In the Office: Gifts I Don’t Deserve

Maybe it’s because it’s Friday. Maybe it’s because it’s a beautiful morning here in Mount Airy, with predictions of clear days ahead. Maybe it’s because I’m right on the brink of getting some much-anticipated time off. Whatever the reason, I’ve got an extra spring in my step today, and I’m keenly aware of how richly I’ve been blessed.

But as the gospel lesson in today’s Daily Office reminds me, the step between “feeling blessed” and “feeling like I’ve earned my blessings” can be perilously small. In Luke Chapter 18, Jesus tells a well-known story that’s aimed squarely at those “who were confident of their own righteousness”:

     “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

Years ago, the singer/songwriter Ken Medema based a song on this text and titled it “Mr. Simon.” As you might expect, the song tells the tale of two men who went to church one Sunday: Mr. Simon, a respected and influential man who proudly thanks God for treating him just like he thinks he deserves; and an unknown worshiper, a broken man who cries out to God in awareness of his own unworthiness. And the song ends with a line that I’ve always thought to be extremely powerful:

Two men went into the church, upon that Sunday morn.
One left slightly wrinkled. The other left reborn.

May every gift that we receive today remind us of the grace that gives us so much more than we deserve. And as our humble and thankful hearts acknowledge God’s goodness, may we, too, experience a rebirth that renews the Spirit of Christ within us.

 

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