Image by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872). Image provided courtesy of the Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.
ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
August 12, 2018
Bad Guys Cry Out in Fear and Love
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who's the bad guy in this story?
“Two men went up to the temple courts to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of all my income.’ However the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes up to heaven, but was beating his chest and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:10-13)
So have you figured it out. . . . Yes, it's you. It's us. We are the bad guys who look at others and say, “I'm not like other people.” So maybe you don't think this at church, but you probably think this at Wal-Mart. And you definitely think this at home.
This Pharisee is like us. We think that if we do extra credit, the Great School Teacher in the Sky is going to give us a gold star. In the time of the Old Testament the Lord had commanded fasting … once a year. This Pharisee was doing 100 times more than what the Lord had commanded. Wow! The Lord didn't require that your ten percent offering—your tithe—include the small herbs you had: mint, dill, cummin, rue. But even as this scrupulous Pharisee went big on fasting, he also paid attention to the little things, like these herbs. This would be like reporting the nickels and dimes you pick up off the sidewalk to the IRS.
This Pharisee didn't cut corners with God. And he wanted everyone to know it, perhaps simply (putting the best construction on it) to inspire others to follow in his footsteps of godliness.
But he was trailblazing his way to hell. Notice how Jesus says it: “I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went home justified rather than the other [the Pharisee], because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
He was a bad man going to hell because he was so good! He trusted his own acts of goodness instead of God's mercy. He trusted in himself that he was righteous and looked down on everyone else. (Luke 18:9)
We are just as “good” and therefore just as bad. We trust ourselves. We look around and despise those who aren't as visibly good as us.
Dearly beloved, repent! We began as the bad guys, but in Christ we are forgiven and declared good in His sight. We trust in His mercy. We are alive in Him.
And now trusting in Christ's mercy, just like the tax collector, our good deeds are not done to get His extra credit, but to help our fellow human beings. Our offerings aren't a competition with others or a bribe to God, but instead a thoughtful and cheerful gift back to Jesus who has given us all we have.
He has given us all of Himself through His holy death on the cross and gifted us life through the water and Word of Baptism. And now today we have cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us!” And in love He responds, “Take and eat, this is My body. Take and drink, this is My blood for the forgiveness of your sin.”
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Thanks be to God!