“There’s Brokenness and Then There’s Brokenness” | Luke 9:28-36
First in the Lenten Series “Broken…Yet Made Whole.”
Theologian and mystic, Martin Buber, observed that our spiritual natures have two “pockets.” When we reach into one spiritual pocket, we pull out smallness. To describe that we say things like, “We are nothing but dust and ashes.” If we reach into our other spiritual “pocket,” however, we pull out greatness. To describe that we say things like, “For our sake the universe was created.”
To find a place in the Bible where this complex, two-fold nature of humanity is expressed well, turn to the words of Psalm 8. The Psalmist reaches into the smallness pocket and says, “Who are humans that you, God, are mindful of us and who are we mortals that you care for us?” The Psalmist then reaches into the greatness pocket and says with equal conviction, “God created us a little lower than God, crowned us with glory and honor, gave us dominion over the works of God’s hands and put all things under our feet.” (“Life’s Two Pockets,” Homiletics, October 29, 1995)
Both of these perspectives are important. At the same time, both “greatness” and “smallness” express the kinds of brokenness we experience in our lives.
We begin our Lenten series. “Broken…Yet Made Whole” looking at these kinds of brokenness. We will see this through the lens of one of Jesus’ parables: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and
saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
The Pharisee’s brokenness comes largely from a kind of blindness to his own self-righteousness, his own contempt for others, and his ultimate lack of trust in God. Luke introduces the parable with these words: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” So broken is this man that he is shut off from the working of God in his life. His brokenness is a twisted version of Martin Buber’s “greatness” pocket.
The tax collector’s brokenness is quite different. It comes from his recognition of his own sinfulness — and his own need for God’s grace and for wholeness in his life. His brokenness is the kind described by the Psalmist in Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.” This kind of brokenness is also an openness to God — being broken open to God and to others. This is a form of Martin Buber’s “smallness” pocket. It is this kind of brokenness that is most open to the power of God to make us whole.
I invite you to think about these two kinds of brokenness in your own life as we enter this season of Lent, and I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we think about this topic together.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster