Sunday, October 28, 2007

God, be merciful to me, a sinner!

Luke 18.9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13 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!' 14 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."

The Gospel reading this week was a challenge to me. We see the Pharisee standing alone, a position of arrogance, praying an arrogant prayer about his supposed righteousness. In one sense we should be thankful that we are not either born into those situations, or been forced into others, or have willingly chosen those routes. But the Pharisees prayer sets himself against the others through a sense of condemnation of the others. And yet the tax collector, standing far off, which suggests his own fear and humility before God, was completely familiar with his own sinfulness. Despite the Pharisee’s supposed righteousness was wiped out by his attitude. While the tax collector, fully acquainted with his sinfulness approaches God in utter fear and lack of self worth. And it is the tax collector, despite his sinfulness, who is seen as the righteous one. While he was a sinful man, at least he knew it.

As I pondered this passage, I wondered about the idealism of many Christians. I am an idealist. I consider myself a semi-well educated person who takes joy in study. But I also find that I am often Pharisee-like in my attitudes toward other brothers and sisters in various denominations (particularly of the conservative sphere) who just don’t seem to “get it.” My prayer would be something like, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: fundamentalists, right wing Christians, Republicans, moralists, Evangelicals who don't get it; I worship in a liturgical tradition.” I am a theological snob. I may not publicly parade my soap boxed opinions before others, nor are they hidden from God. Perhaps there is a stretch to my use this passage, but do we not all have these categories which we support or despise? To what extent is that ok? When does it become a sense of arrogance and pride that I have become righteous via these views? I am not sure but I have obviously crossed over to the dark side at times. I found myself praying the prayer of the tax collector in a very honest way, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”