Devotion and Prayer for Week of September 7, 2014

Meditation for the Week of September 7, 2014 

  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 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 18:11-13)

 

Some people are wicked, and others righteous. That these two groups of people exist is beyond question, both from everyday observation and from the testimony of Holy Scripture. We can see in our daily lives those who are “wicked”: those who care little for others, who, if they do something good, only do so because of the reward they will get. Sometimes the “wicked” are just outright mean and don’t even pretend to care about others! On the other hand, we all know people who are compassionate and caring, who go the extra mile, who would, as the saying goes, “give you the shirt off of their back.”

The first psalm describes these two groups, describing blessed the man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers (v. 1).” Every step of the wicked is a carefully calculated cost-benefit analysis, and effort is only expended on that which is beneficial to me. The wicked stand together, they congregate with one another: “birds of a feather,” we might say. Perhaps they find comfort for their guilty consciences in associating with one another. After all, whatever wickedness they are up to cannot be so wrong when they see other people doing exactly the same or even worse! And the wicked are scoffers, those who speak negatively about others, perhaps even dreaming that they are the righteous.

This is one of the greatest temptations of the Christian, to, like the Pharisee, imagine that we have some righteousness that is of ourselves. The Pharisee’s prayer was exceedingly self-righteous. He thanked God that he was “not like other men.” He imagined that he did not have the same self-absorbed tendencies that we all share, the same wicked impulses that have led to the greatest evils the world has ever known.

He even bragged about all of the “good” he did: he kept his body under discipline and even gave to the church. Apparently, he saw himself as the winner of the genetic lottery that the corrupting seed of Adam, which is passed down from generation to generation, skipped right over him.

Such self-righteousness leaves no room for Christ. For He alone was righteous: He alone, by virtue of the Virgin birth, was the only Man to be born without the stain of original sin. He died for the sinners, not the righteous. The tax collector knew this, and so he cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Christians always need to be reminded of their sin, lest they begin to think that it comes from themselves rather than from Christ. This is why the righteous meditate on God’s law day and night, so that you will continually remember that you have not lived up to God’s expectations and that you are a sinner.

But that’s okay, because Jesus died for sinners. Mercy can only be shown to those who have done wrong. Grace is always given to the undeserving. That which is deserved is a wage—and the wages of our deeds is death. But Christ has earned grace for us by the offering of His body on the cross.

We are all sinners, whether we recognize it or not. So let us, like the tax collector, recognize our plight and cry out for mercy. Let us not delude ourselves thinking that we are better than we are—for if St. Paul counted himself the chief of sinners, what does that make us? But thanks be to God for Christ, for in Him, God is merciful to sinners.  

Our Weekly Prayer     

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. Forgive me for my self-righteous thoughts, for thinking I’m better than I am. Be merciful to me and fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that as the undeserving recipient of Your grace, I might likewise be gracious and merciful to those who have sinned against me; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.