I don’t know if there is a parent on earth who doesn’t sometimes imagine their child’s future self. When they’re little, I think our hopes for them are fairly general, basic, and more immediate, like hoping they will sleep through the night, or reach developmental milestones on target. Then we begin thinking about emotional health and identity. “I just want them to be happy and a good person.” But as soon as children begin to socialize, the world begins to measure and compare them, and we begin thinking and speaking about them in metrics and results. And eventually, our children begin thinking of themselves this way and begin to rank themselves and others. This kind of relativism is not just a modern-day, first-world pattern, as is evidenced in our lectionary texts this and last week.
Last Sunday we asked the Tweens if most of the things they did or hoped for usually had a certain goal or outcome attached. They all responded, “yes”. We asked them to name something that they did, or hoped, for which they had no goal or outcome in mind. This was very hard for them, but finally one said, “Being nice to people”. Even that was refuted by another who said, “No, we’re nice to people so they’ll be nice back or because someone told us to and we don’t want to get into trouble.” This week, Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector illustrates that God’s abundant grace and mercy isn’t a behavior award for which we compete.
The other readings describe eschatological scenarios and who will be saved. And if we compare those and the parable with our current uncivil discourse, we could believe that humanity may never evolve. But then there’s the Psalm; Number 65, which seems sort of random, for there are no words of condemnation or judgment like the others. It is all about gratitude for God’s incomparable, unconditional promise.