October 18th 2009

Mercy

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

This is a parable that Jesus told about a Jewish tax collector and a Pharisee.

Tax collectors were considered the lowest level of the low on the morality scale. They worked for the Roman occupational forces, and typically they fleeced their own countrymen by extorting an extra share of taxes for themselves.

Pharisees, on the other hand, took seriously the demands of the Law of Moses and were meticulous about keeping it. They were considered the epitome of faithfulness and obedience, the very opposite of the corrupt tax collectors. So Jesus said,

It’s interesting that Jesus told this parable, as verse 9 says, for the sake of those “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” People who are confident of their own righteousness don’t feel the need to pray for God’s mercy like this tax collector did.

But in Jesus’ story, it was the tax collector – the one who saw himself as he really was: as a sinner in need of mercy, who “went home justified before God.” In praying for mercy, the tax collector realized that he didn’t deserve anything. But he did trust God to be merciful.

Maybe he’d heard the passage in Exodus 34:6, where God reveals himself to be “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

The Pharisee, by contrast, brought a list of righteous acts to his prayer.

But the tax collector offered nothing to God. He just threw himself on God’s mercy.  When we confess our sinfulness and ask for mercy, we are talking to a Judge who is also our Defence Attorney.  He’s a Judge who has taken our crimes on himself and then declared us innocent and set us free.

With that kind of courtroom setting there isn’t any room for taking pride in some list of righteous acts. We’re dealing with the One who knows us inside and out. He knows our hearts, our motives, our good and our bad. And he loves us unconditionally in spite of all our failures and sins.

That is why we, as Christians, devote ourselves to extending grace, mercy and compassion to others. Just as we have received mercy from God, so we, as Christ lives in us, extend it to others.

Prayer

Merciful Father, thank you for your grace towards me and help me to extend such love and compassion to others.

Amen

Study by Joseph Tkach

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