Coming to the Temple
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Two men went to pray, but only one of them did. The Pharisee was not ashamed. He went to be seen praying. He fasts and tithes. He is not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, tax-collectors, legalists, purists, traditionalists. He is loved by men. He has a vision. He is bold and unafraid. He goes home condemned. Meanwhile, the tax collector is afraid and ashamed. He will not even lift up his eyes. He is like other men… and worse. He has betrayed his people. He has sold his soul. He has acted on his baser desires, lived by greed, malice, and treachery. He is a sinner. He is corrupt and broken, dying. He comes to pray. All he has is a request: “be merciful to me.”
The tax collector went down to his house justified. God honors repentance. He forgives sinners. The Physician comes for those who are sick, who fail, who are full of regret, who lose control and behave badly, who gossip and slander and in a thousand other ways hurt themselves and those they love. He comes for those who are like other men. He comes for sinners: not on their terms, but on His. It is not given to you to tell God how He should be, what He should want, what He should do, or who He should save. It is only given to you to bow your head and beg for mercy, for “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves and their own righteousness. Those who would find mercy must despise themselves. We must trust in Jesus Christ, who is righteous, for mercy. And here we see the irony of Christianity: those who are happy in their sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves, like the Pharisee, are satisfied and comfortable in their sin. The devil doesn’t bother them. Meanwhile, sinners who have been Baptized, who have been named by Him and who belong to Him, are forgiven all things and declared saints of God, but they feel their sin. It is shameful and awkward, and you struggle with it.
That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Death brings life. He who knew no sin became sin. And the instrument of tortuous execution made from dead limbs of rotting wood 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, not even for defense or good of country. This King, this Good Shepherd, dies. He gives up His life to enrich rebels and the traitors who spoke against Him. This loving Shepherd gives His life for sheep who would trample Him as they run off a cliff into sin. He allows them to destroy Him and accepts that destruction, that violence, as payment for the crime. He exchanges His life for theirs…for your life. This God, this merciful Lover of mankind, makes something from nothing. It happens through Grace. It is only the blind who are given sight, the sick who are given healing, and the dead who are given life. It is only the repentant who are forgiven. It is only sinners who become saints and go to their homes justified.
If you are a sinner, this is the place for you to be. Come like the tax-collector, with your pain, your fear, your doubt, 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. Come and feast on Christ. Join in that feast of Holy Communion, and then go home justified. You’re in good company. Your righteousness is not your own, but it lasts forever, and no one can take it away from you. 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.