28 Aug 2022
The Gospel. St. Luke xviii. 9.
Jesus spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
In the Gospel today, Jesus, who knows the secret heart of every person, lets overhear the secret prayers of these two men. They are of a type of man who lives on every busy street today, in every business and in every school and church. One of them may bear our name.
First, it is important to note that neither man lied. The Pharisee did fast and give alms more than the Law required of him; the publican who worked in an awful job which was often guilty of robbery and cruelty surely had need of repentance. The key word for the Pharisee was “I”; the publican’s was “God.” Though the Pharisee seemed to be thanking God, actually his thoughts were only on himself. Today, modern man’s punishment for such arrogance is that some of us must talk constantly about ourselves to psychiatrists without receiving much real help in the process. But, all our biases of today are inherently there in the Pharisee’s prayer. By contrast, the tax collector dare not even lift up his eyes to heaven. He offered a cry rather than a prayer. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” That his prayer was said to be “justified,” meant that it was accepted by heaven.
Each of these men tells us what he thinks of God, too. For the Pharisee, God is a sort of corporation that he has bought stock in. His so-called prayer basically informs God that he is waiting for a well-earned dividend. Many people think as he does--that God owes them. When trouble comes to them, they ask God, “What have I done to deserve this?” But the publican saw God as holiness itself, a holiness that is so loving that even he a sinner might be forgiven. The tax collector had a soul that was open to God while the Pharisee’s heart was locked up inside himself.
The Pharisee is the ultimate picture of pride. Jesus in the parable makes it clear by His words. “He prayed thus with himself”. Not to God. The consequences are clear in the content of his prayer. He claims to be better than everyone else. “Thank God that I am not like them”. But that is no prayer. There can be no prayer when we are not open to the otherness of God and to one another. There can be no prayer when we are closed in upon ourselves, focused on our own supposed righteousness. In short, there can be no prayer without humility.
Prayer is precisely not about talking with ourselves. Prayer is all about our talking with God, and that is the basis of our honest dealing with one another too.
Spiritual arrogance is the greatest danger in the pilgrimage of our spiritual lives. It means putting ourselves in the place of God. It is to be in the temple, the holy place of God, and to be completely unaware of His truth and presence. We forget so easily that it is only by the grace of God that we walk, stand, run, wake up in the morning, and go off to sleep at night. It is most especially by the grace of God that we can overcome all our foolishness and the wickedness.
The publican’s prayer has always been a very popular prayer in the Eastern Church in a slightly modified form: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” When we pray in this way, to the “Lord Jesus Christ,” we are already the children of God and recognize the Holy Spirit in us. When we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, as are all mankind, we recognize that God’s grace is essential to our forgiveness. This is a good prayer for us when we are faced with temptation.
This prayer of the publican reverberates throughout the whole of the Holy Communion service: “Kyrie eleison it is in Greek” – “Lord, have mercy upon us”; “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us”. Unlike the Pharisee, we should “not presume to come to this thy table....trusting in our own righteousness.” Rather, like the publican, we should come trusting in “thy manifold and great mercies”. Only in this way will we find ourselves in the presence of God.
But spiritual humility is not about wallowing in self-pity. Indeed, there is nothing so great-souled, as the example of humility, Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord. The Virgin Mary, testifies herself of the humility of those to whom Jesus comes. She accepts the angel’s announcement with true lowliness: “Be it unto me according to thy word,” (Luke 1.38) and she sings of her own glory through this lowliness of spirit: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden,” (Luke 1.46-48). Humility defines our freedom and our dignity. We are the dust which God has shaped and into which he has breathed his spirit. It belongs to us to offer prayers and praises to Almighty God.
Remember, Jesus says, “Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 18.17) It is the dependence of children, their trust and openness, their ability to live by accepting everything from others, which we are to imitate. This is the humility with which Christian faith begins.
Jesus’ judgment of the two men reflects the coming judgment of our world. It will be a profound reversal: the proud are brought down, and the lowly are exalted. We wait for His coming, letting God choose His own path and time. Our job is to pray in lowliness. In the end, God’s nature is holy love. That is why the penitent tax collector was exalted; that is why the Pharisee was shut off from God and his fellow men. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Sources: The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Fr. David Curry
Christ Church, Windsor, Nova Scotia, September 3 AD 2000
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
by W. J. Hankey
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity--Sept. 3, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
On the First Anniversary of the Passing of Archbishop Hartley Ward
May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our True God, by the prayers of His Most-pure Mother, of the holy, glorious and all praised Apostles, of our venerable and God bearing Fathers and of all the Saints, establish the soul of His servant Archbishop Hartley, who has been taken from us, in the mansions of the righteous; give him rest in the bosom of Abraham, and number him with the Venerable Ones; and have mercy in us, as He is good and the Lover of Mankind. (The Book of Needs, p. 152)
Bishop Edwin Tompkins