Monday, December 7, 2015

The Prayer of the Pharisee

Jesus was a bold, bold man. He is the kind of person who would take up some really annoying examples which directly apply to you and throw it right into your face. One such episode is the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, said in the presence of precisely those people whom it referred to in the parable (Lk 18:9-14).

The Pharisee was condescending, sanctimonious and judgmental while the tax collector was simple, humble and accepting of his own mistakes. He was realistic and exactly knew what he was. He had the insight to see himself exactly as he was. The Pharisee, on the other hand, no matter what he thought of himself to be, was highly deluded. The man lived with a false sense of self-worth, with a sense of righteousness which actually never existed. And isn’t that just a little sad?

The interesting thing to note here is that the Pharisee never actually spoke out his payers aloud and thus never actually offended or hurt other people’s feelings. Nor did he, so to speak, give any particular merit to himself. Instead he thanked God that he was not a sinner or a wayward. Further on, in saying that he fasted twice a week and duly paid his tithe, he was simply stating the facts. Technically speaking, there was nothing wrong or untruthful about what he said or even about how he said it.

So how come the Pharisee went home unjustified while the tax collector justified?

For one, the Lord does not judge by outward appearance, but looks at the heart. He is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. In His book of right and wrong, even if you so much as look at someone with lust, you are guilty of adultery, but a sinner who repents and turns at the last moment is assured to be in paradise with Jesus. (Lk 16:15, Heb 4:12, Mt 5:28, Lk 23:43)

No matter what you speak or how beautifully you project your exterior, the Most High is able to see right through you, transparently and accurately. The fact that the Pharisee didn’t speak out his prayer for others to listen doesn’t lessen the extent of his offence. So be careful, what you think, because mere thinking, it turns out, can amount to sinning in some ways.

Secondly, in order to be justified, we need to rely on God’s mercy rather than our own goodness. It is not through following the law that we are put right with God, but through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, for law brings knowledge of sin and condemnation, but faith brings salvation. It is not through our deeds that we are made righteous, rather through the holy sacrifice of Christ on the cross. (Rom 3:20-25, Rom 5:9, Gal 2:16)

Jesus came to heal the sick and call the sinners. He dines with sinners and invites Himself to the house of tax-collectors for a stay over. He easily forgives a repenting sinner and proudly exclaims that the greatest of sinners would love Him more, for greater the debt, greater the love will be when it’s forgiven. (Mk 2:17, Mk 2:16, Lk 19:5,  Lk 7:41-47).

He is the good shepherd who would go out looking for a single lost sheep, leaving the other ninety-nine behind. When found, the lost sheep is fondled and triumphantly carried on the shoulders. He is the generous father who patiently awaits the return of his lost son, and rejoices and celebrates when he has thus returned. (Lk 15:4-5, Lk 15:11-24)

For “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Lk 15:7)

So, confess your sins, seek out the Lord’s mercy and always remember that it is the love and goodness of God that sustains all things.

But does it mean that God’s mercy and forgiveness eliminate the necessity of keeping the commandments? Of course not! We need to keep all the commandments and obey the Lord, for justification comes through faith but we will be judged according to the law (Rom 2:12). Jesus asks us to keep His commandments. Keeping God’s commandments is our way of telling Him that we love Him (Jn 14:21-24).

Jesus began His public ministry by proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). He came to call sinners, to invite them to live a life worthy of God’s goodness and holiness. True, only the one who is sick has the need for a doctor (Mk 2:17). He needs the doctor to treat him of his disease, not for keeping him ill. Likewise Jesus came to call us to repentance and a renewed life of holiness.

Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Be holy, as the Lord your God is holy. (Mt 5:48, 1Pet 1:16, Lev 11:45)

Many sinners would come to Jesus, He would forgive them their sins and tell them never to sin again (Jn 5:14, Jn 8:11). He died on the cross to bring salvation to all who repent and believe in Him. He died, so that we may die to sin and live.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness. (1Pet 2:24).

Yes, our call is a call to live in God’s holiness and righteousness. We have been called to be holy (1Cor 1:2). We are the temple of God and God’s spirit dwells in us (1Cor 3:16), and therefore we need to be holy and pious, full of God’s goodness.

So let’s pray for God’s grace to keep His commandments and yearn for His mercy, remembering in mind always that God’s mercy and grace alone bring goodness to human kind. No goodness dwells in the human kind since his fall to sin and God alone is the source of all goodness and perfection. We do not do the good we wish to do, but end up doing the bad we do not wish to do. (Rom 7:14-25). God’s mercy alone sustains all things.

In this jubilee year of mercy, starting tomorrow, let’s pray that many souls may immerse themselves in God’s ocean of mercy, and obtain salvation. Let us also remember the constant need to fulfill our Christian duties and to live a good Christian life. Let us be upright in our call to live a life of goodness and holiness.

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