Jesus told a parable about two men who entered a house of worship. One man spent his prayer time contrasting his life with others. He was a religious leader, a regular churchgoer, someone respected by his congregation.
His prayer went something like this: “I thank you Lord that I am not like the cheats and liars around me. I thank you that I live a purer life than the people in this congregation. I thank you Lord that I live a better life than that man in the corner.”
The man in the corner was also in Jesus’ parable. He came into the sanctuary through the same door, but he was viewed very differently than the religious leader. He was known as the failure, the cheat, the perpetual sinner. The man in the corner knew this about himself. He understood his label. He fully comprehended his place in the gathered community.
Even so, he began to pray a different prayer than the religious leader. His prayer went something like this: “Have mercy on me Lord. Have mercy! Father God, I am begging you, please have mercy on me!” As he prayed, he wept bitter, mournful tears of despair.
Jesus paused while telling this story and he asked those gathered to discern the reality of the situation. His question was simple. “Which one of these men went home justified before God? Which man found peace with God?”
The crowd waited to respond. No one wanted to stick out for the wrong reasons. No one wanted to look as if they didn’t understand or didn’t comprehend what God was doing. Jesus looked at them and made his proclamation. “The sinner who pleaded mercy, found mercy. The religious man who pleaded himself, found nothing more than himself. God justifies sinners.”
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God is on the side of the meek and mournful. He hears the prayers of those drowning in rivers of sorrow and regret. He hears the prayers of thieves and liars, druggies and drunkards, the unfaithful and the fainthearted.
Mercy is the bridge into God’s Kingdom. Mercy extends the favor of God to a rebellious world. The plea for mercy extends the hand of a hopeless sinner upwards from the pit, outwards from the pain, forward from the past, into the hands of a loving, accepting and forgiving savior.
When I hear this parable I am reminded of who I am and what I often become. I am the religious leader, I am the well respected man, I am the one who so easily takes comfort in my “better” living.
Even so, I am reminded that the sweetest prayer I have ever spoken and the sweetest prayer I will ever speak is the prayer for mercy. My best accomplishment and my most noble feat is rooted in throwing myself upon my savior’s mercy seat.
Humble yourselves in the eyes of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
“Live from Seattle with Doug Bursch” can be heard 4-6 p.m. weekdays on KGNW 820 AM. Doug Bursch also pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church. Evergreen meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at 2407 M St. SE next to Pioneer Elementary School. He can be reached at www.fairlyspiritual.org or email@example.com.