“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.”
Pastor Morgan Murray
Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church
Lent is often described as a journey toward the cross. In his reflection on how this journey is like traveling through a desert, Alessandro Pronzato writes that it is a place in which one must “face situations one would rather avoid, and avoid questions one would rather forget.” In this short parable about prayer, Jesus shows the heart of a person who has decided to take this journey and how God responds to this decision.
There are at least two major surprises here. First, the religiously serious person, for all his earnestness, finds his prayers falling to the ground. It is a bad sign that he is standing by himself. Prayer that is intended to separate us from others is not prayer that honors the heart of God. Then comes the big surprise: The notoriously sinful man goes home justified even though he hasn’t done anything about his sin yet!
Anyone in recovery will tell you that the first step is to admit that you have a problem and admit you are powerless to solve it. This is what the tax collector does. He prays the prayer God aches to hear and to receive. He gives humble and honest acknowledgement of what God did for him, long before he could do anything for God. He throws himself upon the mercy of a merciful God. Anyone who prays such a prayer has begun walking to the cross. And as Pronzato says, “What really matters is that I have taken the fundamental decision to begin the journey.”
Jesus, in admitting my failures before you now, I am saying that I want to take the journey with you to the cross.