People know me as the tax collector who beats his chest because I don’t see myself fit to even come before the holiness of the Lord. Yes, I am that tax collector who is helpless, unworthy, a sinner. My kindest acts can never be compared to that guy – people call him a Pharisee – standing proud in the middle of this synagogue, voicing out his prayers to God.
As he utters his prayer, the sins I have committed in the past dawned on me like arrows piercing my heart. I realized the depravity of my acts. I am drenched in tears, guilt and regrets. There is no more place for me in the society, and no matter how I try to fit myself, I am still labeled as the betrayer, the man who robs his own people. Perhaps I should continue living as such. What do I have to lose by the way? I am on the edge of life. I have lost my integrity, a disgrace to my parents, an object of ridicule in the community. I am lost.
But there is an urge in me to come to the presence of God. My grandma has told me stories of His greatness and how He heals the brokenhearted. Her stories of how God parted the sea always amazed me in my formative years. God is also compassionate and loving says my grandma. I really have no regard to God but if He has rescued His people in the past, perhaps He can rescue me. I am sick of this life.
Early this morning I went to this place. This is where people meet to discuss ideas, but sometimes they just debate over matters I really don’t care about. While I am drawing near, I find myself drowned in the middle of scrutiny. People see me not as someone in need of mercy, but in need of judgment. So I just stood from a distance. I realized I have no place near the righteousness of the people inside this place.
I tried to focus on what brought me here – my desperate need for grace – not from the people, but from God. The more I unload my guilt upon Him, the more I see my destitute condition. Tears fell from my eyes. My heart sank. The more I draw into the holiness of the Lord, the more I see how filthy my life has been.
As I stood from a distance, a Pharisee took notice of me, and uttered his prayer, making sure that I can hear it clearly: “I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!”
His words pierced my ears. There is no better response for me but to beat my chest and admit my sinfulness and hopelessness. “Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner”. Indeed all I need is mercy. I feel like I am a pawn in the hands of the Almighty God. I cried bitterly, yet silently.
Yet deep within me I know there is release. After I have confessed all my sins, I felt as if Someone embraced me from behind. I felt Someone has whispered “I have forgiven you. You may now go in peace.” Never have I felt so free! Never have I felt so alive! The grace that I was seeking for suddenly dawned at me and it overwhelms me!
And while I am still basking in the euphoria of that divine embrace, no longer have I felt the pain of the past. No longer do I see myself as condemned but accepted. I am a new creation.
In that particular moment, though I’m still standing at a distance from self-righteous men, I know in my spirit I am standing in the presence of a truly righteous Father – sans fear, sans condemnation, sans guilt.