Jesus taught in parables – a story with layered messages, a story that attempts to reveal contradictions as well as weaken the status quo.[1]  Perhaps one of his main messages was that of the vast inconsistency with how religious leaders taught and how they lived.  A message that still speaks and is much needed today.

Jesus tells a parable that I am going rework for today’s hearers.  The parable is about a rich mega-church pastor (he wears $1000 sneakers, for more information check out @preachersNsneakers), and another man living with addiction.  Before I give this man a description, I want to jump back to the text.  When Jesus tells this parable, he chose a tax collector as the antithesis of the other character.  Tax collectors were the outcasts of proper Jewish society.  So, I selected an addict as the other man.  The point of a parable, even a modern one is to reveal contradictions. 

Back to my rewrite.  Both men enter a small stone church.  Quietly and reverently they move to the altar area.   Let’s listen to their prayers:

Pastor Mega-Church-Sneaker-Man stands straight in front of the altar.  He is most comfortable where the spotlight will catch his expensive clothes, shoes, and watch.  He lifts up his head and his voice, saying, “God I thank you that I am not like other people: greedy corporate executives, scoundrels, adulterers, or even like this addict.  I fast twice a week; I give ten percent of my income, and I speak on your behalf.”

The other man stands off to the side.  He keeps his head down, looking at the floor.  He dares not lift his eyes to the cross nor the heavens.  His inner pain is reflected in his clenched fists held tight to this chest, he says tenderly and quietly, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.  Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy on me” 

Who goes home feeling as if they have been with God?  Jesus says of these two men, the addict went home justified.  How can this be?  It is rather simple, he humbled himself before God.  Sadly, the sneaker wearing preacher exalted himself.  Here is God’s point of view on life: Not what we have done, but how we are.  Humble yourself before God.

I invite you to find a quiet place in your life, maybe off to the sidelines, and bow your head, hold your hands to your chest, and pray, “Lord, have mercy on me.”  Maybe say it a few times, quietly, (or 100 times, as our Orthodox brothers and sisters might do), until your heart rests in the God who unconditionally loves you, unconditionally forgives you, and unconditionally is with you.  Go home resting in the steadfast love of God.

[1] John Dominic Crossan quoted by Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of radical freedom, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 53.