October 20, 2010

a small point that makes a big difference

At least to me it does.

As I read through commentaries, blogposts, and people's random thoughts, I'm struck by the various ways the Pharisee's posture gets interpreted. The NRSV translates it this way, "The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus..." The NIV says, "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself..." The TNIV changes this, "The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed..." And the CEV, my favorite these days, reads, "The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed," with an interesting note "Some manuscripts have 'stood up and prayed to himself.'"

I am not a Greek scholar, but the way I read pros in Luke 18.11 it seems to me that the Pharisee stood at his usual spot (The Pharisees had a typical spot in the Temple) and prayed to himself.

This may or may not be a big deal to you, but it is to me. It is a huge deal when compared with some who argue that he stood up and "prayed loudly about himself."

If the Pharisee stood up and yelled out, "God, I thank you that I'm not like these other people..." I get mad. It is an affront to my western sensibilities to be so open in one's criticism of those around him. I have a visceral reaction to the Pharisee in this scenario.

If, instead, the Pharisee stood up and prayed to himself, "God, I thank you that I'm not like these other people..." I don't get mad. Sure, my western sensibilities still say it is still a crummy prayer, but he's not flaunting it in the face of those around him. He's having a private conversation between him and God. And, as scholars seem to agree, he's praying a prayer that was as common in his time as "Now I lay me down to sleep..." is to our ears.

So, it is a small point; one that scholars have fun arguing about, but it seems to make a big difference to me in how I am able to hear this story.

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