Engaging the Word: Readings for 10/23/16 (The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary. In this week’s readings, Joel prophesies God’s forgiveness and restoration after the terrible plague of locusts, Paul reflects on his life and death in his letter to Timothy, and in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus teaches us how honest prayer leads to righteousness in the kingdom of God.

Prophet Joel, Ivory plaque from Syria or Palestine, 7th century . Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Prophet Joel, ivory plaque from Syria or Palestine, 7th century . Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joel 2:23-32: The Book of Joel is second in the list of the 12 Minor Prophets, and consists of three short chapters. Nothing is known about Joel, other than that he was a prophet and his father’s name was Pethuel. The book is difficult to date because the text contains no convincing references to events. Scholars have dated it variously from the ninth to the fourth century BC, though most place it in the postexilic period, around 500 BC.

The book opens with a description of a terrible plague of locusts—scholars debate whether this was a metaphor for an invading army or an actual plague. Most think it does describe an actual plague. Joel calls the people to return to the Lord with fasting and repentance.

Our reading begins with a promise of the Lord’s forgiveness. He will restore and bless all the land that the locusts have destroyed, and the land shall again produce abundance. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.” The Lord also promises “And my people shall never again be put to shame,” because they will be restored to right relationship with God.

It will happen like this: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” In Acts 21:16-21, Peter quotes Joel at Pentecost, saying that the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilling the prophecy of Joel. Our reading concludes with an eschatological (concerned with last things) description of signs in the heavens and earth that will take place before “the great and terrible Day of the Lord comes.” When that day comes, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

 Psalm 65: This week’s psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise to God who answers our prayers and forgives our sins, who created and controls the world, who gives the harvest, and who makes the whole earth shout for joy.

St. Paul by Rembrandt, 1633. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Rembrandt, 1633. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18: This week’s reading concludes our series from Paul’s letters to Timothy. Paul realizes that his death is coming soon and looks forward to wearing the “crown of righteousness” that the Lord will give to him. He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Paul acknowledges that his friends deserted him, but prays “may it not be counted against them!” He also acknowledges that the Lord deserves the credit, “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” Now he stands at the threshold of eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. Maybe if we start now to serve God more faithfully, we, too, will be able to have the confidence of Paul when we draw near to death.

The Pharisee and the Publican by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Pharisee and the Publican by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 18:9-14: Jesus builds on last week’s reading about the unjust judge and the persistent widow with another familiar parable about prayer—this one is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector recorded only in Luke. It’s directed to “some who trusted themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” It’s just a few verses, so here’s how Jesus told it.

“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.”

The Pharisee is proud of himself that he is so righteous, that he is scrupulous in keeping the law. By contrast, the tax collector realizes he has no righteousness in himself. He could only stand far off, with downcast eyes and beat his breast and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus responds by saying it is the tax collector who was justified by God.

In The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ last comment: “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

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