The tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ Luke 18:13
With the scolding stares of everyone on him, he doesn’t even dare to lift his eyes from the ground. He stands cowering in a corner, looking at the cracks in the cobbled stone. He knows all too well everything that’s wrong in his life. He knows everything he is and everything that he isn’t. He knows everything he’s done and everything he’s left undone.
This guy is a traitor to his own people. He is someone who gets rich by keeping his neighbors poor. What kind of character and values does a person have to have in order to do that? This guy knows. First-century rabbis would give you a “get-out-of-jail-free-card” for lying to a Tax Collector.
To get the full impact of this story in our context think of the Taxman as a Grand Wizard for the KKK or as an abortionist Doctor.
The Taxman would have been going to one of two daily worship services that happened at the temple. One that happens at about sunrise and one that happened at about 3 p.m. Both of those services in the outer area of the temple would have begun with the priest sacrificing a lamb on the altar as an atonement for people’s sins and to signify for them God’s mercy.
That’s what this tax collector would have been looking at when he was praying. He sees the sacrificial act of the slain lamb, he sees the shedding of blood, he hears the declaration of atonement and he realizes that it was for his sin that nappy-clad little lamb was killed.
“I need that,” he says.
Scriptures say that Jesus was the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world. To give us the approval that we long for and could never find on our own.
It is often so difficult to live with the truth that we are loved by God and we don’t have to perform to gain that love.
I like the way Henri Nouwen says this in his profound little book Life of the Beloved,
Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”
These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it’s easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection.
The deepest truth about this Taxman was that he was loved by the God of the universe without having to perform for it.
It is true of you, too.
When my oldest son, Cole, was thirteen he went on his first backpacking trip with a wilderness program I was leading at the time. Being the preacher’s kid and an awkward 13-year-old with older boys made for a painful week for Cole. He kept feeling rejected by the cool kids.
He was in a tent with the older boys trying to fit and they kept teasing him so much that he finally left that tent and came to mine.
He said, “Dad, they are so mean to me! It’s like they don’t care.”
I said, “I know, son.”
He kept looking out of the tent in the direction of the group of boys. Then his head would drop, and he would stare at his hands. Every time laughter would erupt from the group of boys, he would look out of my tent door. He wanted to fit in and be there with those boys.
I remember watching him and thinking, “You are so loved, son. Can’t you feel my love? If you would relax in my love it will mark your life. There will come a day when you will forget those boys’ names, but you will never forget my name. Let my love fill you up right now.”
I squeezed his shoulder, patted him and said, “I love you, son.”
He looked out the tent door towards the laughing boys, sighed heavily and said, “I know. Let’s play some cards, Dad.”
Some of you need to stop looking out of the tent and look up to the Father….you are loved with an everlasting love.
So, may this good news free you from your paranoia that you have to do anything to gain the Father’s love. Live your life from the wonderful story that you are the beloved of God.