Two men made their way into the same church service one day. The first man was the preacher. He was a kind, honest man who was loved and well known in the community. He helped the poor and gave generously to the local children’s home. He visited the hospital when folks were sick. He volunteered at the homeless shelter. He always met everyone with a smile and welcomed them by name. The second man was a convicted felon. His rap sheet was long and colorful. He’d been guilty of breaking and entering, drug possession and distribution. He’d been in and out of rehab more times than he could count. He was gruff and greasy and grouchy and never looked anyone in the eye.
When it came time to pray, the preacher walked to the front of the building and stood at the microphone. He instructed the church to bow their heads. He cleared his throat and prayed loudly, “Dear God, thank you for the blessings that you have so generously given me. Thank you for making me a kind and honest man and for equipping me to lead this church so well. Thank you that I’m not like those men sitting down at the jail, unable to care for their families. Thank you that you have made me better than that.” As the preacher prayed (or preached, the prayer went on so long it was difficult to tell if he was praying or preaching), the second man sat alone in his pew (no one had sat beside him) with his head bowed as tears streamed down his dirty face. He prayed silently, “God, I am a mess. Please God, have mercy on me.”
I think of Jesus telling this parable as everyone watched and listened, the crowd silent except for Jesus’ voice, calm and patient. I feel like everyone in the room (or hillside, I don’t know) identified with man number one. I wish I could have seen their faces when Jesus told them this: when man number TWO (the drug-addicted thief) went home, he was right with God. Man number ONE (the well-respected preacher) was not. Although I know there were no microphones in Biblical times, I still imagine Jesus dropping the mic and walking off as everyone stared with their jaws on the ground. It flipped their world upside down. Jesus was making a point. He wanted to get their attention and convict them. Not to make them feel crummy, but to make them change their hearts. Because the heart is what matters. Sometimes we can look good on the outside but the heart is a mess. And sometimes the outside can be a mess and the heart can be pure.
Pride and arrogance and judgment. Satan loves to use them. I’ve fallen into the trap before, often. Recently I needed this slap in the face from Jesus. I frequently need reminding to take care of my own heart and don’t judge others’ hearts based on what my eyes can see.
** this has been my (incredibly) loose interpretation of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)**
Read more of Abbie Mabary’s contributions to allmomdoes here.