This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal reading for the day along with a headline from world news:
Football manger enjoys statue of himself
The Prayer of Faith
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
19 My brothers and sisters,* if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s* soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
There’s a confidence about this passage which rests on the conviction that the Christian community offers the means for coping with all that life may bring: suffering? then pray; happy? then give thanks; sick? be anointed and prayed over by the elders; committed a sin? confess it to a brother or sister and be forgiven; lapsed from faith? allow yourself to be brought back and all your sins will be wiped out. We should note that these communal practices are reflections of the goodness of God. God is good but requires a channel for this goodness in the world. The believing community provides this. How can the author tell his people that the prayer of the righteous will always be answered, when he must have known of prayers that at any rate seemed to have gone unanswered? I guess that for a person of confident faith, no prayer is ever unanswered, and no answer, even if it is “no” is ever rejected. James’ church, I sense, would have been a good place to belong.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.11The 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.12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13But 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!”14I 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 trick in using this parable is not to identify the Pharisees’ sin so that we can avoid it and thank God that we are not like the Pharisee; but rather to identify our own sin and ask forgiveness on our knees like the tax-collector. It’s not the Pharisees’ righteousness that’s at fault but his self-righteousness; just as it’s not the tax-collector’s profiteering that’s good,but his repentance. Jesus’ relationship with tax-collectors should still be a matter of scandal: they were the kind of treacherous scum who profited by collaboration with the invader at the expense of their own people. The French killed such people during and after the last war. And Jesus’ relationship with Pharisees ought also to seem scandalous: closer to the people than the priests, they established village synagogues, provided schools for studying the Torah and believed that ordinary people could live in a holy way. Faced with Jesus’ representation of the goodness of God, tax-collectors responded where Pharisees did not. Doubtless the gospel tradition has exaggerated this split, but this parable affirms its importance: those who acknowledge their sinfulness draw close to God whereas those who flaunt their righteousness remain “far off”.