I came up to the church this morning to pray. It’s a quiet and peaceful morning. There is one other man here, a religious man, far better than I am. I hope I don’t disturb him. I don’t even deserve to be here. I didn’t mean to overhear him but couldn’t help it. He was talking to God about all the good things he does for the church. All the things he gives to God. How faithful he is in his giving and fasting. I have not been so. I know I don’t belong here but I don’t know where else to go. I don’t know what else to do. I have nothing good in me worth praying to God about. I moved as far away as I could so that I could talk to God without bothering anyone. In my pain and agony I silently prayed this prayer:i

God be merciful to me, a sinner. I’m so tired. I’m so tired of trying and failing. I’m so tired of how much this life hurts, how much I hurt others in this life. How hard I try to change this sinful part of me over, and over, and over again but before I know it I wake up in the same hell I started in. Can someone just FIX ME!!!! Why do I have to fight these same demons again and again? Why is my mind broken? Why is my heart sick? Why do I rise in the morning with a ‘today I will be a better man’ and then lay down at night with a ‘I will try again tomorrow’? What is wrong with me? I don’t deserve to breathe. I am so ashamed of who I am. I am so ashamed that I can’t even look at you, God. I can’t even cast my eyes in your direction. I beat my chest in the agony of who I am and what I deserve, and the only words I can summon the courage to utter are ‘mercy… God be merciful to me, a sinner.’

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican praying has been on my mind a lot lately. The parable seems to make you focus on how not to pray, on how proud the Pharisee was and how humble the publican was. I’m not sure that that was the entire point of the parable. Luke 18:13 is such a powerful scripture and as I have been meditating on it as of late. It made me wonder what was going through his head. Where was he at in his life? What was so overwhelming in his life that he wouldn’t even dare look towards heaven? It reads “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 had a pretty good idea of the meaning but I also researched what it meant to beat ones breast. The definition is as follows, make an exaggerated show of sorrow, despair, or regret. Now, I know it’s a parable, but that is a descriptive picture that Jesus painted for us. I believe that in this parable you are either one or the other. The circumstances might be different but it’s the same conclusion. You either feel justified by who you are and what you do, or you know better. I imagined what the publican was thinking; the silent prayer he prayed. I can imagine it because I have prayed some variation of this prayer many times.

The conclusion of the parable goes something like this in my mind:

And God looks down in all His mercy and says ‘No, you cannot just have mercy. I will give you grace. I will not only spare you from what you deserve… I will not only pull you out of the hell you are living in… I will come and take your place. I will come and suffer the consequences of your actions. I will take the punishment for your sin. I will not only spare you from what you deserve, but I will give you what you do not deserve. I will give you life everlasting. I will love you like you didn’t know was possible. I will wash you in the blood and you will be cleansed. I will wash away all your sins and give you a place as the perfect child of God! I will justify you.