I’m not sure at what age I first heard about the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector), as related in Luke 18:9-14. But since I grew up in church, I am confident it was decades ago.
Yet in recent times, a devotional reading included this so familiar passage, and I found myself unexpectedly overwhelmed by both its significance and its application; I was the Pharisee.
Sharper than a Sword
Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the Word is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword. This particular day I learned the truth of that verse.
Living in the midst of what can be called a type of Ground Zero in the opioid epidemic, it’s easy to forget that our city has attracted its share of national media coverage on this issue. Particularly in August of 2016, when 27 people overdosed on heroin in a four-hour period.
Because I have known drug users who simply liked to get high, or who were drowning in a sea of self-pity, it has been easy to categorize everyone as fitting into that category. Not to mention look down my nose at them for causing so much crime.
That is, until I recently heard the story of a 12-year-old whose father injected her with heroin to make it easier to pimp her off to his buddies so he could get more money for drugs.
The woman who shared the story works with abused females, including those who prostitute themselves as a matter of economic survival (and/or drug money). The crisis counselor calls that rape.
While one could argue the point endlessly in a court of law, it gave me a much different look at reality.
A Mess of a Life
However, it wasn’t this woman’s story that penetrated my hearing during that devotional time. Instead, it felt like the Holy Spirit was standing there, reminding me of what a mess I was before Jesus changed my life.
Those of us who fit into a middle-class framework are quick to forget how much we needed Christ to turn our lives around and set us on a better path.
While living in Colorado, we invited a couple over for dinner who were traveling for the summer. They shared how at a church in Ohio they had helped bring along a number of newcomers.
However, because these visitors didn’t fit the category of “neat and clean,” many existing members objected to their presence.
One of the leading complainers was an elder who had once been a drunk lying in the gutter before turning his life around. A tad ironic, no?
Because I was never a gutter-dweller, nor did I live on Skid Row, it’s easy to pretend that I’ve always been a respectable member of society.
The truth is my life was on a fast track to nowhere before I made a decision to follow Christ. Without that change, I can envision how easily I would have destroyed my marriage, lapsed into continuing alcohol and drug use, and likely not even be alive today.
So, thanks to the Word, I gained a new appreciation of how much I need God’s grace today—as badly as I did 35 years ago.
Instead of looking down on drug users as a new-day version of the publican, I need to figuratively kneel beside them as I plead for God’s mercy.