“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We should not too quickly look past this text of Scripture. It’s a familiar story. Even for our day and age. Two men go to church. One enters and begins to justify himself. He speaks to God boldly, “I’m glad I’m not like those losers- those men who fall so short of being good. I’m a good guy. I don’t steal, I’m fair and I don’t sleep around.
If that was not enough the man begins to boast about the things he has given up for the sake of God. In fact he exclaims, “I’ve done my fair share — I fast, tithe”
If we are not careful we can have the same mindset. Oh, we may not verbalize exactly like this man but our thoughts betray us,,,,I’m pretty good. I’ve done good things. I give. I treat people fairly. I do all the things God expects of me. If we are not careful we can begin to think what we do somehow makes us good. This could not be farther from the truth.
And herein lies the issue. Nothing you do makes you good–and this is the point Jesus is making. Your gifts to God, your sacrifices and your attitude will never allow you to be justified in God’s sight.
The other man, KNOWS he is a sinner. He comes to God with a penitent attitude. He doesn’t even look up to Heaven, he comes in humility and beats his breast. He states and confesses, “I am a sinner.” You can read it between the lines. “God without you I’m lost. Without you I am doomed. Have MERCY!
Jesus says this man goes home justified.
The problem is that most of us–if we admit it–all to often act like the first man and rarely act like the second. We rarely recognize our continual need for God’s grace and forgiveness. We seldom beat our breast and proclaim, “Be merciful to me God, I’m a sinner!”
This is what Jesus wants to remind us. We are only good because of God’s mercy. We are only justified because of His grace. We experience peace only through His sacrifice. Repentance is the doorway toward the glories of heaven. You can’t experience heaven touching earth without repentance. You can’t experience true peace, joy, love, or forgiveness without first walking in repentance. Repentance is the first word of the Gospel and as we walk in this truth, God will lift us up.
At the end of the day, we too must respond like the sinners we are. Have mercy on us oh Lord.