Monthly Archives: May 2022

Humility Trumps Good Works

“God have mercy on me a sinner.”  (Luke 18:14)

These are the words of the tax collector in Jesus’ Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 

It’s a parable about prayer, self-righteousness, humility, and justification. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee prayed about himself.  “’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.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner.’”

Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified before God, but not the Pharisee. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14) 

This parable challenges us as Christians, who attend church every Sunday, generally follow the rules, don’t regularly commit significant sins and lead a fairly decent life.  Like the Pharisee, it is so easy to let our pride sneak in and become self-righteous, justifying ourselves by comparing our actions to the apparent sinful ways of others. 

I say to myself that I don’t steal from others nor do them physical harm.  I don’t commit sexual sins. But yet, right below the surface is my tendency to be critical and judgmental of others, get angry over some personal slight, and seek recognition for my self-perceived accomplishments.  

Jesus asks, “Where is your heart?” When we lose sight of our dependence on God and grow proud of our accomplishments, we become like the Pharisee.  We stumble in our journey toward God and open ourselves to the very conduct we proudly claim we are avoiding.

Even St. Paul had to acknowledge the sinful nature that hovers right outside our daily lives when he said, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)

Only by acknowledging our tendency toward our sinful nature are we able to maintain a humility that recognizes our dependency on staying close to God and receiving his grace.  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

What actions help you to remain humble?

Paradise for a Thief and Us

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23: 43) 

Quite a remarkable promise by Jesus to a thief as they both hung on a cross!   

While nearly all who stood by and watched the crucifixion of Jesus were ridiculing, mocking and challenging him, only the good thief acknowledged who Jesus was, came to his defense, and asked to be remembered in his kingdom.  Church tradition tells us his name was Dismas.

The passers-by hurled abuse at Jesus.  The rulers and soldiers sneered at him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.”  Even the other thief said, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us.” (Luke 23:35, 39)

Out of this harangue and overcoming the difficulty of speaking while hanging from a cross, Dismas chastises the other thief, “Have you no fear of God?  We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.  Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”  Jesus responds with his extraordinary promise, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”  (Luke 23:40-43)

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that this was the only word spoken to the cross that was not a reproach.  “The conduct of everyone around the Cross was the negation of the very faith the good thief manifested; yet he believed when others disbelieved.”

If a thief, who right before he dies acknowledges Jesus as Lord, comes to his defense, and asks to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom, is promised paradise that very day, how much more should we rejoice in this same promise if we are daily repenting of our sins and acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our prayer, words, and actions!  

God’s love for us and willingness to forgive are so great that his promise of paradise extends to the very last moment and breath of life.

Are you willing to acknowledge and defend Jesus to receive the promise? 

The Alpha and the Omega

Jesus says, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.”  And then later he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 6:43; 14:6)

It all sounds a bit circular, but Jesus is saying that our salvation begins and ends with the Father, and Jesus is the means to assist us in completing the journey.  He shows us the way, the truth, and the life in returning us to the one who created each of us in the first place.

At the same time Jesus invites us to join in the effort of outreach by the Father and him to others.  Looking back on my life I can see people who cooperated with Jesus in reaching out to me: my parents, a young priest who befriended me when I was a teenager, a church friend who kept inviting me to various spirit related events as we were raising our young family, and the Holy Spirit who broke through the distractions in my life to introduce me in a new way to the person of Jesus.   

Whether we return to God, our creator depends not only on God’s grace, but also our choices to accept the means he has provided through Jesus and others.   

The Father is the Alpha and the Omega.  Everything starts with him and everything ends with him.  He is the source of our creation.  He is the point from which we begin our journey of existence and life, and he is the intended destination.  He created our inner being before our physical being was born.  He gives us a life to live and a free will to choose whether our destination will involve returning to him for eternity or being separated from him for eternity.

Gospel singer Andre Crouch recorded a song many years ago with the chorus:

“Jesus is the answer,

For the world today.

Above him there’s no other

He’s the only way.”

Jesus says: “Learn from me.” (Mt. 11:29) “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15) “Don’t be afraid.” (Mt. 17:7) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4, 5) “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt. 4:19) “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Mt. 28: 20)

The Father is the source for all that exists, including we who are made in his image and likeness.  Jesus is the way to the source, which is our intended destiny.  So simple, but yet so profound!

How have you responded to Jesus’ invitations to the Father?