Where Are The Sinners?
Where Are The Sinners?
by: Jon Wood, Groups Pastor
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Luke 18:13
Many times in the buckle of the Bible-Belt we feel the perceived expectation to put on our “Sunday best” when we come to church. We dress nicer than we do the other six days of the week. We smile and shake hands with people. We sip our coffee and engage in small talk. And of course we always answer “I’m great!” when asked how we’re doing. If we could gaze out over a typical congregation, we would see a group of impressive looking people who seem to have it all together and are all in “great” shape. Which begs the question, “Where are all the sinners?”
In Luke 18, the Lord gives us a category for being completely unimpressive. What’s more is that He invites us to be unimpressive. Here, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who are both praying in the temple. Pharisee’s carried an enormous amount of influence and were widely respected as those who had it all together. As the Pharisee was praying, he reminded God of why he was in good standing. He wasn’t an extortionist, nor was he unjust. He was faithful to his wife, regularly fasted and even tithed. In all honesty, this was actually a really good prayer! The Pharisee was kept the Law and obeyed the things that God commanded. But pay attention to verse 9. Jesus was telling this parable to people who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” In that light, the Pharisee’s prayer, in his fancy clothes and stellar outward appearance, rang hollow as he reminded God why He was lucky to have him rather than acknowledging his need for a savior. He was, as William Ernest Henley wrote, the master of his own fate and the captain of his own soul. This is not where we want to be.
Tax collectors were the antithesis of Pharisees and despised by most of society. They enjoyed none of the “perks” of appearing righteous and no one wanted to be like them. The contrast in this parable between the two is palpable. While the Pharisee boasted loudly in his own accomplishments, the tax collector wouldn’t even lift up his eyes while praying. He was a sinner and he knew it. He remained in a low place before the Lord, understanding that without God’s mercy he was hopeless. There was no desire to be impressive on the part of the tax collector. He would rather just be with God with no preconditions or reasons why God should accept him. And because of this, Jesus says the tax collector left the temple justified. This is where we want to be.
While there is nothing wrong with dressing nice and being friendly at church, let’s not insult God nor each other with false impressions. Jesus says that only the sick need a doctor. Are we willing to admit that we are sick enough to need him? Will we say with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner?!” Or instead will we just smile and say everything is OK while trust in ourselves that we’re righteous? Let us remain low before the Lord and meet with Him there because we can either be impressive or we can be known but we can’t be both. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”