God have mercy

Today I sat by the bed of a friend in hospital. He too has lung cancer. On the outside he looked weathered and aged. He was frail and broken. And yet he radiated an inner contentment. He wasn’t looking for distractions. The television was off. There were no games or books or magazines or electronic toys. He preferred to reflect and to pray. Life had a potency for my friend. He meditated on life and death. He’d spent many hours contemplating these words by Jesus:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.  (John 3:36)

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  (John 17:3)

My friend knows eternal life—now. He knows God, because he knows the one whom God has sent, Jesus Christ. He spoke joyfully to me about Jesus. His eyes were filled with tears of wonder and thankfulness as we spoke.

Looking at my friend reminded me of the unrelenting surge of disease, decay, and death. But listening to my friend pointed me to the one who has overcome it all. He knows that the hope he holds is real. Death holds no fear for my friend. He’s facing life’s harshest moments with a contentment that can only come from God.

And there’s nothing presumptive about my friend. He understands that God doesn’t owe him anything. He has no rights before God. He’s not claiming any religious or moral superiority. My friend simply knows that God is a merciful God.

We prayed together. We asked God for many things. And I was humbled to hear my friend say these words:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Years ago Jesus told a story about two people with very different outlooks on God and themselves. I was reminded of this story today, as my friend and I prayed together.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’  (Luke 18:9-14)

(first published in macarisms.com on 17/6/13)

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