I once attended a men's Bible Study where the men discussed the merits of living life righteously. Being the new guy I sat back and listened. When the facilitator asked me for my opinion I said, "I think it depends on where a person's heart is." The debate continued as the guys all gave their definitions of living a Christian life. When asked for my thoughts a second time I said, "It depends on where a person's heart is." "But!" was the first word spoken by several guys as they sought to explain themselves. Who really has the right concept of living? Here is how Jesus deals with the issue in this week's Gospel.
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
In his mind the Pharisee actually thinks he is "better" than everyone else. He lists the flaws of humanity that make him feel good about himself. He describes his good behaviors, fasting and tithing, that make him grateful. But Jesus obviously sees things differently because He sees where a person's heart is.
As I write this I realize that I have set myself up for a pat on the back. (This isn't sounding very humble, Joe.) I had gotten to the core of the issue in the Bible Study and the facilitator eventually agreed by coming back to my statement. "Joe I think you might be onto something with the heart." This week's Gospel makes it very clear. We see in the tax collector a contrite heart that acknowledges his need for mercy. His humility demonstrates a "right" heart towards God. It is not what we think of ourselves and our behaviors that matters. A humble heart! That is authentic Christian living.
Where is your heart right now? Oh and as for me being right about righteous living, here's what I have to say now.
O God, be merciful to me a sinner.