be Merciful to Me
A blind teacher while visiting some families in their homes read them select verses from the Gospel distinguishing the words with his fingers, using the Braille system. His listeners were astonished at his skill in reading. With their eyes they followed his moving fingers in search for letters, listening to his perfect delivery. The blind teacher chose a striking scene from the main temple in their country and read:
”Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a professing godly man and the other a robber. The godly man stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax gatherer. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the robber, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”
The teacher stopped reading and addressed the people around him, ”Let everyone think and ask himself, ‘Who am I? With whom should I be classified? With the professing godly man, or with the repenting thief? Does not the godly man exemplify our nation in claiming that he did not commit adultery, nor rob, nor was he unjust to anybody, but strictly followed his religious law, fasted twice a week, gave alms and helped the needy?”
There was a deep silence in the room that was lifted by an older man who answered, ”Praise be to God, that man can approach the Lord whenever he wishes through sincere prayers and helping the needy and the poor. But this professing believer had exalted himself and glorified his own efforts rather than praising God for his wonderful deeds. Such piety without acknowledging God is selfishness.”
The blind teacher confirmed the old man’s advice and added, ”The proud, who profess their own godliness, are hardening their hearts and minds. They do not recognize the truth of God, nor do they admit their own condition, though they memorize the divine texts. It appears that religious godliness without the fear of God is wrong and void of love. Those who pray, glorifying themselves, become arrogant and defiant. They should ask themselves, ‘Are our prayers addressed to God or to ourselves? Do we think of the Lord and praise him, or do we glorify our tribe?’”
A young man among the audience asked the blind man, ”Why do we pray? Is there any benefit from praying? Who listens to our words?” The blind teacher gently answered, ”Does the one that is endowed with eyesight see what is beyond the horizon? He believes that the earth is round without seeing what lies beyond the horizon; the same happens when we phone from Cairo to Paris, or from Casablanca to Tokyo, we trust that we are hearing the voice of the person whom we phone, though we can’t see his features. How much more does a believer trust that the Almighty hears his prayers, responds to his requests and to his thanksgivings that spring from a humble and loving heart!”
The blind man continued his meditation. He moved to the thief’s prayer and said, ”Praise be to God who guided the robber to forsake his offense and turn to his Lord, following the voice of conscience and murmuring his prayer towards the Most Merciful. His prayer indicates that he still believed in the existence, authority and power of God, for he called him ”God / Allahumma”, knowing that God is one in his power, word, and spirit. The repentant robber sensed the holiness of the Most Merciful – trusting his mercy on the one hand, and fearing his judgment on his sins on the other hand. He was swinging between God’s kindness and his justice. He feared that his Lord would condemn him on account of justice and would cast him into hell – but at the same time, he clung in faith to the mercy of the Holy One. He believed that God’s kindness is greater than his judgement, and that the Almighty, out of his love, could atone for his sins. So, he threw himself into the hands of the Merciful Judge asking forgiveness. This is why he cried out, ”God, be merciful to me a sinner!””
The blind teacher went deeper into the meaning of repentance and added, ”The criminal confessed that he not only sinned, but that he had also become unclean, corrupt and wholly rejected by God. Before the Holy One, his real condition appeared to him. Nothing good was found in him in the eyes of the Lord; he had become a vile sinner.”
The teacher continued, ”most people delude themselves of their own condition and assume that they are respectable and upright. But he who stands in the light of God will immediately see that there is none righteous except God! Blessed was the penitent robber for he became wise; he recognized his own condition, turned to his Creator, begged for his mercy, confessed his corruption before him and received God’s mercy and compassion. The Lord does not reject anyone who repents, and who desires his heart to be changed, and hopes to reform his behavior, longing for a clean conscience. The Lord will offer him his redemption and grant him the divine atonement with the justification prepared for all who repent.”
The kindly blind teacher went on and asked the audience, ”Would you like to know the final decision issued by Christ, the Son of Mary, with respect to the alleged godly man and the penitent robber?” He opened the Gospel and began to move his fingers following the raised dots and read Christ’s decision,
”I tell you, the repenting robber went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Examine yourself again. Are you self-satisfied with your piety, proud of your good deeds, and pleased with your behavior? Or are you humble before a Holy God, ashamed of what you have done in your life? Be sure that whoever becomes proud and sees himself great will certainly fall. But he who repents, turns to his Lord, and confesses his sin before him, will receive mercy and justification issuing from his Lord’s atonement and abundant mercy.
Pray with us the prayer of David, the prophet, who confessed his sin when the Lord judged him for his shameful deeds after he committed adultery with a woman and ordered the death of her husband.
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to your loving kindness;
of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight - -
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part
You will make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
That the bones you have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
The God of my salvation,
O Lord, open my lips,
For You do not desire sacrifice,
or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart –
These, O God, You will not despise.
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