He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."
As we enter into Lent, the forty days before Easter, this story sets the stage for us. We are confronted with the reality that we are too easily pleased with our moral superiority and we lose sight of the reality that we are imperfect, sin-sick, and in need of grace.
When we get really honest with ourselves we find that we have more in common with the Pharisee in this story than we do with the tax man.
So often we hold ourselves in the highest of regard and look down on “those” people.
I’m so guilty of this. Completely guilty of it. I see “those” whom I think should be better than they are and I judge them pretty harshly. The reality is, that when I do, I am no different than them. We are the same, “those” people and I.
Compassion, empathy, mercy, and grace are things that I want for me. Too often these are not things that I want to extend to others. There are too many times that hypocrisy reigns in me.
I would never say the words of the Pharisee. But, when I look deep in me, the words are there.
This lenten season my hope is to break some of these strongholds in my own heart. I want to genuinely love well. I want to authentically believe that all image bearers are worthy of compassion, empathy, grace, and mercy. I want to hear more and judge less. During this season of preparing for the cross and the resurrection I want to come to the place that I can simply look at Jesus and know that I need his reconciling work. Intellectually, I know that I need it. What I am talking about is that deep, in your gut, in the core of your being kind of knowing. That’s what I’m praying for this Lent.
How about you? As you enter into Lent what are you praying for? What are you hoping for? What are you longing for?