Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jesus loves the sinner.

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

If you think that looking down on others was exclusively a First Century phenomenon, think again. This parable speaks loud and clear to Twenty-First Century churches.
Churches are filled with people who are scrupulous in their observance of a rigid menu of moral standards. In each of our Christian denominations there are sincere, God-fearing people who are careful to obey God as they understand his laws.
A problem arises, however, when we are "confident in our own righteousness" or "trust in" our own righteousness to save us and justify us before God. When we move from righteous living -- which is right -- to trusting in that righteous living to give us a standing before God, then we commit a fatal error. In that case it becomes self-righteousness.
But when we begin to take pride in our own righteous behavior, it's very easy to look down on those who don't behave this way as morally inferior to us. Then we have to ask ourselves, are we living this way because we think that it pleases God, or are we living this way because it makes us look good in the eyes of others.
Can you imagine the impact Jesus' parable had on the Pharisees present? They must have been livid with anger. How about the crowd? They were amazed, wondering, pondering. But the prostitutes and tax collectors, thieves and adulterers in the audience may have been weeping, for Jesus had declared that it was possible for them to be loved by God, to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be justified before God. There was hope for them yet. Jesus had given them hope.
Is Jesus trying to undermine piety and obedience? By no means! But this parable attacks with a vengeance any pride and sense of superiority that our piety and obedience may foster. Jesus is laying the groundwork for the kind of people whom God accepts. We have to remember that Jesus loved the sinners then, and he loves them now. We have only to humble ourselves and admit that we are in need of his saving love and we will be saved.

Peace and love,


"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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