To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
My five year old is at the age where he’s constantly asking questions as he attempts to make sense of the world around him. After a particularly enthralling episode of something with superheroes, he asked me if some people were really “bad guys.” I had to pause. I told him that all of us make good choices sometimes, and we all make bad choices sometimes too…. The truth is, we’re all infinitely capable of being both “good guys” and “bad guys” every single day with every act and thought. Being human means we can take one step towards everything we would aspire to be- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness- and in the next breath we can embody the worst version of ourselves- jealousy, pride, selfish ambition, vain conceit… We are all in need of God’s grace, every single moment of every single day. The tax collector recognizes our plight in himself, and utters in simple sincerity the truth that resounds within all of us. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
May we allow all of the righteousness we throw up as proof that we’re on the right side, that we’re one of the “good guys,” fall away and reveal that we are indeed in need of the same mercy as anyone else. And in that recognition, may we allow God’s grace to work through us as we love those around us.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Remind me that your love and grace are new every morning, and that they are enough to cover the failures of my past, my present, and my future. Guide my actions, that I might love those around me with humility and grace as well. Amen.
~ Jennifer Matias, Member, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church