A longtime member approached me after morning worship, “Did you see who was in our church today? Why do you think he came?”
“He” was a notorious county judge who was recently in the news after a run-in with a police officer. Now he was in worship. The woman asking about him seldom missed a service. As she stood in the doorway, she emphasized that this was “our church.”
It sounds like Jesus’ parable to me: two men went to worship at the same time, in the same place. We need to be alert. Parables can be of two main types. Some are stories with examples to emulate. Others don’t urge us to do anything, but give us a picture—usually of God—that describes the way God behaves.
Luke doesn’t name who Jesus is talking to in this passage. All we know is they trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt (v. 9). This leaves open the possibility that we may know someone like this, even when we look in the mirror.
The parable doesn’t end as its hearers expect. Their good guy ends up being the bad guy and vice versa. “Why?” they might ask. Short answer: grace.
“Grace” is the bedrock word for Jesus’ parable. The tax collector throws himself upon God with seven words: God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (v. 13). And God answers, “You’ve got it, bud.”
God’s grace knows no bounds. It extends to sinners of all kinds: those we label “reprehensible,” those whose prayers are well-said, those who pray half-heartedly. Jesus wants us to see how alike we all are. We all need God’s grace.
How does this parable reshape our view of God, ourselves, and everyone else?
God whose grace knows no limits, prod me when I look around and think that by my action, I stand on solid ground. Help me to know your grace more fully. Reshape my perspective with your truth. Amen.