To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this 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 breast 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
Thank you Lord that I buy organic, that we almost never eat at McDonald’s, that my children go to bed early every night/that my children have fun with us staying up late every night, that I vote Democrat/Republican, that we only listen to Christian music/that I only listen to NPR, that I only read novels/that I only read People magazine, that we never turn the t.v. on/know every reality show character by name, that I never drink/enjoy a glass of wine every night, that I am adopting an orphan/am at peace with being single and childless…
I can make a new law out of just about anything. And its interesting, just like the Pharisee, my thankfulness before God is entirely about my behavior and God’s certain pleasure with it and says nothing about what God has done for me nor my ongoing need for Him. Nowhere in the Pharisee’s prayer does he mention heart issues that God has identified and begun to change. Nowhere is there is any real sense of his need of God or redemption of any kind.
The tax collector, in contrast, simply prays, “Lord have mercy on me!” I don’t often pray this nor express this need before others because, well, I’m doing so much “right”. Before I know it, my right-ness in all those things really starts to impress me and next thing you know, I’m praying in chorus with that Pharisee. “Lord, thank you that I…”
“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
No matter how many Easters I have celebrated, nor how many Good Fridays I have contemplated, I still know not what I do. I exchange worship of my Creator for worship of created things (Rom. 1), deny that I really have need of His forgiveness this very day and very hour (1 John 1:8), and I try to complete what He began through His Spirit by my own power rather than utter reliance on His (Gal. 3).
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:2-3
Why do I keep looking for right-ness in everything other than the person and work of Jesus? I feel right about my life if I am doing…I feel right about this very day if I made it through without doing…I feel right in this relationship if…I feel right about my place in this group if…I feel right as a mom/wife/sister/daughter/friend/neighbor if I said/did/helped/gave/listened…I feel right as God’s child if I…
Just like the Pharisee, my feeling “righteous” has at its focus ME, what I have done, said or not done or not said. Once again, the person and work of Jesus (and my desperate need for His righteousness alone) is conspicuously missing. When I’m not feeling right because I didn’t do “x” or foolishly did do “y” or bitingly said “z” or left unsaid something that should have been voiced, where is the Gospel in that? The person and work of Jesus is all over it! Its that “off” feeling, that failed or humiliated or shamed feeling that reminds me to cry out “Have mercy on me, the sinner!” Sometimes, a good starting place might have to be, “Lord, have mercy on me the Pharisee…”
And oh how merciful He is!
For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. Deuteronomy 4:31