Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Pharisee’s mistake was in thinking he didn’t need mercy. Even though he credited God with making him so good, he mistakenly thought the blessings he enjoyed—especially having been spared the worst and most destructive vices of men—meant he was free of all vice. He knew that God had blessed him. God had even made him wise and generous enough to tithe from all that he had. But he put his trust in those blessings, and so they became curses, tools of Satan. They deceived the Pharisee into thinking he had favor with God and that his works were good enough.
No man except our Lord Jesus Christ is righteous in himself. We have all sinned. Even our good works are tainted. We’ve never done anything with absolutely pure motives. We want to be noticed and honored. We want credit. But that is not the worst of it. It is not simply that we’ve had less than perfect motives when we’ve done good things. We’ve sinned. We’ve lied. We’ve cheated. We’ve stolen. We’ve wasted. We’ve been negligent. We’ve lusted. We’ve been angry. We’ve gossiped. Think of a single morning at work or school. What skirt swooshes by or a well-developed set of abs is glimpsed and your mind stays focused? What petty insult is breathed by a co-worker or boss, a comment of no consequence, and your heart does not fume with anger? How many new cars do see without a twinge of envy in your heart? Sins are no stranger to us. We sin in our minds and hearts at an alarming rate, but we excuse them almost instantly. “I’m only human,” we say.
Repent. Humans are supposed to keep the law. Sins destroy faith. Sins destroy families. You endanger everything you love, everything that is good in your life, by sin. Repent. Prayer the prayer of the tax collector: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” Trust not in yourselves or your wits or your family or your fortune or even your church. Trust in Christ. He is righteous. He has kept the Law. He is merciful and His mercy endures forever. You have no right to it. You cannot earn it or buy it. You cannot make it. But He gives it as a gift, out of grace, because He loves you.
Here is the great the irony of Christianity: those who are now without sin—those who have been baptized and belong to Him, such as you and the believing tax-collector—they feel their sin. You have no sin in Christ, but still you feel your sin. You do what you do not want to do. And you say “Amen” to God’s Law. You confess you are a sinner. But those who are in sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves—like the Pharisee, like most who wallow in celebrity—they are satisfied and comfortable. The devil doesn’t bother them.
That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Life became Death. He who knew no sin became sin. The instrument of tortuous execution is made from dead wooden limbs; it has become the Tree of Life. This loving Shepherd looks at a pool teeming with man-eating piranhas, and—mystery of all mysteries— He loves those slimy, scaly monsters. He loves us. He lies down in the pool. He gives His life for us.
Come, then, you sinners—tax-collectors and Pharisees alike—come and feast on Christ the Lamb. Come like the tax-collector, with your pain, your fear, your worries, 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 in His body and blood. In this Holy Supper, become the Temple of His Holy Spirit. 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. 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.