This semester I’m excited to be participating in a Bible Study at my church on the Sermon on the Mount. For today’s devotions, we focused on the first two verses:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:3-4
What was most fascinating to me was the study on what it meant to mourn. The workbook had us look at passages in Joel and James which talk about mourning in the context of repentance and grieving over sin.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. – Joel 2:12 – 13
In of itself, that is a powerful image. But this morning I also read from Luke 18 which gives the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. After giving a very unflattering portrait of the Pharisee’s prayer life, the Publican (ie. the supposed bad guy in the story) is cast in a much different light.
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ – Luke 18:13
Accident it was not that I read both of these passages this morning. While the imagery in Joel is very powerful, it is a bit removed from me, staying in the realm of theory. Where as the passage in Luke tells a story and shows what rending your heart looks like in action. But it does more than that, it shows us how we can think that we are “rending our hearts” when we really aren’t.
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ – Luke 18:11 – 12
Jesus tells us that it is the Publican (someone who would be considered the worst of Jewish society) and not the Pharisee (someone who would be revered as the best of Jewish society) whose prayer was answered and was justified in the sight of God.
What was helpful to me about reading these passages back to back was the reminder of how often I am like the Pharisee, how I compare myself to others and act like I’m better than everyone else and that God owes me something for my performance. Jesus’ parable in Luke helped me to see how I need to the Lord’s words in Joel seriously. I need to rend my heart and not my garments because Jesus is not interested in showy religion, but a faith that recognizes that I am a sinner and that I need the mercy of God.
It’s so easy to live my life as the Pharisee but I trust that as God continues to reveal to me my tendency towards self-righteousness and arrogance that He is going to shift my heart more and more towards the posture of the Publican who beat his breast and rent his heart.