“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told the parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV Life Application Study Bible).
Both the Pharisee and the tax collector had arrived at the temple with the intent of praying. Only one left justified before God. As the Pharisee entered the temple, he stood proudly, I imagine, praying about himself. His prayer zoomed in on his own goodness and on how righteous he was in his own sight. Thank God, he had never taken that which was not his, and he wasn’t as evil, selfish, and corrupt as the others gathered to pray. What a relief!
The heart of the Pharisee resounds loudly as he prattles on about himself, announcing that he has followed all the laws for fasting and tithing. In all fairness, the Pharisee seems like an outstanding Jewish citizen, who follows the letter of the law. What then is the disconnect keeping him from being justified before God?
It doesn’t take long to look around and find someone who is “worse” than you. Someone who would speak in such a way or commit such a horrible act that you can’t help but think,”I would never, ever do that.” With ease, we can settle our own sins in our mind. We are, after all, not as bad as the murderer, the thief, and the adulterer. How this pride must hurt the heart of God! When we see our own selves as fully righteous because of our “goodness,” we are quick to find others lacking, and it seems our own need for a savior outside of ourselves dissipates.
Then, the tax collector approaches, but in his shame, hesitates. He is not here to publicly announce his own righteousness but instead to meet with God and ask for His mercy. I imagine the weight of his sin is heavy, too much for a man to bear. He cannot even begin to lift his tear-stained face towards heaven but instead, beats his chest in agony over the sins he has committed. Perhaps he was raised in the faith and had lost his way, seeking the glory of worldly riches. Maybe his life was a collection of bad decisions, one right after the other. His prayer, however, is a guttural cry to God. He only asks that God would have mercy on him, a sinner. It is in his heart-broken and humble cry for mercy that God justifies him and forgives him of his sin.
When was the last time you felt the weight of your sin – no matter how big or small? Have you experienced a true repentance and change of heart, grieving your sin and begging for the mercy of God? We are all sinners, and our sin, no matter how big or how small, separates us from God. May we be fully aware of that separation and long to approach the throne of grace, with a truly humble heart, and maybe even a tear-stained face. There before the Father, may our hearts cry out for mercy so that the true and only Righteousness of Christ can cover our sins. Then, we, too, can return home justified before God.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
~ Allison Gardner
~ photo by Samuel Martins in Brazil, Unsplash