Loved in Our Brokenness

One of the greatest temptations of religion is perfectionism and the vanity that accompanies its pursuit. As a recovering perfectionist (and a Type 1/perfectionist on the Enneagram) I know this temptation all too well.  Religion says “if you want God to love you, you need to be perfect in the ways we outline for you.”  Religion also says, “If you are not perfect, God will not love you and God’s love will be taken away.”  The result of this for many is the endless pursuit of perfection.  Following the Ten Commandments.  Living the Beatitudes.  Adhering to the laws laid out by the institution. 

The driving force of this pursuit of perfection is judgment.  Religion tells us of a judgmental God – like an omnipotent Santa Claus keeping the list of who is good and who is bad.  God’s judgment is then handed down to the clergy whose job it is to enforce “God’s” rules.  This judgment then becomes part of our own conscience, where we are now the ones judging our own behaviors while also judging the behaviors of others.  This cycle of judgment pits us against God, God against us, and us against each other.  Separation is the result of this judgment as everyone is pointing a finger of condemnation at themselves while pointing the same finger at others. Here nobody wins and everybody loses as we are all caught up in the cycle of judgment and self-righteousness.


This gospel reflects that cycle while, at the same time, turning the tables on religion’s paradigm of judgment: 

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

LK 18: 9-14

Here Jesus’ message is obvious.  God loves everyone the same and holds a special measure of compassion for those who are broken. In the reading, the Pharisee lauds his perfection.  As a strict follower of The Law, he is certain of his salvation, perhaps rightly so.  Some find contentment and peace in a black and white theology which lays out exactly what is needed to obtain “the kingdom.”  For those who follow a similar way, the Pharisee would be seen as a good and righteous man, justified in his judgment of the tax collector.  Jesus, however, turns the table.  Instead of lauding the Pharisee, he elevates the tax collector – not because he was a righteous man, but because he was humble.  Unlike the Pharisee who only saw his own goodness, the tax collector admitted his failings.  He knew that he was broken and imperfect and that in his humanness he had done things contrary to The Law. (Tax collectors were viewed as “sinners” during the time of Jesus as they were working for Rome – the enemy, while also taking a fee for themselves (usury) for their work).  Instead of judgment, Jesus invited his disciples to see the depth of God’s love through the life of the tax collector.  Here is a man, doing what he needed to do to provide for his family.  His job wasn’t perfect – but it was a job.  Yes, the Pharisees raged against the work of the tax collectors and cast them in the role of sinners, but he was just doing what he had to do to care for his family.  Because of his conditioning, he was made to feel guilty for his profession and confessed that guilt to God.  Instead of standing before God lauding his greatness, he acknowledged his frailty, and the shame he felt in his frailty.  He knew he was powerless to correct this “shame” and offered his brokenness up to God.  And God loved him. 

God loved him.

God loved him unconditionally.  As Jesus described it, not only was the man loved, he was exalted! Does that mean that God loved the tax collector more?  If we believe in an all-loving, unconditionally loving God, then no.  It was not the Pharisee who needed comfort in his brokenness.  As scripture describes it, the Pharisee did not believe he was broken.    The tax collector, however, begged for God’s compassion (a better translation of the word mercy). And he got it.  We don’t know how he received that compassion or what it may have felt like to him.  Perhaps it was simply in the asking that the answer was received. 

The same is true for each of us.  There is not a single one among us who is not broken in some way.  We all struggle with our fears, compulsions, unhealed wounds, self-and other judgment, gluttony, lust for power, wrath, envy, greed, sloth and pride.  We are all broken.  Either we acknowledge this brokenness and offer that up to God for love or, like the Pharisee we pretend our perfection and miss out on all the love God wants to give.  Grace is the vehicle through which we know and experience God’s love and it seems there is a reciprocal relationship between our ability to acknowledge our brokenness and experiences of God’s Grace – not because it’s otherwise being withheld, but because we haven’t asked.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Ask and it will be given.”


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