Lectionary Reading: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 1 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
PROBLEMATIC PASSAGE: LUKE 18:9-14, especially vv. 10 and 11
Current lectionary reading: Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
“But the tax collector stood off art a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
WHY DOES THIS READING POSE A PROBLEM?
The problem comes especially in vv. 10 and 11, in which the person with the self-congratulatory attitude, praying “to himself, is identified as “a Pharisee.” Clearly, the prayerful attitude of the “tax collector” is to be commended, and Jesus does so. The first reading, from Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18, shows that such an attitude is part of the Jewish/biblical tradition: that God “hears the cry of the oppressed”—the “orphan,” the “widow,” the “lowly.” This is important since the association of the self-congratulatory attitude with the “Pharisee” has led (erroneously) to its association with Judaism.
WHAT CAN A MINISTER DO?
Treat it in the homily
In commenting/preaching about this passage, the preacher would be well advised to take the above into account, i.e., the temptation to apply the self-congratulatory attitude of the Pharisee to all Judaism. What we have on “The Pharisees” in the section on “Potentially Perilous Passages” should also prove useful. And there is a fine brief “sidebar essay” on this passage by Jewish NT scholar Amy-Jill Levine in the Jewish Annotated NT, on p. 138.
Modify the wording
It might be useful to substitute the words “an official” for the word “Pharisee” in the parable.