|The Pharisee and The Publican|
Every Christian is a sinner saved by grace. Everyone else is a sinner who has not accepted his grace yet. If there are any plaques that need to be placed in church, this should be the only one.
Once again, the Bible is demonstrated not to be unclear on His teaching. We do not have to seek to far to understand what is about to be taught. Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is quite clear, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable..."
The beginning of wisdom, the beginning of faith, the beginning of hope, the beginning of love is given by David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, "The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." To understand, believe and live this is to have a chance at more perfect, loving relationships with our Father in Heaven and with each other.
Having just come from a teaching about how we should keep praying for justice, Luke follows it up with a teaching from Jesus on how we can all live justly. We realise that we are all perpetrators. We are all criminals. We have all broken His Law. This was the purpose of the Law. It's a disciplinarian. It should be something that humbles. It should be the great leveller. No one is righteous. No not one.
And yet, we don't want to trust in grace. Grace is in His control not ours. We still want to control our own destiny. We still want to show that, while we may even draw to the point of admitting through clenched teeth that yes I am a sinner, I am not as bad as that person. Yes, I did this, but I didn't do that. Yes, I made a mistake but that person is malicious.
It's a fool's errand to suggest that gossip is not as evil as murder; to think that neglecting a neighbour's needs is not the same as adultery; to believe that lying is better than stealing. It's all the same. And to do any of these things is to participate in the same system of injustice that has plagued this world from the beginning.
To be deceived into thinking that there are levels of sin is to underestimate the problem of sin. It's to roll our eyes at our heavenly Father as though He is a paranoid, petulant parent who only wants to control us instead of honestly wanting what is best for us.
To be deceived into thinking that there are levels of sin is to bring up arbitrary, unnecessary divisions between each of us. Always, always, always, there have only been two divisions in mankind: those who believe He is who He says He is and those who don't believe He is who He says He is. But, we still drift toward pride. We still want to be convinced that we are better than others. We still want to be the favourite child. We want our Father in Heaven to give us a plaque saying how good we are. But, not only that, but to display it in front of our family, friends, church, world so that they will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are better, and therefore more loved, than all others.
There are a couple of problems with this thinking. One, it isn't true. Not one of our real resumes give credence to the fact that we deserve to be more loved or that we are better. Two, that position has been taken. The one who took the nature of a servant and was then given the name that is above every name.
What's interesting about the statement Jesus attributes to the religious leader actually seems to give God the credit. "God, I thank you..." Throughout my Christian walk, it has been taught that when God gave the commandment to not take the Lord's name in vain that it mainly means using God or Jesus as a swear word. Now, while this is disrespectful and wrong, there is another sin this commandment wishes to steer us away from. It means attributing things to God that are not God's. As a church pastor who has heard all manner of people justify all kinds of evil (divorce, fraud, gossip, useless controversies, etc...) because God "told us to", I know why this commandment is in THE ten commandments.
Jesus made it quite clear in this teaching that such boasting and prayer is detestable in His Father's sight. This man did not go home, in Jesus' words, justified. And, it is demonstrated over and over again throughout Jesus' ministry that the religious leaders were committing great evil, even though they thought they were doing great good, by arrogantly judging others as acceptable or unacceptable, clean or unclean. And, these people were unworthy to receive any true respect, any true consideration, any love.
Instead, how blessed was the tax collector who had proper personal perspective; who knew that the only real hope he had was to place his broken, sinful life in the hands of his betrayed creator and pray, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" And, according to the King of kings, the tax collector went home justified.
I follow Christ. Every Christian is a sinner saved by grace. Everyone else is a sinner who has not accepted his grace yet. There were times when I did not accept his grace either. He still keeps offering it and when I am wise, I accept His grace. The only difference and the only way to seek justice in an unjust world is to place justice in his hands and offer what I have been offered - grace.
God, be merciful to me, the sinner!