Luke 18:9-14 // Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people-cheaters, sinners, adulterers.” I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Of the two prayers, I’m afraid that mine tends to resemble that of the Pharisee more often than the tax collector. Because “Pharisee” carries a negative connotation as read today (due to Jesus constantly calling them out in Scripture!!), I forget that they were THE most respected religious leaders of that time. But Jesus saw right through them. He called them every name in the book: “brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, blind guides, hypocrites, fools…” The original snakes.
Brennan Manning writes in Abba’s Child, “Jesus did not die at the hands of muggers, rapists, or thugs. He fell into the well-scrubbed hands of deeply religious people, society’s most well-respected members.” The Pharisees’ dishes were clean on the outside but full of nasty residue on the inside. I am just as guilty of scrubbing my exterior self to perfection while my interior condition is anything but clean. Like the Pharisees, I want to assure myself of my own goodness. I cling to legalism and loveless obedience and believe even in times of spiritual stagnancy that I’m in the clear because—although I’m not actively working for God’s kingdom—I’m still following the rules. I’m showing up every Sunday, serving with a ministry weekly and never missing a morning devo. I’m listening to the right songs and saying all the right things. At least it looks like I’m on the right track. At least I’m not doing what they’re doing.
Many of the products on our shelves boast more about what bad ingredients are not present than what good ingredients are. Companies want us to know that our shampoo has NO sulfates, NO parabens, NO fragrances and NO dyes; our crackers are free of artificial flavoring and GMO’s and they’re even low in carbs and sodium!! We’re in the clear!!! By that standard, my heart must be in a good state just because I’m not struggling with anger, gluttony or greed in the current season. But what about the pride and lust and idolatry and a million other offenses that appear in the ingredients on the back of the box? Stamp every health claim you’d like on the front of a chocolate bar, but it’s still a chocolate bar; The absence of a set of bad things is not assurance of wholeness. Ugh, humble me, Lord.
I should ask myself what fruit is present in my spiritual walk rather than checking off that certain offenses are not. In a world that protests everything, I want to be for something, I want to be about what matters—a pursuer of righteousness & justice—because advocacy requires far more courage than holding a picket sign.
Rather than being confident in my own righteousness, what if I walked in confidence that the blood of Jesus is powerful enough to make even me righteous?
I pray that I never become blind to my own sin because even on my best days, I’m full of it. The good news is that Jesus died so that I don’t have to live in bondage to it. God loved us enough to grant us free will, but because he sent his sinless son to die so that we might be saved, we should want to walk in obedience out of our love for him. Yet, we can never do enough or be “good enough” to earn his affection because the price has already been paid. The deal is sealed!! The Lord longs for our daily humility and repentance. All we have to do is lean into that grace which covers it ALL: no matter how far our wandering feet have taken us. He has a track record of showing how much he loves us and will be faithful again & again!!!
“God have mercy on me, a sinner!”