The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One man came down justified. This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves. They thought themselves to be righteous. They despised others. The parable is a warning. Two go up. Only one comes down justified. The other one is damned.Those who would find mercy must despise themselves. Mercy is only given to those who don’t deserve it. That is what mercy is. Only criminals are pardoned.
The mistake of the pharisee was in thinking he was disqualified for mercy, in thinking he didn’t need it. Even though he credited God with making him so good, he mistakenly thought the blessings he enjoyed—including the blessing of having been spared the worst and most destructive vices of men—extortion, injustice, adultery, greed were what made him righteous before God. He knew that God had blessed him. God had even made him wise and generous enough to tithe from all that he had. But those blessings aren’t faith. Thus they became curses, tools of Satan. For they deceived the pharisee into thinking he had favor with God and that his works were good enough.
No man except Our Lord Jesus Christ is righteous in himself. We are all unrighteous. We have all sinned. Even our good works are tainted. We’ve never done anything with absolutely pure motives. For we’ve always wanted to be noticed, to be honored, to be recognized. We’ve always wanted credit. But that is not the worst of it. It is not simply that when we’ve done good things we’ve had some less than perfect motives. We’ve also sinned. We’ve lied. We’ve cheated. We’ve stolen. We’ve wasted. We’ve been negligent. We’ve lusted. We’ve been angry. We’ve gossiped.
Sins are no stranger to us. We sin in our minds and hearts at an alarming rate but excuse them almost instantly. We say, “I am only human.” Repent. Humans are supposed to keep the law. Sins destroy faith. Sins destroy families. Sins destroy countries.
Pray the sinner’s prayer. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Trust not in yourselves or in your wits or in your family or in your fortune or in your Church. Trust in Christ. He is righteous. He has kept the Law. He is merciful and His mercy endures forever. You have no right to it. You cannot earn it or buy it. You cannot make it. But He gives it as a gift, out of grace, because He loves you.
Here is the great irony of Christianity: those who are actually without sin, those who have been Baptized, Named by Him,\belong to Him, such as you and the believing tax-collector, feel their sin. They have no sin in Christ. But they feel their sin. It hurts. It is shameful and awkward to them. That is why you struggle. You do what you do not want to do. And you say: “Amen” to God’s Law. You confess you are a sinner. But those who are in sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves, like the pharisee, they are satisfied and comfortable. The devil doesn’t bother them.
That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Life became Death. He who knew no sin became sin. The instrument of tortuous execution is made from dead wooden limbs. It has become the Tree of Life. The King of this Kingdom does not send soldiers off to die in struggles meant to enrich himself and enlarge his territories, like the kings of this world. This King, this Good Shepherd, dies. He gives up His life to enrich rebels and the traitors who spoke against Him! He gives His life to and for them. He allows them to destroy Him and accepts that as payment for their crime. That glorious Death makes them into lambs. They do the greatest evil to Him. They murder Him, steal His life. And in exchange He gives it to them as a gift. He does good for their evil and exchanges His life for theirs. This God, this merciful, long-suffering Lover of mankind, makes something from nothing. But this happens through reversal, through Grace. For it is only the blind who are given sight, the sick healing, sinners mercy, and the dead life. It is only the repentant who are forgiven. It is only sinners who become saints and go to their homes justified.
This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and despised others. Beware! We’ve heard this parable so many times we might be tempted to despise the pharisee, to think, “Oh, he is so arrogant and self-righteous. What a jerk!” Despise him and you’ve become him. Our Lord died also for him. It is like the irony of the accusation “Holier than thou.” You can’t make that accusation without being guilty of it.
We have committed the sin of the pharisee. We have despised others. We have looked to our pedigree, to our works and abilities, to our financial statements, the success of our children, and felt vindicated and justified by them. Repent. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are not ashamed to keep company with the tax-collectors and pharisees, who know they’ve committed hypocrisy and behaved badly, to those who despise themselves and love Jesus.
Come, then, O Sinners! Tax-collectors and pharisees alike, hypocrites and doubters, come and feast on Christ the Lamb. And become His lamb in the eating. Come like the tax-collector, with your pain, your fear, your worries, your shame, your loneliness, your failures and disgrace. Come to where God promises to be, where He extends His mercy, where He gives Himself to you. Come to the Temple made without hands, torn down by men, but rebuilt by God on the third day. Have that Holy of Holies, that embodiment of the Mercy Seat, placed into your mouth.
And in that Holy Communion become the Temple of His Holy Spirit. Go home justified. You’re in good company, not just with tax collectors and sinners, but also with Jesus. Your righteousness is not your own, but it lasts forever and no one can take it away. Amen.