It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally began to perceive that this dynamic is flawed. Today I am very grateful for my salary and my job, but I believe that “selling myself” is not something I wish to do anymore, despite the temptation to relent. I don’t want to “sell myself” to potential members or for a place on a prestigious board or to a questioning church member. I want to end that part of my life. This past Sunday I was teaching on the discipline of solitude in Richard Foster’s classic, “Celebration of Discipline,” and he wrote this, “One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten others out.” I want to embrace this truth as the tax collector did in the parable told by Jesus.
Tax collectors were rotten people and their career attested to their lack of character. Exploiting their neighbors, they made their living off the backs of those around them as they collected taxes for the Roman Empire. They were almost universally reviled. Yet the hero above is not the God-fearing Pharisees; it is the wretched tax collector. He is the one who is standing before God and refusing to “sell himself.” The Pharisee, on the other hand, is making sure that God knows what a great fellow he is. As Jesus often did, he inverted our expectations to teach us a valuable lesson. “Selling ourselves” to God, or others, is not the business in which we want to be.
I hope you will forgive the personal nature of this devotional. It is Lent, after all, and so I am thinking about myself more carefully than I regularly do. But I want you to help hold me accountable. I want you to help me to allow God to straighten out my reputation, and to embrace the humility of the tax collector in the face of a culture (and often a complicit American Church) which constantly seeks to “sell itself.” I, like all of you, am a sinner in need of God’s grace. At the end of the day, that is all I have to sell.
Prayer: Holy God, forgive us for sinning against you. We have failed you in thought, word, and deed. Forgive us also for obsessing about our perception in the minds of others. Set us free from this unpleasant and meaningless existence and help us to trust that you are in control in our lives. We are so thankful for you, for your Church, and for all you have done for us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.