Who Are You?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Almost without exception, whenever we have something good to say, it's about ourselves. And almost without exception, whenever we have something bad to say, it’s about somebody else. We are very good at saying what good we've done and we are very good at saying how other people have failed. What's worse, if you think you don't live like that, then you prove the point! When it comes down to it, you and I are Pharisees.
In sharing this account of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the great danger from which Jesus would rescue us is that when we are Pharisees, we cannot be justified. You cannot claim salvation and forgiveness of sins when you see yourself as better than everyone else around you! The one who walked out of the Temple with a right relationship with God was not the guy who saw himself as holy. St. Luke records that Jesus told this parable to those who thought they were righteous and who looked down on others.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector teach us that there are really only two kinds of religion in this world. In the religion of the Pharisee, it's all about what we do and how we make ourselves look to God. The religion of the Pharisee is a popular religion because it makes the individual look good. Here's what I've done. Here's what I've accomplished. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if that's your day-to-day religion—and you can't deny that it is—then repent! Repent and recognize that such a way of thinking leaves no room in your life even for God Himself!
The Tax Collector show us the other kind of religion. He came before the Lord and confessed that he was nothing: he was worth nothing, and he could do nothing to save himself. All he had was God's promise that He would send a Savior. That was his only hope. He didn't even look up to heaven. He cried out, "Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner." He walked out with His sins forgiven because he relied on God's mercy alone. The Pharisee wanted no mercy from God; he had already justified himself by his pride.
Two kinds of religion means two kinds of Jesus. In the Pharisee's religion, Jesus is nothing but a teacher of wisdom and good works. Jesus is the one who is supposed to pat good people on the back. But in truth, the only Jesus for those believe that way is the Jesus who will stand in the Last Day in all of His eternal glory and burns to ashes all who behold His face in their sinfulness. Indeed, brothers and sisters, if you think you are better than anyone else, more holy, more religious, then just make sure you can prove it when you stand before the Judge. But the Law will testify against you; your condemnation will be swift and certain! For the Tax Collector there is another kind of Jesus. He is the Son of God who was born of the Virgin and lay in a manger. He is the Son of God who patiently taught His disciples. He is the Son of God who allowed Himself to be captured and nailed to a cross. For the Tax Collector and for every other sinner who acknowledges their wretchedness, He is the Jesus who takes their place on the cross and bleeds and dies for them. This is the Jesus who delivers the forgiveness of sins. This is the Jesus in the water of Baptism. This is the Jesus who is present, body and blood, in the Supper.
Let us learn to count ourselves as nothing, for it is Christ who makes us into something—and what’s more, something holy and precious. Because of what Jesus has done and given to you, you are numbered with the Tax Collector who had nothing in himself but sin, but who in Christ is filled to overflowing with all of the Lord's holy and saving and everlasting gifts! And so like the Tax Collector you go away from this temple today justified in Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.