“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison.”
We can judge for ourselves what is right; our consciences can be accuser, officer and judge when we do what we know in our hearts to be wrong. There are times we do things we ought not to have done or leave undone the things that we ought to have done. We are reminded of this in the confession in the Book of Common Prayer. The important thing is to reconcile both with God and with our own inner judge, which sometimes is slower to forgive us than is our Savior.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.”
One of the things that I love so much about this passage is the detail that it provides for us. Perhaps it’s because I’m short in stature myself that I like to read about Zacchaeus. What jumps out at me is that Zacchaeus is so eager to get to see and know Jesus. We can all take a cue from Zacchaeus in that. We too can let our excitement about Jesus shine. Maybe we can’t race up a sycamore tree to see Jesus, but we can strive with all our hearts to get to know Jesus.
stained Glass from mount olivet church, lovettsville, va
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
This is a daunting thought for some of us. We may not feel that what we are able to contribute will make a difference, but when together we share our gifts we can create positive change in our world. Tukkun Olam is the Jewish idea that by acts of kindness and charity we can repair or heal the world. No one person has the ability to heal or perfect the world on their own, but when we each use the gifts we have been given we can make the world that has been entrusted to us a better place. Whether we have been given a lot or a little we are able to help in that effort.
“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?”
Why do we worry? We can spend a lot of time worrying and it does us no good. Worry only leads to anxiety and more worry. If we can stop worrying long enough to pray, we can interrupt our cycle of worry and anxiety and invite The Lord into our hearts and our heads. We may have a serious problem that merits worry, but when we’ve prayed, then at the very least, we’ve had a respite from our worries. Perhaps the best thing we can do for ourselves when we are worried is to focus our thoughts on God and on gratitude. It might not solve our problems, but it may help us to put things into perspective.
You have clothed me and fed me and comforted me.
You have known me entirely and loved me.
You have loved me when I have hated myself.
You have loved me when I have hated you.
You have touched my hardened heart and melted it.
You have visited me when I was alone.
You have dried my tears.
You have turned my rage into calm.
You have helped me to endure what I thought I could not bear.
You have shown me love through the love of others.
You have taught me to love.
You have opened my heart to sorrow.
You have opened my heart to joy.
You have made me glad that I can cry.
You have made me grateful for laughter.
You have given me life.
For all of this I am grateful.
“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
There are times when something just comes to us. We’re in a situation; an answer or a word is required of us. We have no idea how to respond, and then suddenly it’s over and we have said the perfect thing. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but when it does, it feels wonderful. Sometimes a truth materializes out of thin air. Or does it? A few months ago I was in a prayer situation. I was praying with a guy that I don’t know very well. He had asked me to lay hands on him and pray because he was hurting emotionally. He wasn’t specific, and I really didn’t know how to pray for him. He closed his eyes and I placed my hands on his shoulders and words came into my head and out of my mouth and soon we were both in tears. They were the good kind of tears that leave you feeling undeniably better. Once we had composed ourselves, he asked me how I had known how and for what to pray. I told him the only thing that I could. “It wasn’t me.”
“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.”
We may be clean, even immaculately groomed, but if we’re holding onto negative thoughts we aren’t free of contaminants. Self examination and prayer can cleanse us of thoughts and feelings that are contrary to what we know to be beneficial to our spiritual health. This past weekend, as I walked my dog Bruce, we were almost run over while we crossed the street by a man who failed to stop at a stop sign. I felt both anger and a desire to do the man harm. The driver clearly had no regard for my wellbeing or that of my dog. As I cursed the man under my breath, I felt justified in my indignation. I have a lot for which to be grateful, including not being run over, but in that moment what I was feeling wasn’t gratitude. As we continued our walk, my anger grew. Luckily, Bruce stopped to sniff, and while I waited for him I looked up at a Sugar Maple in its full fall color and I was awed by the beauty of the orange leaves against the sky and I realized that I needed to ask God to help me to let go of the hate I was feeling for that driver. I felt grateful that no harm had come to me or to Bruce. I took a moment to let that gratitude sink in and I thanked God that I was rid of the rage that a moment before had seemed so important. I felt cleansed. We attend to the hygiene of our bodies and we also need to attend to the hygiene of our minds and souls.
As Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
How do we hear and obey the word of God? Some of us hear the word of God through scripture and ritual and others through spending time out in nature or through meditation. There is no right or wrong way to commune with God. How do we obey the word of God? Do we obey biblical law? Which biblical laws do we feel apply to our lives in today’s world? How many of us have felt beaten down by clobber passages quoted in ways that make them seem to be more like weapons than scripture? We can follow our conscience and do our best to do what we believe is right and pleasing to God. There are probably as many ways to listen to and to obey God’s word as there are people of faith. It’s easy to allow ourselves to believe that only one way is the right way. There are times in our lives when one form of prayer might feel better to us than another. Faith is fluid and our worship can be fluid as well. As long as we take the time to pray and to listen for the word of God, I don’t think we can go wrong.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
We all have our demons, perhaps not the same sort of unclean spirits that Jesus is speaking of in this parable, but serious nonetheless. It’s easy to rid ourselves of one spirit only to find ourselves plagued by another. Whether it’s a self destructive behavior or overwork there is always something that can take away our peace and lead us to set aside the very things that will make our lives better. Depression and addiction are demons that we may not be able to pray away by ourselves, but we can pray for the strength and determination to get help. If we’re feeling down we might avoid our friends or become short tempered with the people we love. We might sit inside on a beautiful autumn day. Prayer is one thing that we can all do to improve our quality of life and we can pray anywhere and at any time. We can glory in God’s creation by going for a walk. We can keep in our minds the knowledge that God loves us, so that if an unclean spirit does decide to return they don’t find a house that’s swept clean and waiting.
“Two men went up to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
We all know where Jesus is going with this one. The set up is almost like, “ have you heard the one about the Pharisee and the tax collector?” The Pharisee in this parable doesn’t disappoint. He is self righteous and arrogant. Even his prayers are full of pride and contempt for others. The tax collector on the other hand, is full of humility and contrition. We all the run the risk of being prideful in our righteousness; after all, don’t we deserve a little pat on the back when we’re not screwing up? Humility is a funny thing. If we consider ourselves humble, we’re probably not, or so many theologians have said. But I don’t think that we can be truly humble without being self aware enough to know when we’re falling short. The tax collector knows he is a sinner, as do most of us, and he rightly humbles himself before God and begs for forgiveness. The knowledge of our imperfection is the first step toward humility and we can be conscious of that and still strive to be more humble.