Two people went to the temple to pray; one was a pharisee, a religious leader and another a tax collector. The Pharisee locates his goodness and right standing before God entirely in his actions and being. He gives thanks to God that his religious profession and reserved lifestyle enabled him to study the word of God. He also avoided ceremonial defilement and the company of thieves and rogues. And spent time fasting and gave the tenth of his income. Indeed, Pharisee’s thanksgiving is understandable and genuine. Now the religious heads usually despised the tax collectors, not only of the bad reputation that they took a bribe, but also conspired with the foreign occupiers.
And then Jesus spoke about the prayer of the tax collector. He appears “standing far off” with downcast eyes, beating his breast, and saying only a very short, little prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Having narrated these two scenarios of prayer, Jesus gave a shocker. Speaking of the tax collector, Jesus said, “This man went down to his home justified rather than the other” (Luke18:14). Such acceptance by God was a dramatic reversal of audience expectations. Grace is as shocking to Jesus’ audience as it is to those who believe salvation is based on good works and doing all the spiritual rituals to gain God’s favour. Some might consider it violence done to the parable to see acceptance by God as a reward for repentant humility. The “sinner” simply casts himself upon God’s mercy and makes no other claim. He does not say, “See how sorry I am.”
Salvation is by God’s grace, and our good works are a mark of our gratitude to God. God freely accepts us through Christ Jesus, who came into the world full of grace and truth to reconcile us with God and one another. Are we a reconciling community promoting common good? Just as Jesus did!