Friday, October 22, 2010

C, Pentecost 22 Proper 25 - Luke 18:9-14 "Being Real Before God"

In Luke eighteen and the chapters preceding it, Jesus focuses on the human conscience in his ministry — as he resolutely marches towards Jerusalem, his crucifixion, and his death. These are the last days of Jesus’ teaching and revelation of humanity’s sin, before he faithfully rides into Jerusalem, and spends his last week, a very holy week, teaching about our end times and turmoil, before he is dragged into darkness and chaos, and is stripped of his authority and life there at the cross.

Good Friday is certainly the hellish day of all hellish days! But in contradiction it’s also the holiest of holy days. This Friday at Jerusalem was full of evil, but then again it was a very good day for you and for me. The reality of Jesus’ death day is also the reality of yours and my upcoming death days. It will be a day when evil and sin find there climax and cause us death. But then again, this day is the cause for much hope and will be a day of unimaginable celebration, as we continue setting our faces towards Jesus’ bitter suffering and death, but also his resurrection and glorification, and ours too!

So what type of a day, do you picture your death day being? It’s a confronting question! Perhaps it’s one which you try to avoid or put out of your mind as you go about busily living your life, clinging to all the temporary things which are passing away. But it’s a very real and sobering question for everyone, young and old, as we all move along the path towards our day of death.

With these things in mind, we hear Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Now the conscience of a sinner is a shrewd thing! We humans are master manipulators always seeking to control our situation to suit ourselves. This parable can be completely misinterpreted, and is, if we think it’s about how we ‘should’ act in prayer. As if we can manipulate God’s will by what we do — by outwardly acting like the tax collector when internally acting more like the ‘holier than thou’ Pharisee.

Jesus’ word to us in this parable is not about what we do; it’s about what we are — how we like to picture ourselves — and the truth of what God really sees in us! God’s will for us is to forgive us our sin and for us to call on him in prayer.
Although the Pharisee prayed, he prayed a self-righteous prayer, and left God’s presence unjustified. Nevertheless he still prayed, he acknowledged God, and God would faithfully continue to work in him, as Christ did amongst the Jews of his day up until his crucifixion and beyond.

But, the work God does with the Pharisee is a far cry from what the Pharisee thought he needed in his life! God saw beneath his thin veil of righteousness to the pride and darkness within. And God sees what’s in us and continues to endure with us even when we pray those prayers of self-justification, thinking we can manipulate God’s will to forgive towards our will to sin. You know the prayers, ‘Lord just do this and just do that!’ Prayed with a handsome dose of external emotion to seal the deal, and win God over to our way! Acting out ‘just’ prayers in order to justify the self!

But Jesus is the one who acts, and he did act for the Pharisee, and the tax collector, at the cross. It’s in the face of death as a result of humanity’s sin that Jesus sets his sights to the cross to save us and all Pharisees from pride and self-righteousness, which left unchecked, would lead to an eternal, wrathful, hopeless death!

So it’s with the reality of our helplessness in the face of death that we come into God’s presence like the tax collector and seek God’s mercy! This is no act on the part of the tax collector. He was very aware of who he was in the presence of a holy God, and his prayer was a sincere real prayer for mercy, from one who in no way could justify himself past his sinfulness and the eternal death it deserved.

No the tax collector came to the temple with a cup full of sin and exposed his sinful righteousness before God! He was real; he knew there was no need even trying to pretend his cup was full of wholesome goodness. However, the Pharisee was full of himself. He sought to hide behind his righteousness and used it to glorify himself. But ultimately in death he would have been found to be completely empty, hopeless, and helpless.

We also do well to be true to ourselves, and pull the plug on our acts of righteousness, but rather seek mercy from the One who is righteous and full of grace and mercy. We do well to see ourselves in the face of death, and the hellish day Christ had on our behalf on our cross. We do well to understand like Saint Paul we are being poured out unto death — in that Jesus is crucifying the sinful nature within us with the help of the Holy Spirit.

We do well to see our faith in the things of this world is dying with the things of this world, so we might be filled with the faith that leads us to trust in Christ and live in hope of the resurrection joy, awaiting all who are baptised into his death and resurrection. We do well to live our lives as recipients of mercy, with the cross out in front, with all the horror it reveals about our deadly natures.

But we do even better to live our lives in the face of death knowing that just as Christ was crucified, raised, glorified, and now lives — we too will be raised to eternal life with him in glory because he is merciful to those who bear the reality of their sin, and in repentance allow that sin to be left at the cross with Christ. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, continue sending the Holy Spirit into our consciences to expose the sin in us, so it might die, and we might live before God the Father in the true faith, hope, peace and love, which surpasses all human understanding, even unto death. Amen.