Prayer and Pointing the Finger (pt. 4)

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This is the last of four short meditations on prayer based on Luke 18:9-14:

“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 NRSV)

Finally, and maybe this is so obvious I don’t even need to say it but, this parable is about taking responsibility for ourselves and coming to a place where our spiritual lives are not dependent on us blaming others or pointing finger.

We live in a society where there is a scapegoat on every corner, someone is always to blame for everyone else’s problems. When I am unhappy, it must be because of something someone said, or did to me.

No. We need to wake up and realize that we are each responsible for our own well-being and our own happiness.

If we are not happy, if we are not close to God, it is not because of someone else.

The pharisee is busy pointing the finger at others.

The tax collector is the one who has accepted responsibility for his own spiritual well-being.

This is the nature of prayer as confession. We discern the thread that belongs to us and we take it to God, asking for help. Jesus is teaching us that prayer is about being people who are non-blaming and who accept what is ours and deal with them.

If we pray, or even think, “At least I’m not like this guy over here!” or God, why don’t you change them, so I can finally live in peace, then we have yet to understand the true nature of prayer or of freedom in Christ.

As long as we need others to change, we will always be counter-dependent on others for our own health.

The tax collector accepts his own complicity and he owns his own stuff. This is a person who is open to critique, who has taken the guard down and is willing to engage. He is using prayer to help him on his way to transformation.

Prayer is about “accepting responsibility for what I am doing and what I am becoming. Either my mother, my culture, my church, or my past made me do it. There is no now. There is no healthy “I.” We are all victims by inheritance and victims of the past – which leaves little open to the future.” (Rohr 87)

In following Jesus, we move beyond this. Jesus never blamed anyone, he entered into prayer to be in constant contact with God. He broke down the labels that kept people from participating as the people of God, and he worked to live a life that was marked by vulnerability and openness to others.

Queries:

  • When have you avoided accepting responsibility for your own spirituality well-being and how might prayer foster the path towards transformation?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.