outside the normal culture that they seem like a novelty?
And yet, I’ve never met a monk who at all fits the description that Jesus gives of the Pharisee, the “holy man” of his day. All the monks I have ever met are humble and cheerful and the first to admit their weaknesses or sinfulness. It must be that spending every hour of the day in Christian community must put one into very close touch with our need for Grace.
Instead of taking such a presumptuous attitude with God in our prayer life, thinking that somehow God missed out on things, so we have to give him a highlight reel, we should understand that our whole lives will be “under further review” on the day of judgment, and the only thing we can stand on is God’s ever abundant grace.
There was once a dervish devotee who believed that it was his task to reproach those who did evil things and to enjoin upon them spiritual thoughts, so that they might find the right path. [The dervish singled out a compulsive gambler, and each day the dervish placed a stone near the entrance of the house, to remind the gambler of his sin. The devotee enjoyed the pleasure of his 'Godliness' in recording the sins of his neighbor. This went on for twenty years.
Each day the gambler thought,] 'Would that I understand goodness! How that saintly man works for my redemption! Would that I could repent, let alone become like him, for he is sure of a place among the elect when the time of requital arrives!'
And so it happened that, through a natural catastrophe, both men died at the same time. An angel came to take the soul of the gambler, and said to him gently, 'You are to come with me to paradise.'
[The gambler protested, saying that the angel must have mixed up his instructions, for he learned that the devotee is destined for roasting on the fiery pit in hell.]
'Not so,' said the angel, 'as I shall explain to you. It is thuswise: the devotee has been indulging himself for twenty years with feelings of superiority and merit. Now it is his turn to redress the balance. He really put those stones on that pile for himself, not for you. … You are to be rewarded because, every time you passed the dervish, you thought first of goodness and secondly of the dervish. It is goodness, not man, which is rewarding you for your fidelity.'
-Idries Shah 1924-1996
Wisdom of the Idiots