Pastor Morgan Murray
Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church
Luke 18:9-14: Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
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 acknowledgment 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.”
Prayer: Jesus, in admitting my failures before you now, I am saying that I want to take the journey with you to the cross.