God Works in Miraculously Silly Ways (Resurrection House Blog)
God Works in Miraculously Silly Ways
Jesus 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.”
For many years I worked in a Godly Play classroom, in the preschool room. You never know for sure how your morning will go when telling stories to three and four year olds. On many occasions we would get to a place where we were all engaged, and attending to the task at hand, while keeping our hands to ourselves, and not distracting our neighbors. On other occasions it would be obvious early on that listening quietly to a story would not be the primary objective of the morning, instead we would learn what it meant to be together. I would have to follow the flow of the children, trusting that although not much attention was being paid to my prepared story, that we were doing the worthwhile work of learning to be in community with one another. After working in these classrooms I’ve come to learn that in either situation the spirit is present and flowing between us, sustaining us in that circle of love and giggles. But there is one morning that has stuck with me, and that I continue to learn from. The story for the day was the parable of the deep well. This is not a parable you will find in scripture. This is an enrichment parable through godly play. A parable which is used to explain what a parable is.
During this story a person, who has been wandering through the desert comes to a great well. Unlike others who have passed by quickly, this person doesn’t hurry, despite the dangers of the desert, the heat, and the lack of water and shelter. Eventually this person finds a bucket, and various pieces of rope, which he ties together in order to draw up the water. The story says, “The person drank the cool, refreshing water and was changed.” During our wondering time open ended questions are asked, I wonder what your favorite part was, I wonder which part was most important, I wonder where you are in the story, etc. When I asked the children what part they like best, a three year old girl raised her hand. She had been quite enthralled with the story, and I was curious what her responses would be. She answered, “My favorite part was when the person drank the water and was changed.” Then she got a magnificent smile on her face, and she added, “I wonder if he changed into something silly!” We finished our godly play session, and as anyone who has worked with children in a spiritual setting knows, I left full of joy, and with the impression that maybe I was the one who was being mentored and spiritually directed.
In today’s gospel we are told a similar story, of two men, who are or will be changed. At first we are introduced to characters we are already familiar with. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” It only takes a few glances at the New Testament to get an idea of what kind of person a Pharisee was. We know them to be strict keepers of the law, and often used as an example by Jesus of what not to be. If the saying went “What would Jesus not do?” Then perhaps the answer would be, “Ask a Pharisee.” Likewise, we know the tax collector, maybe not this specific individual, but we know his type. We know that he and his cohort were often the chosen company of Jesus, while being despised by others. So perhaps this story is not as shocking or astonishing to us, as it would have been to first century listeners, who would have viewed the Pharisee as a well-respected member of the community, and the tax collector as foe, someone who took advantage of others, and was loyal to the dominant power of Rome. We can try to relate more to the story by identifying today’s Pharisees and tax collectors, which in our diverse world, would be varied and would change depending on who you ask. Pharisees might be described as a respected parishioner, someone who fills out their pledge card in a timely fashion, or any other respected member of our community. And the tax collectors of our day, would be anyone on the outskirts of not only our society, but of our specific social groups. The aggravating boss or co-worker, the ex-husband or wife, the homeless individual that we don’t feel we have time to deal with in our hectic schedule. Any individual with characteristics that might cause us to utter the words, “Thank God I’m not like that”
After Jesus introduces these characters he tells a story which reiterates his way of turning everything upside down and inside out. We have a pharisee which we can all relate to: A man who takes his job seriously, goes above and beyond the call of duty, and who truly believes that by doing so he has been raised above his peers. In our American culture we understand that, we feel for him. We study for exams, create impressive resumes, and work hard to stand out from our peers, all of which are good things when trying to secure a college acceptance letter, a job interview, and other temporal recognitions. However, sometimes when we are preparing ourselves to come before God, we forget that it is not about us, and that far more is at hand than we can take credit for.
Likewise, we can relate to the tax collector, both of Jesus’ time, and of our own time, as the disdained individual that God openly advocates for. He is assessed not on his own merits or blunders, but because he had the courage to pray, “Here I am Lord, what a mess.” He had found the great well in the desert, abandoned himself to the life giving water, and was changed. Through the trans-formative power of God, rejected tax collectors are exalted, and self-righteous Pharisees are humbled. God works in miraculously silly ways.
On some days we might be the Pharisee, and on others the tax collector, but what we have to remember when we are getting ready to come close to the sacred, is that if we hold on to our own concepts and perceptions how of God works we can miss the point. When we walk up this aisle and kneel at the altar rail together, it is not because we have earned our right to be here, nor will we be turned away because of our faults. God loves us enough that he is not amazed by our successes, or frustrated by our failures.
There is a text from the 14th century titled The Cloud of Unknowing which states, “It is not who you are or what you’ve been that God sees with His merciful eyes, but what you want to be.” I hope for all of us that when we leave this place, whether from worship, a bible study, or fellowship activity, our goal is not simply to be able to say “There is another church attendance to mark in the record book.” But rather, “I have been refreshed, and renewed, and I am now more prepared than I was before to go out, and do the work which God has given me to do.”
– Reagan Grabbe