Tax Collectors not Pharisees

This past Lenten season, my family and I watched the last five episodes of the mini-series The Bible – and loved it! This visual representation of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death and resurrection gave new meaning to exactly what we were celebrating.
One scene reminds me so much of The Power of a “Me, Too” Response blog post last month, it has me still thinking about how much weight God puts on his grace.

I love how the writers of this show combined Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector with the calling of Matthew. Even if it didn’t happen exactly like this, it makes the words from Luke 18:9-14 leap off the page in a new way.

I think this scene touches me so deeply because I spent many years of my life acting like a Pharisee. Not because I wanted to look down on others, but because I wanted God to accept me. If I could justify that my sins weren’t as bad as others, then I could feel okay about myself.

It was a horrible way to live.

Seeing Jesus’ tender response to Matthew gives me fresh courage to say no to the threads of self-justification and self-righteousness that still try to weave their way around my heart. Watching their interaction makes me want to put myself in the place of Matthew, whatever the cost. I want to stay in that place of freely admitting my imperfections and need for God, rather than trying to pretend there is something in me that deserves his acceptance.

Jesus’ response also has me asking what he meant when he said the tax collector went home justified before God, not the Pharisee. It’s like the whole gospel is summed up in this parable. No one can justify themselves before God; we must all acknowledge our sins and receive his grace.

But if it’s so central, why does it seem so hard to do? Why do we fall into patterns of categorizing sins, making some acceptable and some not, so we can feel better about ourselves? I don’t know exactly why, but I know what the cure is in my own life. If I can receive God’s grace for myself, extending it to others becomes much more possible.

And based on Jesus’ words in this parable, he seems to be pretty serious about this whole concept. He’s very clear that God is not impressed if we try to justify ourselves before him by saying we’re not as bad as other people. Jesus’ audience would have placed tax collectors at the very bottom of the Jewish community. Unfortunately, our society, and even the Christian community, has leveled a similar kind of shame toward women facing unplanned pregnancy. And the result of that shame is a strong cultural narrative that a woman’s choices are between having an abortion, or resigning herself to the struggle and stigma of raising a child on her own.

We all need to go deeper in understanding God’s grace for ourselves if we are to promote a ProGrace message around unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Judgment and self-righteousness have caused incredible damage to both women and children in these situations. If we want to see that change, we need to be a people steeped in grace. We need to be a people who understand, like Matthew came to understand, that encountering the radical grace of Jesus is the first step to changing the world.

Angie Weszely, CEO & Co-Founder of ProGrace