But the tax collector stood at distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13, NIV)
On one of the evenings this week, in a matatu headed home, the driver made a weird comment, “leo tumekimbizana na hao watu” loosely translated to mean, today has been hectic because of ‘those people’. By those people he meant the county government law keepers, alias, ‘askari wa kanju.’ Assuredly in most cities and towns, these are the most dreaded people to cross paths with. They apparently are the most ready to drink definition of people with hardened hearts.
In my quiet time recently, I came across the above quoted scripture, famous story since Sunday school. Let it not be lost on us that tax collectors in the New Testament were what we would call a special breed of sinners. The tax collectors in the Bible were Jews who were working for the hated Romans. These individuals were seen as turncoats, traitors to their own countrymen. Rather than fighting the Roman oppressors, the publicans were helping them—and enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews. You find statements like “sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:15) to show how much these guys were dreaded and disliked. And Jesus gives a parable giving a good example of brokenness by one of them in order to preach to the Pharisees who had confidence in their own righteousness. (Luke 18:9-14).
When I read the words “stood at a distance” I was drawn to the reality of self-righteousness that has drawn on me and probably you. On us, the people of God. Job, the famous, had this symptoms. We see him arguing out his case and saying how righteous and blameless he was. He curses the day of his death and wishes he never was born. What he dreaded most had come upon him. Mind you, this was a man of whom God had borne witness as blameless and upright; but Job had no idea of it. Lust, injustice, greed, unkindness, love for money, cursing and concealing sin were some of the things that Job counted as his conquered battles, Job 31. It’s Elihu, a young man whose words shine light into the truth of God.
God is greater than man. It is He who is constantly in the business of showing us our wrong so that we do not perish but rather come to repentance. And he does this to a man twice, even three times (Job 33:29) to turn back his soul from the pit that the light of life may shine on him. On this truth therefore, I am determined not to defend my goodness before his face but to rather fall in to His loving arms. To run to the mercy seat where He is calling, where his grace is a covering and where his blood flows freely to provide my healing.
Like the tax collector who represented a corrupt and oppressive regime, known to live large at the expense of the poor, windows, orphans and small scalers, I present myself to God knowing that am just a man. A descendant of Adam, born of his seed thus a sinner, who has by faith been redeemed by Christ who became sin for me. He who intercedes for me and in whom I have no condemnation.
And can it be that I should gain an interest in the savior’s blood? He died for me, I caused his pain, yet by his amazing love he took on flesh not counting equality with God something to be grasped and was put to death, on a cross. So I cherish the old rugged cross, I will cling on it and exchange it someday for a crown.
Meanwhile, whenever I approach the eternal throne, I’ll remain careful to stand at a distance, to know that apart from God am no good thing and to so depend on His mercy then I can carry my justification home. Unless this truth is deeply rooted in me, it will forever be in vain to sit at the front of the church and to behold the titles that come with ministry, to accumulate intelligence and human knowledge, to be trusted with power and leadership or even raise a ‘good’ family. I chose to be with God, to have Him hold me by my right hand, to be guide by His counsel and afterwards be taken into His glory.