By the time you reach verse nine of chapter 18 in Luke’s gospel, you can’t help but notice the mounting tension and contention in Jesus’ life. The closer he got to the end, the more imps and hypocrites he ran into who wanted to pick him apart. To tear him apart. Like a mirror, his teaching reflects the madness swirling around him. Tension in Jesus’ stories = tension in Jesus’ life.
Two men went one day to the house of prayer, he said (18:9): One of them a Pharisee/Bible scholar/revered leader, the other a tax collector/suspected thief/cultural pariah. The first man offered this prayer: “Dear God, I’m so glad you made me like I am. I don’t know what I’d do if I were like everyone else around me. Like this scoundrel over there pretending to pray. I give a tenth of all that I earn back to you. I pray at the right times of day, every day. Thank you, LORD, for the blessings of life.” The second man, who couldn’t even open his eyes, prayed like this: “I’m a sinner, God. Please help me.”
Jesus’ punchline? Only one of them got through to God that day. You can check the verses to find out which one. Maybe Jesus thought he had to repeat himself with more color, since what he had said weeks/months earlier had not produced the desired effect? “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the house of worship and on the street corners to be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). Whatever the reason, Jesus seemed to think the life that matters is the life that very few people get to see. The kind of thing you don’t splatter all over FB on purpose. “God sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4).
The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.
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