Waiting Day 17: Prostitutes and Tax Collectors
This Advent Devotion was written in response to Matthew 21:28-32
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”
I love spotting “Kingdom Principles” in Jesus’ stories. So much of what He said was upside down and downright confusing to the people who were listening. The culture was established, and Jesus appears to have had a ball turning it on its end. Frankly, some of the things He said that I whole-heartedly embrace are still mystifying to me. Really, Jesus? The meek will inherit the earth? When I look around at the power brokers right now, I can see that they are anything but meek! Are these kingdom principles for real? Are we actually strong when we are weak?
In today’s reading, Jesus tells the pious and religious leaders that prostitutes and tax collectors will find it easier to enter Heaven than those who have upheld the religious law. I wonder how much shock value Jesus was going for when he named those two occupations. These were the male and female versions of the lowest level of humanity, and yet He elevated them to a place of quick access to heaven. What did He mean by this? Surely He didn’t mean that sleeping with men for money or stealing people blind got you closer to God? No, what He meant is that the outcasts of society were aware of their need for rescue, and those of us who depend on our own “goodness,” have yet to realize what is on offer.
I am reminded of a church website I stumbled across several years ago. The name of this church is (literally) Scum of the Earth. I guess there is simply no way to attend a church with this name without being made aware on a weekly basis of your place before God. They take their name from the Scripture in 1 Corinthians 4:10-13, which says, We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.
During Advent, I long to become more aware of His presence. I can get caught up in my appearance of sophistication and togetherness, when what I really ought to focus on is my emptiness that only He can fill. I am grateful that my life’s journey has not taken me to the despair of prostitution or robbery in order to see my need for Him. But in the upside down world of Jesus, I am grateful for the difficulties and setbacks that have served to realign me to His principles.
Today I stand with all the prostitutes and swindlers of the world and with an open heart and outstretched arms I boldly call out to the Savior who meets me right where I am. Come, Come quickly I pray.