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“Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”
I try to be kind and respectful to all persons when I see them in the line at the grocery store, or sitting in a restaurant. I am well groomed in proper, public Christian behavior. When I see persons in the community who are “different” than me, I go out of my way to be nice to them, and also think to myself, “bless their hearts.”
I give a tithe (10%) to my church, or at least most of the time I do. Ok to be honest, recently I haven’t met that goal but I am doing better than I was.
If it is Sunday, I’m almost always in church. I know many of the prayers and hymns by heart. In my church, I know when to bow, cross myself, kneel, stand, and sit. You probably have your own spiritual routines.
I am religious about my morning and bedtime prayers from the Daily Office during the week. Maybe you have your own type of meditation or daily prayer or quiet time?
But when I read this parable that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel, I begin to squirm on the pew of my heart.
Why? Because I realize that Jesus has nailed me. Jesus is talking to me. And maybe to you too? He knows exactly what we’ve been thinking. He knows who we really are. And if we are honest, that’s not always good news for us. Read it again with me. Luke 18:9-14 says:
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We are caught, we are guilty, and we know it. We could come up with some great excuses, but Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. And when we try to fool Jesus about who we really are, we are the foolish ones.
So I give up, Jesus. I know you are telling this parable to point out the error of my ways. And you are absolutely right. I’m not the person I want others to think I am. To be honest, I’m not even the person I think I am. I’ve fooled myself, but never you. I know the gig is up.
Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. Please God, forgive me.
Whether you observe Lent or not, this is the path that can lead or return us to God. Beating our breasts and crying out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” At the very least, we acknowledge this truth in our hearts.
This path is the walk of humility before God.
And this is the well worn path we are called to walk on this Ash Wednesday, and every day that we want to reconnect with God.