...With cruel words assaulting his ears, with judging eyes washing over him, with officials ready to drag him out of the sacred space of the Temple, knowing that he has no ability to pay restitution, make amends, and probably no way to find a new job…what else could the toll collector do, but beat at his own heart in anguish? Head hung in humility, he pummels his chest and cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
When have you been there? So powerless, or afraid, or ashamed, in despair, maybe all at once? When have you been so out of options, so out of energy, so out of hope, that you had nothing left but to beat your chest, or fall to your knees, or weep, or curl up in bed, and cry out for mercy?
While the toll collector stands away from the crowd, he does not stand alone. He knew before he arrived at the Temple that he was unwanted, despised, considered a thief, and had no way to reconcile with his community. Yet he comes to the Temple to be in the presence of God. He risks being dragged away, he hears the worst of himself laid bare in front of his neighbors, but he stays to be with God.
It is with his flaws and mistakes exposed in the midst of the moral authority that he finds justice. When the Pharisee names the toll collector’s sins, God does not vacate or strike anyone with lightning. God already knows his (and our) shame and flaws and offers us justice when we show up. What words could be said of you? What’s the worst sin and shame that you carry?...