Sermon delivered Feb. 5, 2017 on Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18:10-14.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
We hear the story about Tax collector and Pharisee every year. As soon as we hear that two men went up to the temple to pray, and one was a Pharisee and another a Tax collector – we immediately know who was the good guy and who was bad.
We think we know the moral of the story too – do not do as the bad guy, but do as the good guy. When hear this story we are asked to identify with one or the other, and we definitely know who we should identify with.
Since we know this reading so well, the power of the message it offers is not as strong. We know that the Pharisee is a sinner, and that we should side with the Tax collector. After all, isn’t it easier to be with the Tax collector, not much is expected of him?
But if we jump to conclusions before the Gospel reading is even finished, don’t we make the same mistake the Pharisee made? Don’t we effectively say, “O thank God I am not like him!”
But see, the problem with the Pharisee is not that he was sinful. Yes, he was bragging before God that he is not like other people, that he didn’t steal, didn’t cheat or sleep with different women. He fasted twice a week, he donated tenth of his income. He was bragging, but he wasn't lying. He was doing all these things. And he wasn’t a hypocrite, he attributed his righteousness to God. He begins his prayer with thanksgiving, “God, I thank you…”
But how ugly was his confession. The word that he uses the most is “I.” I did this. I did that. How awesome I am. I. I. I.
As I mentioned last week, the theme for the 4 weeks before Great Lent is preparation in repentance. Last week we heard about Zacchaeus and his desire to see Christ. True repentance begins with desire.
Changing our life, getting back on the right track begins with repentance. Today we are provided with examples of how not to repent. What not to say. What not to think. How not to act.
In contrast to the Pharisee, we see the Tax collector. He did not say “I” even once. In fact, he did not say much. All he said was a humble, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Just like last week, we are brought back to the topic of humility. Zacchaeus shook off his pride, humbled himself, humiliated himself by running and climbing onto the tree. Zacchaeus was the head of tax collectors. Today one of the tax collector humbles himself. Who knows, maybe he did it by the example of Zacchaeus, who could’ve been his boss. Today the Tax collector brings to God his humility. He has nothing else to offer. He has done nothing else deserving in his life.
If there is one moral quality almost completely disregarded and even denied today, it is humility. The culture, in which we live, constantly instills in us the sense of pride, of self-glorification, self-righteousness, self-accomplishment.
It is built on the assumption that man can achieve anything by himself and it even pictures God as the One who all the time “gives credit” for man’s achievements and good deeds. Humility is viewed as a sign of weakness, as something inappropriate for a real man or woman. Even in the church we want our contribution and every good deed to be acknowledged and praised.
How do we become humble?
By realizing that everything that we have, everything we own is not ours. It’s not. Even if we worked our whole life to get it. It does not belong to us. It belongs to God and God alone. And He loaned it to us.
He gave it to us to have in our possession and do something good with it. He doesn’t give us anything so that we would turn around and tell Him, “Thank you, God, for giving me a nice family, a house, a car, a loving parish.”
Humility that leads to repentance is when I say, “I am sorry, Lord, that even after You gave me all of this, I am still lazy. I can’t organize myself. You provide me with everything I need, yet I still complain that I do not have enough. You give me time, and I waste it, instead of praying and reading spiritual books. You give me money, and I buy things that I will not need tomorrow, when I could donate to feed the hungry.”
Christ very accurately summarizes what it means to be humble. He says, “Those who exalt themselves, will be humbled. And those who humble themselves, will be exalted.”
If we exalt ourselves, if we think of ourselves more than we actually are, then we will be humbled. Being humbled is not a pleasant experience. Have you ever been in a situation where someone said something so true that you were put back in your place?
Why wait for someone to humble us? Today we are called to look at ourselves, in a spiritual mirror if you wish, and realize that without Christ, without faith that He is our Savior, we can’t do anything.
And if we can’t see that yet, then we can turn to the Lord and tell Him, “Lord, I don’t see You in me yet. Open my eyes. Humble me. Teach me humility that I may see.”