I would like the chance to build on last week’s lesson regarding mercy. If you remember, mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. The point of last week’s lesson was simple; that is, one cannot fully understand the mercy of God outside the reality of judgment. Although not often discussed, the judgment of God is going to come one day, “as a thief in the night” Paul would write (1st Thessalonians 5:2). Christians are exhorted to “not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1st Thessalonians 5:6). I believe, part of that “soberness” we are to have, is linked to how we view ourselves in light of the gospel. Part of that deals with our understanding of our own worthiness vs worth. Let me explain by looking at the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
I mentioned this story last Sunday and found myself drawn to it once again during the week. Interesting to note something here; that is, both Jewish men were religious as seen by their commitment to go and pray. Let’s first consider what I mean by the idea of worthy. Consider its definition first: having or showing the qualities or abilities that MERIT recognition in a specific way. How worthy did each man see himself and what role did it play in them receiving God’s mercy? The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). He had no real need for God’s mercy because, as he saw things, he was “worthy” of God’s attention and saw no need for His mercy. The tax collector, on the other hand, “standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven” (Luke 18:13). Why? I suggest to you that he saw himself as unworthy; that is, nothing he could list in his life would merit or demand God’s attention, let alone mercy. This idea of unworthiness is seen in his actions and words, for he “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).
What interests me about this parable by Jesus is these simple facts: Both men were Jews and in covenant relationship with God through the law. One though, viewed himself through his work, and thus, merited that relationship with God. The other, even though in covenant relationship with God, did not see himself as worthy of that relationship; thus, was in need for God to secure it through His mercy. The words of Jesus speak loud and clear, “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his home justified rather than the other (the Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
There is no person who is worthy of God’s mercy; that is, no one can look at their lives and expect or demand God to grant them mercy. If we were to be honest, viewing oneself in such a way seems to suggest that one does not need God’s mercy as much, if at all, as someone else. What strikes me here, is the idea of worth in this parable. God was ready to show both mercy because they are worth it! Paul would write to Timothy explaining that God “desires all men to be saved” (1st Timothy 2:4). Why? Because we are worth it!
As Christians, we should walk with confidence in our relationship with God. That confidence should not be a mere list of obedient steps which proclaims our worthiness. Rather, it should be based on the fact that God is merciful towards His children when they are humble. He is, because we are worth it!