Today we have another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel. It follows on last week’s (the persistent widow before the unjust judge) because they both answer questions regarding prayer:
1st Reading (Track 1): Joel 2:23-32
We know nothing about the prophet Joel and his context. What we have today is the turning point in the book from unrelenting judgment on “the day of the Lord” (a phrase repeated three times—1:15, 2:1, and 2:11). A plague of locusts serves as metaphor for God’s sovereignty intervening in the life of Israel. As today’s reading begins the proclamation turns to a promise of mercy. The land will again produce and the people be safe. At verse 2:28 the tone shifts to apocalyptic. The scene is now an “afterward” (v. 28), a future that is coming. 2:28-32 is part of the apostle Peter’s reaction to the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:17-21). The Spirit’s outpouring on all flesh is an assertion of God into history. It is a turning point in which (as Acts later says) “turns the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
2:23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. 30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
Psalm 65 (Track 1)
Psalm 65 gives praise to God the redeemer (vv. 1-4) and creator (vv. 5-14), two aspects of God’s providence that cannot be separated. There is no part of life that is not an extravagant gift from God.
1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
because of their transgressions.
3 Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.
4 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.
5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.
6 You make fast the mountains by your power; *
they are girded about with might.
7 You still the roaring of the seas, *
the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples. 8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
you make it very plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10 You prepare the grain, *
for so you provide for the earth.
11 I You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground
and bless its increase.
12 You crown the year with your goodness, *
and your paths overflow with plenty.
13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
and the hills be clothed with joy.
14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
let them shout for joy and sing.
The First Reading (Track 2): Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Jeremiah 14:1-10 is a lament reacting to a time of severe drought (verses 1-6 make this context clear). Where is God? Do not forsake us. Verse 10 is God’s harsh answer to the complaint. It is an indictment of the people’s have abandoned God, not vice versa. Your problems will be greater than a drought if you do not return. Israel fires back in verse 19, although it is clear the larger problem is being addressed. The doxology of verse 22 rings hollow. The problem is not yet solved.
14:7 Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. 8 O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? 9 Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! 10 Thus says the Lord concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. 19 Have you completely rejected Judah? Does your heart loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace, but find no good; for a time of healing, but there is terror instead. 20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. 21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. 22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.
1st Reading (Track 2): Sirach 35:12-17
The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (commonly called “Ecclesiasticus”) is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books not included in the official Scriptures by Anglicans but printed with them as edifying. Sirach was written in the 2nd century b.c.e. while the Greeks ruled Palestine, by a wisdom teacher passing his teaching on to future generations. Our passage this morning is part of a larger unit concerning worship. In this short passage, the link between right worship, generosity and social justice is made clear.
35:12 Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. 13 For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. 14 Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; 15 and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him there is no partiality. 16 He will not show partiality to the poor; but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. 17 He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.
Psalm 84:1-6 (Track 2)
Psalm 84 may well have been sung as a song of pilgrims on their way to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (Zion). Verses 2 and 3 employ strong metaphors that give expression to the depth of feeling that worship in the Temple gave to these pilgrims.
1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find
it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
The Second Letter of Timothy at times reads like St. Paul’s last will and testament. In the first section of this morning’s reading, he reflects on his life and impending death. Although there is no record of Paul’s death in the New Testament, tradition says he was beheaded in Rome during the rule of Emperor Nero (54-68 c.e.). In the verses skipped, Paul speaks about those who have deserted him (“only Luke is with me”). However, his experience of abandonment has only heightened his experience of the Lord’s presence.
4:6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14
Today we have another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel. It follows on last week’s (the persistent widow before the unjust judge) because they both answer questions regarding prayer: the first to those who wonder how long they should pray and, perhaps, why God does not hear; the second to warn of the foolishness of self-righteousness. Both are part of Luke’s ongoing themes of a world turned upside down. The poor widow and the sinful tax collector are justified by God. The Pharisee in the second parable is a “righteous” man, but his righteousness comes from his own self-regard, not God’s.
18:9 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.”
The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.