The tax collector prayer (Lk 18:13-18:13)

“But the tax collector,

Standing far off,

Would not even

Look up to heaven.

But he was beating

His breast.

Saying.

‘God!

Be merciful to me

A sinner!’”

 

ὁ δὲ τελώνης μακρόθεν ἑστὼς οὐκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ’ ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ λέγων Ὁ Θεός, ἱλάσθητί μοι τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ

 

Luke has Jesus continue with this parable about a Pharisee and this tax collector that is only found in this gospel.  Luke indicated that Jesus then turned to the tax collector (ὁ δὲ τελώνης), who was standing far off or a distance away (μακρόθεν ἑστὼς).  He would not even look up or lift his eyes to heaven (οὐκ ἤθελεν οὐδὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐπᾶραι εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν).  He was beating his breast (ἀλλ’ ἔτυπτεν τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ), a common form of penance.  He prayed to God (λέγων Ὁ Θεός) that God would be merciful to him (ἱλάσθητί μοι) a sinner (τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ).  Instead of thanking God for being good, this tax collector admitted his guilt, not looking up, but striking his breast, asking God to be merciful to him because he was a sinner.  We have two different regular activities, and two different attitudes.  The Pharisee was a better actor in doing the right thing, but had a bad attitude.  The tax collector was not doing the right thing, but had a better attitude.  Are you a good doer or do you have a good attitude?

The fifth beatitude on mercy (Mt 5:7-5:7)

“Blessed are

The merciful!

They shall receive mercy.”

 

μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

 

The happy, blessed, and fortunate ones (μακάριοι) would be those who were merciful.  Along with justice, one of Yahweh’s two great attributes was mercy.  Matthew just said that people who hungered and thirsted after righteousness or justice would be holy or blessed.  Now, you would be emulating God, if you showed mercy.  Not only that, if you were merciful (οἱ ἐλεήμονες), you would receive mercy (ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται).  God would be merciful to you, just as in Psalm 145:8-9.  Yahweh, God the Father, was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, in his abundant steadfast love.  Yahweh was good to all the people, because he had compassion and mercy over all that he had made.

Jonah’s justifying prayer to Yahweh (Jon 4:2-4:2)

“Jonah prayed

To Yahweh.

He said.

‘O Yahweh!

Is this not what I said

While I was still

In my country?

That is why I fled

To Tarshish

At the beginning.

I knew that

You are a gracious God.

You are merciful.

You are slow to anger.

You are abounding

In steadfast love.

You are ready

To relent from punishing.’”

Jonah in his prayer to Yahweh tried to justify his former actions.  He claimed that Yahweh was so gracious and merciful that he would not have inflicted any damage on Nineveh.  Jonah gave that as his reason for originally trying to flee to Tarshish.  He knew that Yahweh was slow to anger and abounding with steadfast love.  Thus, he knew that Yahweh was eager and ready to not punish the people of Nineveh.

Amos asks for the fire to stop (Am 7:5-7:6)

“Then I said.

‘O Yahweh God!

Cease!

I beg you!

How can Jacob stand?

He is so small!’

Yahweh relented

Concerning this.

‘This shall not be.’

Said Yahweh.”

Once again, Amos interfered using the same words as above. He begged God to be merciful. He told him how small Jacob was. Yahweh once again listened to Amos and stopped the fire.

A gracious God (Joel 2:13-2:14)

“Return to Yahweh!

Your God!

He is gracious!

He is merciful!

He is slow to anger!

He is abounding

In steadfast love!

He relents

From punishing.

Who knows

Whether he will not turn?

Who knows

Whether he will not relent?

Leave a blessing

Behind him!

Leave a grain offering!

Leave a drink offering

For Yahweh!

Your God!”

Joel continued with the same theme. They should return to Yahweh. Joel used the ancient words about God as gracious and merciful, since Yahweh was slow to get angry. He was abounding in steadfast love. He did not punish easily. Will he return? Will he relent? Your best shot was to leave a blessing, like a grain or drink offering for Yahweh, their God. Clearly, Joel was tied to the Temple, since he considered the grain and drink offering as a blessing.

The restoration of Ammon (Jer 49:6-49:6)

“‘But afterward

I will restore

The fortunes

Of the Ammonites.’

Says Yahweh.”

Just like with the Moabites, Yahweh was going to restore the Ammonites to the fortunes that they had. Yahweh always seems to be merciful after strongly criticizing a group of people. Thus this short section about the Ammonites comes to an end with a future restoration.

The invitation to repentance (Jer 3:12-3:13)

“Go!

Proclaim these words

Toward the north.

Say!

‘Return!

Faithless Israel!’

Says Yahweh.

‘I will not look on you in anger!

I am merciful!’

Says Yahweh.

‘I will not be angry forever.

Only acknowledge your guilt!

That you rebelled

Against Yahweh

Your God!

You scattered your favors

Among strangers

Under every green tree.

You have not obeyed my voice.’

Says Yahweh.”

Yahweh then told Jeremiah to say these words to the northern tribes. Tell them to return. Yahweh was not going to be angry forever with them because he was merciful. They only had to acknowledge that they rebelled against Yahweh, their God. They had scattered their favors under every green oak tree in false worship. They had not obeyed the voice of Yahweh. The problem, of course, was that they had already been sent into captivity, nearly a century earlier.