The Publican’s Prayer, Revised

The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people–greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me–a sinner!’ ” Luke 18:11-13 HCSB

Reading through Matthew 20, I was struck anew by the soul-haunting question at the end of Jesus’ parable: “Are you jealous because I’m generous?” I am thankful for the times when I am struck by how much like the full-day workers I am (“let the righteous one strike me, it is an act of faithful love,” Psalm 141:5). The Holy Spirit shows me in these times how unlike He is I am, and I am always thankful. We sinners make terrible, terrifying gods; He alone is God and He alone is worthy.

Gratitude for not being like another reminded me of the publican’s prayer in Luke 18. There, Jesus contrasts the arrogant self-assuredness of the damned Pharisee with the humble, penitent contrition of the justified publican. What if the Pharisee’s prayer was righteous? What would it have sounded like?

The Pharisee closed the door in his house and fell on his face, praying like this: “God, I thank You that You’re not like me–greedy, unrighteous, lustful, and especially not hateful and arrogant like the black stains of my hypocritical heart. I thank You that You give grace to all–even to that tax collector I saw today.

“You don’t need my fasts or tithes; You own the cattle on the thousand hills, so I can’t pretend to give a gift to You as though You would owe me. You desire mercy, not the empty, heartless ritual of man-pleasing religion.

“I couldn’t help but see the tears of that tax collector and overhear his prayer to You. I can’t think of a better way to come before You. I am such a sinner–much worse than anyone I know! I know I deserve wrath, but please give me mercy instead!”

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