Trinity XI Sunday

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Trinity XI

 Everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted

Throughout his ministry Jesus used many parables to teach his listeners the things about the kingdom of God. One of the shortest and the profound of all was the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. But before we get the message behind this parable, it is important to first understand the terms “Pharisee” and “publican”.

Understanding the terms

Without any training or schooling, it is easy to know who the Pharisees are, just by reading the Bible. We see them as the most influential religious group in Jesus’ time. In fact the word “Pharisee” is derived from the Hebrew “Perushim” which means “the Separated ones”. They were the strictest legalists of the day. They made it a point of duty to obey and observe all the countless restrictive rules, traditions and laws of orthodox Jewish culture including the Judaism. They considered themselves to be THE only true observers of God’s law and therefore felt that they were better and holier than everyone else. They separated themselves from non-Jews whom they despised and considered as pagan, gentile dogs. They also set themselves above their own Jewish brethren.

The publicans on the other hand were considered to be worst kind of characters. They were tax collectors for the foreign rulers of Palestine and therefore were considered as traitors by their fellow Jews.

So when Jesus told this parable of a Pharisee and a Publican, he had chosen the two most important figures of the Jewish society. The one who was held to be the Best, the most Righteous, the most Religious, the most Holy, the most Godly of all people. Whereas the other one was looked on as the Worst and filthiest.

Which of these two men did Jesus say was justified before God?    

God’s way of looking at things is different from ours. That’s why he says “My thoughts are not your thoughts! Neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8,9)

Is it true that the publican was a great sinner, but he was justified because he was honest and humble in his prayer. He confessed who he was: a sinner. “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” he prayed. This man didn’t put on a mask. You can’t wear a mask before God. He knows who you are. You can hide your real personality from your fellow men. But God knows you.

Let us understand very well what He is expecting from us. He is asking us to be humble. But humility is not walking beating ourselves on the chest, throwing ashes over our heads, and putting ourselves down. If we look at the life of the saints, none of them talked about putting ourselves down. They talked about being what we are, being real.

If we are honest, we must admit that it’s not easy to stand before God like the tax collector. It’s easy to say, but it’s the hardest thing to do. What should you then say when you are in the presence of the Lord? I suggest that you simply say what the prophets of the Old Testament always said to God who called them by name, “Here I am, Lord”, and after that just be quiet.

The theme of this parable is repentance. To repent means far more than self-pity or regret over things done in the past. The Greek word metanoia means “change of mind”. To repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God and with others.

We must not make the mistake of comparing ourselves with others and gaining confidence from what we see in that comparison. Remember that Jesus warned us against this attitude at the beginning of the parable. When we try to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, we naturally end up despising them. Our standard for comparison is God himself, and we all fall short of his glory (Romans 3:23).

There three important points that we receive from today’s lesson:

  1. We are saved by God’s mercy, not by our righteous deeds.
  2. God rejects the proud, but welcomes the humble. I can see myself here. I must come down from my pride. I must humble myself and be thankful for the grace of God.
  3. We cannot, we must not look down on others. While they may be sinners, they are certainly not beyond God’s forgiveness. The only thing that saves us is God’s forgiveness, and not our pure lifestyle.

I pray that we don’t fall in to the trap of staying far off from God. What we need to do is to reject the self-righteousness of the Pharisee and embrace the humility of the publican. As we cast ourselves upon the mercy of God, he provides all we need to live a sober and holy life to the glory of His precious name. Amen!