“The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'” Luke 18:13
Too often, we define a right relationship with God as being based on morality and following ritual. We don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or have sex outside of marriage. We attend church, mass, fast during lent, or read the Bible. There is no doubt that morality and ritual are helpful in society and a spiritual lifestyle. Without condemning these, Jesus teaches that they are not the things that give us justification with the Father.
Please note, the tax collector practices the ritual of going to the temple just like the Pharisee. But, being a tax collector puts him in a perpetual state of sin according to the devout Jews of the time. He makes no mention of any specific sin that many of his colleagues were engaged in such as cheating people out of money or sexually exploiting women who were unable to pay. For all we know, he may have fasted and tithed as much as the Pharisee. Yet, because of who he is in society, the tax collector regards himself as a sinner greatly in need of God’s mercy. It is the humble acknowledgement and expressiveness of his prayer that God looks favorably upon and blesses.
No matter who we are (or who we think we are), humans are constantly in a state of sin. Even those of us who are moral and practice ritual are surrounded by temptations and fall to them more often than we would like to admit. We hate even though we don’t murder, lust even though we don’t rape and have removed pens and post-it pads from our workplaces rather than rob banks. The preacher of Ecclesiastes was right to say “There is not a man on earth that does what is right and does not sin.”
To make a relationship right with God, one must do as this tax collector. Have faith enough to come into God’s presence, express true remorse, and plead to the Father for mercy. Such a humble prayer is a spiritual reset for us and leads to repentance. A lack of humility makes repentance an empty promise where the soul worsens due to arrogance. But, an expression of faith like this tax collector justifies us as righteous in the eyes of the Lord.
May the Grace of God though Jesus Christ shine on you,
Brother Cyprian Bluemood
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene