I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5.32)
Trinity Tide invites us on to the road that leads to salvation, through the name and blood of Jesus Christ, who alone reconciles us to God. No human being is denied this offer of redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God, the Father of lights, the Maker of all things. Every human being is invited to arrive at the end that God has always intended. Every human being can become a pilgrim on the way to the fulfillment and enjoyment of everlasting life with God. Every human being can find the way that will leads to this end. Know thyself, the ancient oracle at Delphi commands. Know thyself, O Christian man and woman, and if thou can see who thou art, and what God is, then thou shalt find the way and the means that lead all to eternal life.
Every human being can come to know the way that leads to death and destruction on the one hand, and the way that leads to life and redemption on the other. The road that a man walks is, of course, his spiritual path. In this morning’s Gospel parable, our Lord illustrates the two ways. Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican. (St. Luke, xviii. 10)
The first man is our Pharisee, a privileged and honored member of the established church of his day. This man was religious, he gave a tenth of his tithes to the Temple; he followed Jewish ritual and dietary law to the tee; he gave alms to the poor. He was the Eminent Victorian Christian of his own age. In addition, he was a religious expert on the dos and don’ts of the moral code. He was, more than likely, a good man, admired and talked of…toasted at public dinners and spoken of with conventional absurdity as a perfect divine. (A. Trollope, Conclusion, Barchester Towers) From him, we should expect to find the way to real religion and true piety.
The other man who went up to pray was a Publican – a Jew who was despised and hated by his own people for being a traitor because he collected taxes for the Roman Empire. From him, we might expect to find only the wrong way to pray since his conscience was seared with treachery. Day by day he was forced to live with a soul torn between the religion of the one true God and his greed.
So, we read that the Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus. (Ibid. 11)) Long before we hear anything from the Pharisee, we see him. He is standing off by himself, segregated and divided from all others, perhaps intending that others should notice his piety (Notes on the Parables, Ch. 29),as Archbishop Trench suggests. This sight should disturb us. It appears that he is talking with himself.He is removed safely from all others, and next we hear why. God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (Idem) The Pharisee has a very high opinion of himself. His prayer is relative and comparative. He considers himself uniquely virtuous, unlike all other men and, thus, superior to them. From the difference between all other men and himself, he takes a greater occasion for pride, as St. Augustine says. (Aug. Serm. LXV.) Looking over at the Publican he says I am alone, he is of the rest…. not… as he is, through my righteous deeds, whereby I have no unrighteousness. (Idem) As righteous, he divides himself from the unrighteous. He judges and dismisses them all as what he is not. With them, he shares no common ground. Because he is not an extortioner, adulterer, or even as this publican (Idem), he rejoices in his own goodness. He justifies himself, or thinks that he is better, by convincing himself that he is not a sinner, outwardly and visibly, in this world, and in relation to other men. He insists, in other words, that he is good by the standards and appearances of this world. The outside of the cup, his exterior and visible self, is pristine! For our admiration, he sets forth a list of his virtues. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. (Ibid, 12) He went up to pray to praise himself. His list is short, for he has done all that he needs to do in the eyes of God. To be religious, as John Henry Newman points out, was for him,
to keep peace towards others, to take his share in the burdens of the poor, to abstain from gross vice, and to set a good example. His alms and fastings were done not in penance, but because the world asked for them; penance would have implied consciousness of sin; whereas it was only the Publican’s, and such as they, who had anything to be forgiven.
(J.H. Newman, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 1856)
He knows that he is neither a traitor nor a sinner and, thus, thanks God for his well-behaved, decorous, consistent, and respectable life. (R.C. Trench: Parables) Again, he thanks God for himself. Our Pharisee thanks God that he was not as that Publican. Never does he ask God for what He wants him to be. What we see and hear is a man who does all the talking in his prayer. He cannot hear God. Furthermore, he cannot see or hear one man who had found the way that alone leads back to the Almighty.
But see and hear what the Pharisee missed. The Publican, standing, afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Ibid, 13) This man, despised by his own people for his compromised and divided loyalties, is standing afar off. He does not think that he is worthy to come close to the wall of prayer or the holy Pharisee.He stands afar off, no doubt knowing most cuttingly that he is the last and least of those whom God should save. His conscience is seared. He knows that he is an unworthy sinner. He is poor in spirit and fearful of approaching God Almighty. He smites his breast, and what we see and hear is a man whose soul is wrenched with desperation over impotence against his division from God and his fellow men. God alone can save his soul. In all humility, without any doubt, he pleads, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Idem) This man knows himself. He knows, too, that avoiding God would be far worse than approaching Him to beg for mercy and healing. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. (Jer. x. 24.) He sees the Pharisee but thinks himself unworthy of his company. He knows only one truth. God stands before Him as the One who knows him, can help him, and can save him from himself and his sins. Before God, he sees himself as nothing. With the prophet Isaiah, he exclaims, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips. (Isaiah vi. 5)
This man stands by, but not near, the Pharisee. He stands afar off. (Ibid, 13) Little does he know that he stands far closer to the heart-searching God than most. He does not see by his own light but stands out against the all-seeing God. He sees God’s light and what it reveals to him of himself. He prays that God will hear his humble prayer. Unlike the Pharisee, he is not his own teacher, pacing round and round in the small circle of his own thoughts and judgments, careless to know what God says to him, fearless of being condemned by Him, standing approved in his own sight. (Idem, Trench) Rather, he hears the words of the Lord, Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46.10) He sees and fears God and is ripe and ready to hear the words of Jesus Christ: I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5.32) He has seen himself in the light of God’s truth and mercy. He knows that he needs God, and that God alone can save him from his spiritual wretchedness, misery, and poverty. He sees God and longs to hear the Word of His Forgiveness. He seeks pardon for wrong done, and the power to do better. Thus, he says, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Idem)
The Publican and his prayer, which the Pharisee can neither see nor hear, are a model for our own piety. The Publican does not justify himself with God whom he sees and hears. Eventually, he sees himself, with all other men, as one in sin and separation from God. With St. Paul, he insists I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle…but by the Grace of God, I am what I am: and His Grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain. (1 Cor. xv. 10) He knows that he is helpless before God’s Majesty and Might. Unbeknownst to himself, he is one with all fallen men. John Henry Newman reminds us,
this is because created natures, high and low, are all on a level and one in the sight and comparison of the Creator, and so all of them have one speech, and one only, whether it be the thief on the cross, Magdalen at the feast, of St. Paul before martyrdom. One and all have nothing but what comes from Him, and are as nothing before Him, who is all in all. (Newman, Idem)
The Publican’s prayer is the true prayer of all men. In his heart, we find that unselfconscious holiness about to be born because of the weight of his own sin. From him we learn to humble [ourselves]… under the mighty hand of God…casting all [our] anxieties upon Him (1 Peter v. 6,7)
Let us this day, my brethren, see ourselves in the Light of Almighty God radiating from Jesus Christ. Let us see too that, if left to our own devices, we judge in relation to all others, convincing ourselves that we are good enough and better than notorious sinners. Let us see that God, our Heavenly Father, calls us to hear Him in Jesus. Let us pray that He might mercifully grant unto us such a measure of [His] grace, that we, running the way of [His] commandments, may obtain [His] gracious promises, and be made partakers of [His] heavenly treasure. (Collect Trinity XI) Let us seethat He alone, unlike any other, can and will save us from the Cross of Christ’s Love. He will hear us if we pray with the Publican, God be merciful to me a sinner…for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Ibid, 14)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: