Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC


Warm-up Questions

Do we learn anything about another person if all they do is tell us how they compare to someone else?  Why are we so tempted to rank ourselves?  Why can’t we simply, honestly say where we fit in?

Suffering by Comparison

Regardless of the candidate you prefer for President of the United States, this has been a campaign season like nothing we have ever seen.  Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination without ever having been previously elected.  He emerged from a field of seventeen, many of whom had lots of previous political experience.  Hilary Clinton finally pulled away from Bernie Sanders.  Senator Sanders ran as a Democrat even though he was an Independent in previous election cycles.

This campaign has been notable for other reasons as well.  Many voters are frustrated that the Clinton and Trump spend more time comparing themselves to the other than telling us about themselves.  Polling experts are probably advising them to do so.  Saying how much “better” you are than the other candidate seems to result in more votes.

shutterstock_296799968It seems to work, even though most of us say we don’t like it.  Is there something deep within us which moves us to compare one person to another?  Do we just naturally look around in order to know whether we measure up?  Do we need to denigrate others in order to affirm our own value and feel desirable?

Let us hope this isn’t the case.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think the Presidential candidates spend so much time comparing themselves to the other?
  • Would we prefer to know who or what someone “isn’t,” more than we would like to know who they are?
  • To whom are you inclined to compare yourself?

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Luke 18:9-14

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

Who are you, a Pharisee or a tax collector?

In reading this parable, it is way too tempting to think of ourselves as the humble man who returns to his home “justified.”  And yet, if we are reading this blog or discussing the readings for Sunday we probably have more in common with the Pharisee.

Remember that the Pharisees were a group of folks who took seriously their walk with God.  They attended youth group, they went to summer camp, they took turns as acolyte and communion assistant.  They also responded well to the fall stewardship campaign.  When the Pharisee in this story speaks of his honorable actions he is not exaggerating.  Nor is he totally wrong in noting the transgressions of the tax collector.

Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were not merely employees of some Internal Revenue Service.  They oversaw no set tax rates or income brackets.  They schemed ways to collect the most that they could, taking their income from collecting more than the authorities expected.  The tax collector may have cause to think he had transgressed the 7th commandment.  Luther’s Catechism reminds us that we break this commandment when we acquire our neighbor’s money or property using crooked deals.  We sin, according to this commandment, unless we help our neighbors improve and protect their property and income.

Neither the Pharisee nor the tax collector should be our role models.  Each is way too focused on himself.  When we enter the Temple, synagogue, or church our eyes are to be on God.  Instead of worrying about how we stand in comparison to those around us, we look to the one who justifies.  It is not our actions, nor our avoidance of particular behaviors, which makes us right in God’s eyes.  Rather, our salvation is found in the promise of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you find reasons to admire the Pharisee in today’s reading? Discuss how our congregation might look were all the members to be like this man (regular in prayer, in giving, in studying scripture).
  • Acknowledging our sins is essential to forgiveness being offered. Why do we find it easy to admit, even in the silence of our own hearts, the things we have done and failed to do?
  • Is there a hierarchy of wrongful deeds; are there some sins which are worse than others?  Is the difference in how they affect others?

Activity Suggestions

  • Using pencil and paper, make a list of the transgressions you committed in the past week. This is your list; no one will see it.  Now ask yourself: “Does knowing no one will see it allow you add other items to the list?”  A prayer guide asks God to help me with the sins I have labored so mightily to hide from others that I have hidden them from myself.
  • Even before you think “Why,” write the name of someone in your community of faith whom you admire. Now, note the why.  What is it that they do, what is it they say, or how they live their life which has led you to think highly of them?
  • The denomination sponsoring this blog (the ELCA) has a set liturgy for Individual Confession and Forgiveness [Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pages 243-44]. This is a powerful experience.  Discuss with your pastor the possibility of participating in such a service.
  • Engage yourself in a political discussion. Ask those around you what they know about the Presidential candidates, and observe whether they use statements which seem to compare the candidates rather than say what they think of either as individuals.

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, train our eyes to look to you rather than on the faults of our brothers and sisters.  Help us not to focus on what we have done but on what you have done on our behalf.  Amen.