Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Christian devotions: Mea Culpa - Luke 18:13

Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

As many of you know, my mother was a Roman Catholic and when she was both young and fit, she went to Sunday Mass. She grew up in the days when all Masses were said in Latin, which she learned to recite at an early age. In later years, in the midst of her tragic moments of insanity, she would sometimes wail and beat her breast, saying, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

At the time I had no idea what she was doing. It was only when I went to Divinity School that I learned the meaning of the phrase. It was once used by Roman Catholics at Latin Mass just before they took communion. It literally means, “I’m to blame, I’m to blame, I’m totally to blame.” It comes from today’s passage (Luke 18:9-14) when Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The tax collector recognizes his unworthiness before God and beats his breast. He knows that he has done something wrong, so he feels that he cannot approach God or even look up to Heaven. He also knows that his only hope is in receiving God’s mercy: he cannot do anything to obtain this; he cannot justify his sinful choices; he can only stand and wait for God’s forgiveness.

As Jesus points out in the parable, the tax collector’s sincere, contrite, and humble prayer is heard by God and answered compassionately. This is an example of God’s grace through Christ, which we all need every day of our lives.

The beautiful blessing of Christianity abides in this: when we make mistakes, they are not irredeemable; and when we sincerely confess them to Jesus, He forgives completely.

Questions for personal reflection

Do I still have something in my life that remains un-confessed? Do I want to be forgiven?

Prayer:            Lord Jesus, You know us completely, even those sins and mistakes that we are ashamed of or too proud to confess. Help us to pray about them and encourage to humbly ask You for mercy. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to

Today’s image is one of John’s latest Fall drawings. It’s called “Autumn Magic” and features the Glade Creek Grist Mill which is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link:

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