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22nd Sunday After Pentecost PDF Print E-mail

TEXT: LUKE 18: 9-17
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord; Dear brothers and sisters in Christ;

Thank God if you are not spiritually satisfied with yourself as you come to this house of worship!  Blessed are you if you know things aren’t the way they should be with you – that you are in need of serious help again today!  How fortunate you are if your vocation as a spouse or parent or student or friend or child or employer or employee or Christian or pastor or senior citizen accuses you with things you have left undone and with things you have thought or said or done that you shouldn’t have.  In this polarized political climate and struggling economy and decaying culture how beneficial for you if you recognize that your greatest problem right now (and always) is you - your lack of perfect fear, love and trust in God.  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 

In Semitic speech the Greek word for prayer means both individual prayer and public worship.  The time when people went up to the temple was during the twice-daily daily atonement sacrifice (in the morning and afternoon/evening).  These two men went up for public worship with others which included individual prayer among others.  The Pharisee, standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.  

He thanks God for himself and his service to God using the pronoun “I” five times.  His prayer is really a stump speech with condescending advice for others.  The common custom was to pray out loud even in private prayer.  He stands apart in order not to be defiled by others - but within ear shot to be heard by others.  Pious Pharisees fasted 12 times a year – he boasts twice a week!  Old Testament tithes were from oil, grain, and wine – the Mishnah listed exceptions – he arrogantly claims no exceptions in his generous giving.  His attention to the law means that he would have memorized scripture in home devotions and tried to follow the golden rule.  He would have been an honor student while a student with parents ever so proud.  He would have given to charity.
 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, make atonement for me the sinner!”  In the Greek the definite article is used – “the” sinner, not “a” sinner.  With astounding focus he is the only sinner that he sees at worship!  He despises or looks down his nose at no one for nothing – not his fellow worshippers nor his pastor.  He compares himself with no one – not his fellow worshippers nor his pastor.  He is free of that deadly spiritual game of comparative Christianity – sizing others down from oneself – smug self-assurance – finding fault with someone else that would falsely keep one from the forgiving presence of Christ in worship and from worshipping rightly.   

Also, the word translated “have mercy” is a different Greek verb used only one other time in Scripture.  There it speaks of Jesus who “makes propitiation for our sins” (Heb. 2:17).  The fourth century Armenian translation of the tax collectors plea is “make an atonement for me”.  Others have translated, “be propitiated to me the sinner”.  It has to do with sacrifice and the shedding of blood.

That brings us to the context of the twice-daily temple gatherings for worship and prayer.  An unblemished lamb was sacrificed in each service and its blood was sprinkled on the great High Altar.  This was for the atonement of the sins of Israel - by God’s command.  It was a sin offering.  There were also public prayers said by the priest, the sounding of silver trumpets, the clanging of cymbals and the reading of Psalms.  The priest then disappeared into the outer sanctuary (the holy place) to offer incense and trim the lamps.  This priestly duty is recorded of Zechariah when the angel told him of the birth of John the Baptizer (Luke 1:8ff.).  As the priest stepped out of sight into the Holy Place  - as the incense rose upward - those worshipping outside in the courtyard spoke their own prayers.  At that point - with a freshly bloodied altar and just-completed sacrifice – is the expected time when the tax collector beat his chest in deep distress (in the New testament - only here and after Jesus’ death – Luke 23:48) – and cried “God, make atonement for me the sinner.”

I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted
.  What amazing grace!  In Scripture, “righteousness” – “justification” is of supreme importance!  It is central to man’s relationship with God and acceptance by God and then with a person’s relationship to others.  Anchored in God’s saving acts in history, being righteous/being justified is a saving gift from God.  As the Holy Spirit led Dr. Martin Luther to see this truth, the Reformation exploded and is still at work wherever hearts are justified freely by God’s grace.

That’s the treasure the Holy Spirit trumpets to us in this beautiful text!  It is so full of comfort!  One man goes up to the temple confident in himself and goes home condemned!  Another goes up crushed by his sins and goes home justified by God!  If these words leave any heart thinking, “Thank God, I’m not like that self-important Pharisee” then stop it - repent – that’s a deadly response.  Indeed that’s the Pharisee’s own line of reasoning.  Then surely sin is crouching at the door!  For, you are like the Pharisee in your sinful nature – just like me.  Every heart here can weigh its service to God and compare – and hold others in contempt inwardly if not outwardly – and parade its good deeds – and be proud of its prayers – and impressed with its generosity, and be smugly arrogant in its own rightness.  Satan seeks to seduce each one of us with such deadly spiritual games before God’s holiness!

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them.  And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to him saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  
   Like a little child, the tax collector humbly received God’s grace offered in the blood of the lamb in the daily sacrifice.  Jesus is speaking about child-like faith worked by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is speaking about faith that receives the forgiveness of sins and God’s holiness as a gift.  By their simplicity and utter inability to come to Jesus, infants and little ones demonstrate the posture of those who are receiving the kingdom of God.   
Beloved, God help you to utterly despair of trust in yourself, your righteousness, your goodness – now and in the hour of your death.  God help you to beat your breast, contemplating how far the heart that lies therein falls short of God’s holiness (as does mine).  Your certain hope lies in the unblemished Lamb who speaks this parable to you, not in yourself.  He was on His final journey to Jerusalem.  He drew closer to the temple to work the ultimate Radical Reversal for you!  On Monday of that last week He entered the very courtyard in which this Pharisee and Tax Collector are pictured. He threw the money changers out for perverting His Father’s house from a house of public worship and prayer to a place of business!  Later in that week He made the daily sacrifices offered therein of no further value.

On a different altar He shed His blood!  But, its effect reached right into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as the curtain between them was torn in two.  Unlike the blood of Abel that cries out for retribution the blood of Jesus speaks a better word – a forgiving word – for all your sin!  It is the blood of God!  It makes you holy before God.  It justifies you!  It is why Jesus baptized you into His death – His bloody death!  It is why He gives you to eat of His body and to drink of the blood He shed on Calvary.  Thereby He continues to bestow His holiness upon you.  He came to give you an eternal joyful homecoming.  Risen from the grave He is here today to send you to your earthly home in the same way.

Dear Christians – this is the beating heart of weekly worship and of the Christian faith – so simple and yet so overpowering.  It offers freedom unapproachable by any earthly condition!  It is the unshakeable anchor for a clean and a good conscience – rescue from the lion’s accusing mouth!  It is the sure eliminator of the curse of comparative Christianity!  It is the key to loving Christ and keeping the faith!  It is the treasure needed by every person in every land.  It is the basis for mission work and intercessory prayer and generous giving for the Gospel.   

Thank God that you are not satisfied with yourself as you come to this house of worship and that you see your greatest problem as you.  That perception is the work of the Holy Spirit.  But thank God that He sends you home from His Holy of Holies – from the temple of Jesus’ body – from His presence on this earth - not sort of right, not just getting by – not tolerated by God – but perfectly suited for His presence - righteous and holy in His sight!  I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.  

In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 


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