Another gem from Margaret Pope. 

I am very slowly working my way through Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who adamantly opposed Hitler’s Third Reich and helped plot Hitler’s assassination. As I read this weekend, one section of the book stood out to me. Bonhoeffer is recounting attending a church in Paris, wherein he is given a picture of grace:

On Sunday afternoon I attended an extremely festive high mass in Sacré Coeur. The people in church were almost exclusively from Montmartre; prostitutes and their men went to mass, submitted to all the ceremonies; it was an enormously impressive picture, and once again one could see quite clearly how close, precisely through their fate and guilt, these most heavily burdened people are to the heart get_lautrec_1894_salon_in_the_rue_des_moulinsof the gospel. I have long thought that the Tauentzienstrasse [Berlin’s red-light district] would be an extremely fruitful field for church work. It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity. (71-72)

Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on who truly understands his deep need for the gospel brings to mind the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

How often my thoughts and prayers can sound like the Pharisee or the vain people Bonhoeffer talks about as I try to justify myself, to find reasons why I deserve God’s favor. But in reality, I am no better than a prostitute or a tax collector, equally sinful and separated from God. And despite my desperate attempts to make myself acceptable to God, Jesus’s death on the cross is my perfect, never-failing justification, covering my sin and making me righteous in God’s eyes.