Signpost for Sunday 30th October 2016: Joel 2:23-32; Ps. 65; 2 Tim.4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14.
The Psalm for today has several elements that belong to us here and now. Here we are at the ends of the earth and the farthest seas – far from Jerusalem, certainly. We who live at the earth’s farthest bounds, at the gateway of the morning, are awed and shout for joy. The images of God building the mountains may not fit with our understanding of tectonic plates, and the presence, or lack, or overabundance of rain water may have something to do with global warming, so we must have a new way of praising God in nature that fits our new understanding.
The first part of Joel is in a similar vein to the latter part of the Psalm, but the reason it is included in the part of the Bible we read in worship is perhaps more verses 28 and 29. This promise of inspiration is egalitarian and anti-hierarchical. The last verses are somewhat apocalyptic, and that is a whole other can of worms.
A prominent ‘black’ footballer, the first ever to play for Liverpool FC, has been prominent in good works, and was recently offered the MBE. He declined membership in an order that harks back to Imperial Britain. Some of us have similar doubts about the use of such language about God – even Kingdom! Do we aspire to an eternity wearing a crown? Do we even want to fight a good fight? Would we not rather wish to be remembered as having loved all those we met? I want to be remembered as loved by . . .
One of my resources pictures the Pharisee as praying in the inner court of the Temple, being ritually pure enough for that; the “afar off” of the tax-collector might just have him within the outer courts, or perhaps outside the gate. Being a minion of the occupying power, and being able to over-charge at will (and expected to do that) he has put himself outside the Commonwealth of Israel.
That last phrase reminds me of another instance of its use. It is used to describe the ritual situation of one who is “hanged on a tree”. So Jesus on the cross descends to become one with the tax-collector. This is more dramatic and extensive than sitting at table with tax-collectors and sinners. Follow that one up yourself!