Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Reflection Don’t we all try to be like the Pharisee… law abiding, spiritual people, who give at least our 10% tithe to God’s church, pay our share of taxes and do acts of charity? Aren’t we all a bit grateful that we are not like “those people” who do awful things we hear about in the news? How could it be that Jesus defends the tax-collector, absolving him for his sin without demanding some form of payment? How could Jesus contradict the generous, religious, law-abiding Pharisee, refusing to condone his behavior? When we do wrong, don’t we have to pay? And when we do good, aren’t we being righteous?
This Friday and Saturday was our annual Diocesan Convention The Very Rev. Jeffrey Johns, a Church of England priest, and dean of St. Alban’s Cathedral in England delivered the keynote address titled, “The Spirituality of Leadership.” Rev. Johns did not mince words. If we want to lead God’s people and bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, we must first pause and examine our own lives and hearts.
When we are honest with ourselves, we are all sinners. Day after day, week after week, we fail to give our first and our best to God. We check off the boxes of all the good things we do and fall to the same obsessions, compulsions, perfections, temptations, and addictions that we did yesterday. We try to be good Pharisees, but at the end of the day when we examine our hearts and our lives we see, just like the tax collector in Jesus’ story we cannot make it right.
Then Rev. Johns shared a poignant insight about the value of examining our lives gleaned from the fourteenth century English mystic Julian of Norwich. We examine our hearts and lives in order to “turn our wounds into worship.”
When we allow ourselves to admit and feel the depths of our violations, shortcomings and shame we are broken open to bow before God and humbly ask for mercy. And because our God is a merciful God our wounds turn into worship. In the words of our tax collector, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
The question is not, am I righteous? Are you righteous? We are not. Our attempts at self improvement and getting it right fall short. But God is righteous, which is how we dare have the courage to admit our errors, shortcomings and violations and experience the attendant grief, shame and remorse Then, putting our faith in God’s righteousness rather than our own, our wounds turn into worship and, in Jesus’ words, we ‘will be exalted.”
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