Humbling Ourselves Before God - Our Need for Forgiveness
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But 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!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)
Recently an acquaintance has written a book, compiling personal stories of Filipino-Americans and I was asked to write a short reflection on my life in the US. In my reflection, I was candid enough to be so vulnerable to share my life experience, including those times of struggles for wholeness, those times when I seemed broken, and searching for meaning. Sometimes, I am astounded when I am approached by people who don’t know me much but think that the life of a priest is somehow free of life’s struggles. No, we’re human beings like everyone else. Surely,we have our gifts, we have our strengths, but we also have our own problems. We struggle with sin. We struggle with brokenness. We experience spiritual fragmentation. And, I would like to think that we are most- or ought to be anyways- aware of our need for God’s grace and forgiveness.
A Christian is not one who is perfect, above reproach. A saint is not one who has it all together. Saints are but sinners redeemed. The German Reformer, Martin Luther, once said that a Christian has a twofold nature- justus et peccator. Redeemed and sinner. Or more accurately, simul justus et peccator- simultaneously both sinner and redeemed. Redeemed sinner. We are redeemed from sin solely by the grace of God, and not of our own making. There is no room for boasting here. We owe all the good things about us, including our redemption, to God.
The difficulty with the Pharisee in the Gospel story today seems to be twofold: He boasts of his seeming moral superiority as if it comes from within rather than the grace of God. He is shown to be a man filled with pride which makes him look down on everyone else, particularly those who he thinks are beneath him. Secondly, no matter how together he seems, he is broken at the very least by the sin of his pride, yet he fails to see his brokenness and sinfulness. Someone who is unaware, someone who is in denial of one’s sins cannot be open to the redeeming grace of God. If someone does not think he or she needs redemption and healing, then he or she won’t be open to the light of God’s redeeming grace. A sick person who thinks he is not sick would also believe he has no need for a doctor and medicine.
The Gospel compares the Pharisee to the tax collector who, unlike the Pharisee, humbles himself before God, and asks for forgiveness “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” The tax collector does not pretend to be all good and perfect. He is exalted by Luke not because he is a sinner but because he stands before God, with such great honesty, with great self-condemnation, acknowledging himself to be a man who has not lived up to be a person of justice and love that God wants him to be. As such, he confesses his need for grace and mercy. And only then, by opening himself up to God, does he stand a chance of redemption and healing.
There is a story of man struggling with his own sins, and yet despite his own best intentions, he can’t seem to get it together. He is always falling down, so to speak. And he tries to look for a church where he could be accepted as he struggled with his brokenness and demons. One day, he passed an Episcopal Church which was holding a service and he happened to stumble inside the church during the Confession of Sin and heard the people say these words: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have done those things we ought not to have done.” Hearing these words, he fell on his knees, saying: “Alas, I am with my kind of people!” The Church is but composed of sinners who acknowledge their need for forgiveness and healing.
Every time we come together, but most especially as we gather at the Lord’s Table, we confess our need for forgiveness. We are made aware of our need for healing for only then can we open ourselves- our hearts and soul- to the power of God’s grace to root out the evil in us, and to accomplish his will in our lives.
© 2010 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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