One of my favorite parables is the one Jesus told of the Pharisee and publican. It is recorded in Luke 18:9-14.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Whenever I read or hear this parable, I become so reassured. It cuts right to the chase. Being justified – being declared not guilty by God – depends on nothing but God’s mercy. The publican performed no works of penance or followed ant prescribed plan of repentance. But he was immediately justified.
I find that so reassuring because, no matter how hard I try, I can’t consistently do good. Many are the days when I don’t carry through on my good intentions. Then there are the days when my intentions aren’t even that good – when I really don’t even want to help others – when I think I need time for myself. On and on it goes. Everywhere I look I see mixed motives, uncompleted tasks, and half-hearted efforts. It’s not a pretty picture.
But then the brightness of God’s love shines through. With these and so many other passages he reassures me that being right with him does not depend on what I do, but on his mercy. On the mercy he put into action at Christmas by sending Jesus to be our Substitute – to life a perfect life in our stead – to die as payment for all our sins.
Because of that I can rejoice even as I confess my sins. Because of that I can be confident I will be living with Heavenly Father for all eternity in spite of all my failures. Because of that life is so good!