“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
Forgiveness is a frequent subject in our prayers. We know we sin. We trust that God will forgive us. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to ask for forgiveness. Thus, in almost every prayer, private or corporate, we petition God for his forgiveness. The two forgiveness prayers quoted above are simple, heartfelt, and full of anguish.
The prayer from Luke was said by a tax collector who surely felt the weight of his job and the despicable way it was regarded. Jesus sets it in juxtaposition to a prayer offered by a self-important Pharisee who publicly prays about himself. As between the tax collector’s and the Pharisee’s prayers, Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified.
Paul’s prayer from Romans 7 is wrenching. It peels away all the layers of protection we use to deceive ourselves into believing that our sins aren’t all that bad or that we need no forgiveness at all.
Immediately before Paul shouts his prayer to God, he describes the sinful struggles that have led him to his gripping plea for forgiveness. Beginning with Romans 7:14, we read of one of the most ferocious internal struggles between good and evil. It’s the kind of struggle in our lives. When we allow ourselves to admit it, as Paul did, we will be led to the prayer Paul prayed.
The prayers of the tax collector and of Paul are brief, poignant. “Have mercy on me!” “What a wretched man I am!” If we can pray these prayers out loud, our brothers and sisters will surely join us in humbly seeking forgiveness.