It’s midweek. We are sitting in a nearly empty church sanctuary, meditating and reflecting. Several rows ahead of us, two men sit on opposite ends of a pew. We recognize the first man, an esteemed religious leader in the community. We also recognize the second man, a loan shark who owns a loan store in the neighborhood. Disrupting our silent meditations, the two begin to pray out loud.
The religious leader prays first. “God, I thank you that I’m not a sinner, like other people, including this loan shark beside me.”
We try to hold our gasps as the leader continues his prayer, loudly. “I fast several times during the week and I give much money to the church.”
We look at the loan shark to see how he will react. His head is downcast. He continually hits his chest. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Recognize this scene from Luke? Jesus’s parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector is a powerful illustration of how we are to come before God.
This week, we will discuss the necessity of confessing our sin and need for God. From today’s Scripture reading, we see that confession is part of following Jesus. Confession is a public acknowledgement of our sins and our decision to turn to God.
True confession is always done with humility. We cannot parade our accomplishments in front of God, no matter how noble, to win him over. None of our efforts at righteousness will give us favor with God. The Pharisee in Jesus’s parable was blind to this truth. He proudly itemized his acts of righteousness, thinking that his religious activities made him acceptable to God. “I fast often,” he said. “I give my tithes.”
What noble things do we do to try to earn God’s acceptance? We can give to the poor and support mission trips. We can attend every Sunday service and participate in every program offered by the church. When we rely on our own merits to gain acceptance with God, we deny the truth about ourselves. We are sinners.
“Be merciful to me, a sinner,” the tax collector cried out to God. When we confess, we publicly admit what is true of ourselves and what is true of Jesus. The tax collector knew he did not possess the mercy needed to forgive his sins. So, he turned to the only one who could grant him mercy. The truth about Jesus is that he is the Son of God who loved us so much that he died for us. The truth about Jesus is that he is Lord, above anything and anyone.
When we come to God, confessing the truth about ourselves—that we are sinners in need of his grace—he will not turn us away.