Today’s passage: Matthew 6:9-13
I pity you. You’re pitiful. You’re so pitiable.
Stop for a few seconds and think about what those words make you feel. Chances are, you’re first reaction might not be positive. In our culture today, the idea of being pitied is one that isn’t much appreciated. We assume that for somebody to pity us, they must think of themselves as being superior to us. We can equate pitying someone with looking down on them in pride.
This weekend, I want to suggest that pity is an essential component for life in this broken world. I also want to suggest that far from being the outcome of pride, pity should be the antithesis – the enemy! – of pride.
To pity someone is to recognise their need. To be like God is to be moved by pity to forgive, even at great cost.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been learning from Jesus how to pray. Pray, I think Jesus shows us, is more than just a duty where we speak to the Almighty God. It’s a conversation that we hold with our Father. The whole of Jesus’ model prayer rests on the knowledge that God is our Father who is near to us. He is a Father who loves us, and who is interested in us, and cares for us.
Jesus teaches this prayer in Matthew 6 in the broader context of describing what a life defined by God’s kingdom looks like here on this dark, rebellious earth. As children naturally should do, Jesus encourages us to ask for God’s name to be famous. If God and His Kingdom is everything to us, if God defines who we are, then wanting everyone to know how amazing He is would come naturally. And we’d long, as Jesus teaches us to pray, for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as in heaven. As Christians, we are God’s children and citizens of His kingdom. And we know that we are strangers and aliens now in this world. We trust that God’s kingdom is so much better than the hodge-podge of human mess we find ourselves in. We long for there to be no more sin, or sickness or sorrow; we long for God’s will to be done.
Our Father cares for us; he knows that we are weak. Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread today. He wants us to set our reliance on God – like a child trusting their parents to provide for their needs. God actually does care about our needs!
And God pities us. As a matter of fact, God is superior to us. But His pity for us isn’t one of arrogant pride, but rather a pity infused with humble, sacrificial love. He is our creator, and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). He is the God who is so often moved with compassion for us.
When there’s an oil spill out at sea, the consequences are disastrous. Quite often, when such spills happen, there’ll be footage out showing the effect on wildlife – particularly birds. The oil can eventually kill them. But there are people who have pity on those birds. They are moved to spend long hours working to clean the birds and give them a new life.
That’s what God does for us… except the reason we’re oily is that we’ve rebelled against Him. God could let us die – that would only be just. But he has pity on us – and acts to forgive us. We can’t clean ourselves up, not with even the best of intentions. God’s pity for us led Him to send His eternal Son to rescue us from our own mess.
If God didn’t have pity on us, life with him would be impossible.
But since God does have pity on us, as Christians we now live in the atmosphere of pity. Can we endure giving or receiving pity if we are proud? Is it possible to accept pity enacted from God – forgiveness – and refuse to give it to each other? What are some of the reasons why we might not forgive each other? And why does Jesus teach us to ask God to forgive us like we forgive each other?
Ultimately, we have to decide what will be the best descriptor for our lives: pride or pity.
Father: forgive us our sins, as we forgive each other.