Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Two Men and Me
Over the years at various times in life I’ve wanted to come to grips with why I’m attracted to the message of Jesus. I’ve come to find that I like the home-spun stories and parables that resonate with my life story and the learning parables I’ve experienced. I gravitate to the healing events, the mystery events, and the teaching moments that captivate my attention and speak to my inner curiosity in life. However, time and again I find myself drawn into the journey of Jesus because he rubs shoulders with the most broken, fragile, undone, messy people in his path. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is kind and grace-filled and compassionate enough to want to reach out to some who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Why would he waste his time with them? And then I ask myself, “Why would he waste his time with me?”
I find myself drawn to both of the characters who are central to the parable. How many times has my ego pressed me to want to exult in myself, my accomplishment, my success . . . only to feel as the text suggests. The Pharisee seems so alone, so empty, so distant from others. The text doesn’t have to elaborate on the Pharisee’s experience. I know only too well how lonely he really must be.
On the other hand, how many times have I wanted to sit next to this tax collector as he slides into the church pew. No blustering, no pompous fanfare, no moral superiority. Simply an open soul willing to face his own issues, his own shame, his own guilt, and his own need. His words offered in prayer shower over me, and I want to make them my own: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
As a boy, my heroes were the sports stars who commanded attention through their athletic abilities. I’ve changed as I’ve aged. My heroes now are the humble, those I’ve met or known who have served, loved, taught, healed, prayed, visited, cooked, sewed, sweated, and more—with no fanfare, applause, crowds, or notice—only an exalted place before God.
Stephen Gohdes, pastor, Christ Moravian Church, Calgary, Alberta