‘I desire trust from My creatures. Encourage souls to place their trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than all the grains of sand in the world, all would be drowned in the immeasurable depths of My mercy.’ Jesus to St. Faustina
I could not believe it. A quiet acquaintance began to bring along a remarkably younger same-gender ‘partner’ to the gym; their evident attraction disgusted me. I felt angry at them for messing up my morning ritual with their mutual adoration and also superior for being ‘healed’ enough to disdain rather than to envy them.
Jesus addressed my perverted heart in The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke starts out strong: ‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.’ (18: 9) Busted. Jesus got my attention.
The Pharisee thanks God for raising him above the stink of others’ sin—the evils of robbery and adultery, in particular. He does not thank God from saving him from those sins but implies he’s glad for his natural virtue that sets him apart.
Unlike the Pharisee, I know deeply this adultery of heart—bypassing God in order to idealize some creature and worship him/her. I remembered sin’s robbery in my own life, and those I had robbed by reducing them to my compulsive needs. And I recalled the long, slow climb out of the pit, one confession at a time, a practice I sustain daily in order to stay out of that pit.
I sometimes consider the deep imprint of sexual compulsion and can only conclude that God permits struggle in order to dig a deeper well of mercy in those of us graced by the awareness of sin’s misery. Mercy for sin’s misery: no wonder that the Latin word of mercy—‘misericordia’—literally means ‘miserable one.’
The miserable heart is the heart inclined to mercy. What a grace to surrender one’s ache to the only Source that can restore it. Like water, mercy seeks the lowest driest place and saturates it.
For release from sin’s misery and release for holy partnerships, I can only thank the God of mercy. Any righteousness I possess is a byproduct of that mercy.
Adultery is one thing; confidence in one’s own virtue is another. Arrogance remained the sin of this new Pharisee. Religious pride like mine prevents one from looking on sinners with eyes of mercy. Instead we see them as blights and bothers, below the mercy line. Jesus Himself spoke of this when He defined the human heart as the source, not only of adultery and sexual immorality, but of ‘slander and arrogance.’ (Mk 7: 21, 22)
Such arrogance is dangerous to souls. If cut off from mercy, my ‘righteousness’ has power to distance others from the mercy that could be theirs! That is reason alone to do what the tax collector did, to the disdain of the Pharisee. This suspect and much despised civil servant beat his chest and cried out to God (v. 13). The tax collector knew his misery and so he wailed for mercy.
I did the same. I realized that my righteousness could entomb me and others. I shattered that tomb with the cry for mercy; I renounced my arrogance and thanked God for the mercy that is my daily bread.
I began to fight prayerfully for the dignity of my gym friends. I finally got a chance to talk with the older one. His friend had left him and he was alone, wondering if God had a name. I hope he discovers the God of mercy, Jesus Christ.
We are growing in friendship and trust; we share more openly each time we meet. What a privilege to help him grow in his understanding of who Jesus really is. Mercy wins.
‘The tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk 18:14)