Daily Office – Gospel ( Luke 18:19-14 )

During a Bible study on Paul’s letter to the Colossians last night, we were discussing the persecution that Paul expected in his life, given his call to serve God. This then led to the question of whether anyone had ever experienced persecution or seen it in any form in their life. Given that we live in a country that claims its origins in the Christian faith, the likelihood of that seemed unlikely, but one of the participants mentioned that some people are afraid to even say a prayer of grace before a meal when eating in a restaurant to avoid people making fun of them. And then another piped up that that would never stop them from doing so.

Naturally, the conversation turned toward a person’s motivation, and that some people pray in restaurants for show. We realized, of course, that this is not something that we ourselves can determine, just by viewing others pray, and that the question of motivation needs to come from the individual who is doing the praying.

The Daily Office Gospel reading today starts off Lent with just that sort of call to self-examination, by recounting the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who went to the temple to pray.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

What motivates us to enter into these self-congratulatory states of inflated valuations of our own self-worth? We may indeed be better than some – by our own standards – but by our own standards we are also worse than others (Matt 7:1-2). Yet we still try and congratulate ourselves on our own righteousness, when standing before the God who reconciled us to Himself, no less. 

In a country known for its abundance – and even its excesses – we often tend to view the abundant life that Jesus promised as one displayed in financial and material blessings, or the accumulation of power and prestige. And so, despite our better judgements, we view our state in life as having to do with the level of our own righteousness. And so we put that righteousness on display, just as our Pharisee in the Gospel reading today, because then others will know just how #blessed we truly are. We might not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we are shameless. Shameless in our self-promotion. Shameless in displays of our own righteousness.

We may flaunt pictures on social media of the ash on our foreheads (#ashwednesday) to be thankful for the work God has done for – and in – us, or we may display pictures of our ash covered foreheads to let others know the extent of our own righteousness. We may proudly walk around today, displaying our piety, or we may walk about humbly, ready to discuss our the joy of our salvation with anyone who asks why there’s a dirty smudge on our head.

Only we will know our own motivations.

But that’s the goal of Lent, isn’t it? To help us to look inward, to reflect upon our lives, and to determine whether we are seeking to remember that the work of our salvation comes from God alone. To help us determine that our worth comes not from anything that we can do, or anything that we have done, but instead that we have only been presented holy and blameless and irreproachable before God through Christ’s death (Col. 1:19-22).

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