Choosing Grace in 2019

There’s a parable told in the gospel of Luke that I’ve been reflecting on as 2018 draws to a close. In the parable, Jesus seems to provide a hint for embracing grace, a necessity for living life with humility and perspective.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income. Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, “God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.” Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18 The Message Translation

What’s interesting about this parable is that these two individuals were likely drawn to God by two different motivations. One, the self-righteous religious leader was drawn out of obligation and likely for show (notice the descriptions: posed and prayed). Meanwhile, the other individual slumped in the shadows, face in his hands, not even wanting to look up. That evokes guilt, perhaps even shame. Yet, here they both are and only one left with what they really needed: acceptance and grace.

I’ve been asking myself lately, in which one of these men do I see myself most? In what ways am I moving through life comparing myself to others? Or, conversely, in what ways am I growing in awareness of my deep need for grace? Every time I lose my patience with one of my kids, or fail to quickly forgive my wife for some small grievance I’m reminded of my fallibility. Then there’s the last line:

If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself. 

There’s a lot to unpack there. In our culture today it’s easy to walk around with our noses up in the air, particularly for those of us who possess the privileges of money, status, or power. We can easily fall prey to the dangerous assumption that we in fact are solely responsible for our own success. But as my grandmother likes to constantly remind me, don’t read your own press.  And if you do, don’t believe it.  I have a little theory about the religious leader: he never really understood grace to begin with. Judging from his judgmental prayer, he likely wasn’t good at extending grace either. It takes knowing grace to show grace, and if there’s one thing the world needs more of, it’s grace.

But there’s also a promise embedded in this cautionary tale of a parable. If you’re content to be simply yourself, you’ll become more than yourself. I’m finding that I’m more and more comfortable in my own skin when I evaluate my life within the context of purpose, rather than comparison. For all that the religious leader in this parable knew about others, he seemed to possess very little self-awareness about his own flaws.  My favorite part of this verse: the idea that we can become more than ourselves, but not because of ourselves. That’s where grace comes in.

In 2019 I’ll be coming to the altar daily like the tax man in this parable with one simple request: I need your grace. The only way to expand my impact on the world around me in the coming year is to first further embrace the gift of God’s grace in my own life. I look forward to extending the same courtesy of grace, unmerited favor and acceptance to others in 2019.

Let’s get it! #levelup #choosinggrace


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