A Humble and Contrite Heart

Rev. F. Robert Tafel 1 Kings 3:5-10, Luke 18:9-14 October 28, 2001

If we were to see ourselves as we really are, if we could see ourselves as our Lord Jesus Christ knows us, what would we see? Would we be greatly shocked?... Or might we be somewhat in a similar position to that of Solomon when he was about to assume the throne of Israel. That is to say, he was very aware of his need for wisdom. He probably had a fairly accurate sense of his strengths and shortcomings, but there surely were many details and nuances of his character and personality which escaped his awareness which would provide mild surprise and delight if they were known.

1 Kings 3:5-10

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon answered, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish." The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.

I wonder, however, how many of Solomon's subjects knew about their king's sense of awe and inadequacy concerning the job of being king and his ability to perform. I am sure he did not broadcast it about and share it with all his subjects. Which is to say that Solomon knew a lot of things about himself which the people around him, even his closest advisors, did not know. This idea isn't exactly big news, but maybe it can help us to see the Bible from another view. Maybe we can see how the Bible helps us to see ourselves more clearly.

Because Solomon is a lot like each of us. The similarity lie in the fact that we see ourselves differently from the way others do. We know ourselves fairly well -- at least in broad, general outline. We are aware of some of the things we do quite well, our abilities, our skills, what we know and do not knuw. We also area aware of what we lack, as far as knowledge, skill, and confidence. Others only see us as we appear to be and with what awareness we have shared with them. Others may have an exaggerated sense of our ability. Haven't you ever had a friend up colleague try to talk you into doing a task fur which you felt totally inadequate? And haven't they been surprised, even refusing to believe your disclaimer? Knowing the difference between the way we see ourselves and the way others see us can help us to see the great truths and depths of meaning to Bible stories and parables such as the parable of the pharisee and the publican (or, tax-collector).

The parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector is another of these stories which appears clear-cut. Black-and-white. Right and wrong. It provides material to use for condemnation and approval. Yet, from another viewpoint, it speaks to the issue of which we have been speaking; namely, the disparity between how we appear to be, as opposed to how we really are.

The pharisee. He thought he knew himself... He could quickly and easily recount the good things he had done. The tax-collector, he thought he knew himself ... All too aware of the evils of his job and the things he felt he had to do to satisfy the Romans. Yet neither saw himself completely. The pharisee could not see the good that he had neglected, left undone, nor the evils that he had done. He did not see his condemning, judgmental attitude. He thought nothing of abruptly addressing god in his devotions: "God, I thank thee....'' He thinks nothing of giving himself credit for being superior to others: "I aim not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector." He does not see his vaunting and exalting of himself. He only thinks of recounting his good deeds: "I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get." He only thinks of celebrating his superior excellency and publishing his good deeds in his public prayers. Nothing is said of his interior attitude. Nor whether in his heart he was devouring widows' houses, omitting the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, faith (Matthew 6:23).

In like manner, the tax collector did not see himself completely. He only saw the evils of his life: "he would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'Ggod, be merciful to me a sinner!'" he did not consider the goodness of his contrite prayer for forgiveness. He did not consider the goodness of his humble approach to God and his appropriate sense of worship in God's temple. Unlike the pharisee, he was aware of his need -like Solomon in his prayer. Two went to pray.

Two went to pray. Could they be you and me? Just as all of the characters in any of our dreams represent parts/aspects of our being; so the two who went to pray correspond to and portray on the one hand, our regenerating self, and, on the other hand, our unregenerate self. Two went to pray.

The part of our spirit which is being regenerated is like the tax collector. Aware of sin, confessing evils as sin, endeavoring to reform and desist from they, seeking god's mercy and help. Our unregenerate nature is the pharisee. Unaware of evils and sin. Loving oneself above all others. Justifying oneself. Judging the neighbor rather than loving the neighbor.

These two characters are not just elements of a parable in the Bible. They do not just exist in others. They correspond to parts of all of us. Two went to pray.

We might wonder what led the pharisee to overlook his own evil. Why did he not see or hide them. We can only speculate. What leads us to hide our evils? We want to preserve our reputation. We want others to love us. We want to avoid condemnation and rejection. Quite understandable. In the scene of today's parable, however, the pharisee and the tax collector are in the temple, so what is being portrayed is their prayer life before god.

The pretense of the pharisee must have another reason than preserving his reputation. It must have to do with his concept of God. Our Lord commends the confession of the tax collector and bids us do likewise. Our Swedenborgian understanding of the Christian gospel helps us to understand why.

An understanding of the Lord's providence and an understanding of the nature of salvation are part of our Swedenborgian heritage.

On the lord's providence, we read:

It is according to the divine providence that every one be allowed to act from freedom in accordance with reason; furthermore without permissions one cannot be led from evil by the Lord, and thus be reformed and saved. Fur unless evils were permitted to break out one would not see them, and therefore would not acknowledge edge them, and thus could not be led to resist them. Swedenborg, Divine Providence #251

On salvation we read:

One who would be saved must confess one's sins and do the woe of repentance. To confess sins is to recognize evils; to see them within oneself; to acknowledge them ; to make oneself guilty and condemn oneself on account of them. This when it is done before God is the confession of sins. To do the work of repentance is, after one has thus confessed one's sins, and from an humble heart has made supplication fur remission, to desist from them and lead a new life according to the precepts of faith. Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 8387

It is because of my understanding of the Lord's divine providence and of salvation that I can join with the tax collector and say, "god be merciful to me a sinner." I am urged by the Lord who created me to do so. Because of my knowledge of myself, I pray to the Lord, "be merciful to me a sinner." I know there is good that I have left undone. And I know there is evil that I would not do that I have done, the Lord who knows every heart knows this to be true. He wills that I see, acknowledge, confess, and repent. This is his will for each and every one of us: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2).

Let us pray:

Copyright 2000 by Rev. F. Robert Tafel

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