Psalms: 95* & 32, 143 & 102, 130
OT: Jonah 3:1––4:11
NT: Heb. 12:1-14
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
Who Are You?
Today is Ash Wednesday. It’s the day that starts Lent and a traditional season of fasting. Have you ever wondered why the Church has done this leading up to Easter? It is partly due to preparation for Easter, the highest of all holy days. It is also due to the fact that, by and large, we know we need to come to a place where we once again recognize our need of grace.
We are a broken people. We are an imperfect people. We are a people in need of grace.
Do you want to be justified? Then you must recognize your need of grace.
Jesus told this story…
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.”
(Luke 18:9-14, MSG)
These are my favorite kinds of stories that Jesus tells. These are the ones where he points out what everyone is thinking and then makes us realize how arrogant we are.
If Jesus were telling this story today, he would probably exchange “Pharisee” with “Evangelical” and “tax man” with “homosexual” or “refugee.”
I can’t even begin to imagine the shockwave that would send through the Christian subculture. People would think that Jesus lost his mind. More than likely he would be rejected as being a “liberal” or a “heretic.” Now, it is dangerous to put words into Jesus mouth. I am guessing this would be the case based on my understanding the hatred that the Jewish people had for the “tax man.” Jesus used the “tax man” as his foil on a constant basis. He was seen as a sinner extraordinaire. Many evangelical Christians think that the “homosexual” or the “refugee” fall into similar camps as the ancient “tax man.”
We fast during Lent to remind us that we seek to satisfy ourselves with worldly pleasures. As we face these things we are reminded that we, like the “tax man”, have but one prayer: “God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.”
Who are you? Who am I? We are broken people. We fall short of God’s glory. We are better than nobody. We need mercy. We need forgiveness. We need grace.
When we rightly understand ourselves to be in need of these things then we can experience them. There’s nothing we can do to earn them. We certainly do not deserve them. But, we can reject them by thinking ourselves above others. Cutting ourselves off from grace is easy.
Are you the Pharisee or the tax man?
Who are you?