Ken Gire is one of the primary influences on how I write and teach and think about Jesus. His book, “Moments With The Savior” is one of the most worn out books in my library and is what inspired my Holy Week eJournal, “Enter In”.
Gire paints powerful pictures from significant moments in the life of Jesus, and today’s reflection is about the Humility of Brokenness and the Arrogance of Religion. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling “Less Than” or “Greater Than”…than this is for you!
The passage comes from Luke 18:9–14. It a Story Jesus told about a Tax Collector broken by sin and a Religious Leader puffed up by his position. Gire writes,
Ain’t No Love
Tax collectors are the dung on the sandals of the Jewish community. The stench is particularly repugnant to Jewish nostrils because the tax collectors are fellow Jews. Licensed by the Roman government, they put tolls on roads, tariffs on imports, and taxes on anything they can get away with. Every time you turn around they have their hands in your pockets. And if you resist, they resort to force or threaten to turn you over to the Romans. It’s understandable, then, why the Jews detest any contact with them. Understandable, too, why it furrowed a few brows when Jesus reached into this mound of dung to mold one of his disciples. Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
The Company You Keep
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Didn’t Jesus know that you can’t walk through a pigpen without getting manure on your sandals? He should have been scraping these people off his feet, but instead he sat next to them at their dinner table, eating and drinking and—God help him—enjoying their company. Why? What was it about the riffraff that attracted him? “It is not the healthy who need a doctor,” Jesus explained, “but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Stumbling On Holy Ground
That call was heard by one of the tax collectors sitting at Levi’s table. It troubled him all night, and it kept troubling him all the next morning. By noon he couldn’t take it anymore, and he responded to the call. That hour happens to be an hour of prayer, one of the appointed times when every devout Jew goes to the temple to pray. A steady stream of petitioners flows through the western gate, past the outer courtyard of the Gentiles, and into the inner courtyard of the Israelites. The tax collector finds himself caught in a current of that stream and is swept along with them. Once he is inside the temple grounds, his steps grow timid. This is unfamiliar ground to him, this holy ground. The noonday sun makes him even more self-conscious, and he retreats to the shadows of the marble columns bordering the courtyard. In the safety of those shadows his eyes pool. His head falls forward, and remorse spills from his soul to spot the stone floor beneath him.
Greater Than><Less Than
A Pharisee also comes this hour to pray. He comes every day at each of the four appointed hours of prayer. He stops and takes his position somewhere in the center of the courtyard, his usual spot. As he prays, he looks neither upward in worship nor downward in remorse but sideways in comparison to the others who have gathered there. His eyes skim the scrawl of sins written so legibly across their faces. He is pleased with the comparison. God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. The Pharisee’s posture is erect. He is proud he has stood resolute against the temptations that have ruined lesser men. And he is proud he has stood as an example to others. He fasts twice a week, which is above the requirements of the Law. He gives a tenth of all his income, which is beyond the practices of his peers. Taking inventory, the Pharisee is satisfied with the account of his life….
The Breakthrough of Brokenness
The tax collector, however, is not. God, have mercy on me, a sinner. He stands in the distance, sobbing. He is painfully aware of the sins levied against him, but he is too ashamed to list them. He knows the greed. He knows the deceit. He knows the ledger of injustices credited to his account. That’s why his eyes are downcast. That’s why he beats his fists against his chest. And that’s why he stands in a corner of the courtyard; his only companions, the shadows cast by columns of cool and indifferent stone. But God sees the tax collector slumped in those shadows. His heart overflows with mercy for the man, and his eyes glisten with approval.
Where Whom You Stand Before
In that same city a couple of generations later when the esteemed teacher rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was on his deathbed, his disciples asked him to teach them the ways of life. His last words to them were: “When you pray, realize before whom you stand.” In that courtyard at that hour of prayer, both the Pharisee and the tax collector realized where they stood. Only one of them realized before whom.
That is what humbled the tax collector.
And that is what lifted him from being the dung on everybody’s sandals to become the delight in the eyes of the Almighty.
So Lord we ask you to give us the courage and awareness of our brokenness to pray like this Tax Collector today,
“Have mercy on me God, a sinner…”
To read more from “Moments With The Savior”, click HERE.