A meditation for Ash Wednesday.
“Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner”.
It’s not about being right. It’s about being in right relationship.
Few of us like to be wrong. Most of us will stand in our own self-justification. Being humble; making ourselves vulnerable, is not fashionable in our culture.
This story of the righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector strikes us hard because it is so unexpected. We don’t expect the pious religious to be found wanting. After all, aren’t they supposed to know how to please God? And yet that is exactly what is in focus today. The Pharisee, faultlessly observant, makes his righteousness his prideful sin.
My grandmother had a paraphrase of this that she would trot out when people got too uppity in her view. “Careful,” she would say. “Bring right is a mighty lonely place to be.” It’s easy to alienate others when you are pompous.
On this Ash Wednesday morning, let’s not forget the purpose of Lent. Yes it is a time to be a bit more scrupulous and observant; to correct excesses; and mend broken promises. But above all it is about getting back into a right relationship with God. As Jesus points out the virtue of the sinner, he also looks directly at you and me. Can we turn towards God and admit our failings? Can we say the Jesus prayer? “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” like this tax collector?
The gift if we can see it, is one of reconciliation, restoration and freedom from fear. God’s tender love awaits us; filled with mercy. For God knows better than anybody how much we need to be in relationship, rather than being “right” and God knows just how much we need to feel that love. +
FEB. 14 / ASH WEDNESDAY