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The Pharisee and the Publican
St. Luke 18: 9-14

September 3, 2000
Lamb of God Lutheran Church
Kenosha, Wisconsin
The Rev. John M. Berg - Pastor

In the NAME of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.


You should have no difficulty in identifying the villain and the hero in this familiar parable. The proud Pharisee has become the proverbial symbol of arrogant self-righteousness. The despised tax collector, the epitome of penitent humility. There is truth in this identification.

We need, however, to look somewhat more deeply into the meaning of this parable. The Pharisee was a solid citizen. He was honest in his business dealings. His family life was beyond approach. His employees found him just and fair. He went to the temple faithfully to fulfill the requirements of the Law - or to do his duty. He was generous in his giving. He was an all around "good guy!" No one would question the high moral standards, the stellar character of this man. He would be a true asset to any organization or community!

We cannot even blame him for him being thankful that he was not an extortioner or adulterer, like some people he could mention. After all is it wrong for us to be glad that we are not gangsters, child beaters or drug dealers?

Isn't it quite natural for us to be happy that we were not born Al Capone, Adolf Hitler, John Gacy or Jeff Dahmer? We have real cause to be thankful that we have been spared from these kinds of lives! But have we really? After all, we are shocked at the heinous crimes that many of these folks committed, yet vote for politicians who support partial birth abortion. Third trimester babies can be put away by "dilation and curettage," that is torn apart limb by limb without even anesthetic. Even the war prisoners of the Nazis were spared such treatment. Euthanasia of the sick and elderly looms around the corner, and there are those who are praising the killing of the handicapped and mentally retarded. It's hypocritical to condemn Hitler and Saddam Hussein with one breath and adopt their programs in the next breath!

The Pharisee's fatal mistake, and often our own mistake, is in our standard of comparison. Naturally, a comparison between an upright and honest citizen and an extortioner or murderer makes anyone look good! But a more honest comparison would be with the high, holy and righteous standards of the Holy Triune God has set for us in His sacred Word.

Measured by these standards, the Pharisee should have realized that he had miserably failed - as have we all! For as St. Paul cries, "we have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." And "there is no one righteous, there is no one that does good, no, not one!" All sin is damning - as the liturgy leads us to confess - "I deserve your temporal and eternal punishment!"

The Pharisee's besetting and damning sin was pride! And pride indeed is the root of all sin! For pride is a form of idolatry - the idolatry of self, and that is the worst idolatry of all. There is some of the Pharisee in all of us. For we are all by nature proud, selfish and vain. And when pride takes root in our heart, we shun the Holy Triune God into the background, demean His mercy and grace and despise the good gifts that he showers on us in His Word and body and blood. Before we point the finger of scorn at the Pharisee we had better look into the mirror.

And what does the mirror show? The complete and total ugliness of sin and death. There is no escaping this truth - oh but how we try!!!

Many try by avoiding the mirror of God's Law altogether; others paint the mirror to fit their lifestyles - in other words, simply rip the pages of Scripture out that do not fit with your lifestyle. Still others try to perform their own plastic surgery (changing themselves) and still others make masks to hide the self-portrait - but none of this will work!

There is only one way of dealing with the Pharisee in each and every one of us, and that's the tax collectors way - humbly ripping the mask off and crying, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" It is looking at your life according to the Ten Commandments, and seeing that you and I have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

It is seeing the picture of the poor, miserable sinner, and seeing yourself in that picture. It is saying, "I am that thief on the cross, I am the poor blind man who can only beg, I am the prodigal son, I am this poor tax collector."

There is nothing pleasant about this kind of honesty. There is nothing more painful than to be brutally frank about sin. This is exactly what the Publican did. He would not even look "up to heaven" because he knew that he was not fit to talk to God. Like a person in mourning, he "beat his breast." He looked at what kind of a person he was and he could not justify or excuse himself for his sin. He did not compare himself with anyone else or mention someone worse than himself. He did the only thing left for him to do. He asked God for mercy for himself, a poor, wretched sinner.

Fellow-Redeemed in Jesus, we are all tax collectors! None of us has any more right to lift our eyes to heaven or to stand in the presence of the Holy than did this publican in the temple. Each and every one of us is an ugly sinner that deserves punishment and death - but God in his mercy and grace gives His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who redeems us from sin and death. He is the God who hung on the cross and shed His blood for you! He is the God who says to the sinner, "I forgive you all of your sin in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit." This Redeemer, this Savior Jesus Christ, true God and true man, stoops down every week in the flesh to rescue us from our abdominal condition. He places into our disfigured and diseased, sinful flesh His perfect body and pure blood that procures our salvation in order that we might have new life - Jesus' life!

Fellow Redeemed, each Sunday when we gather in His holy temple we are given again and again the total and complete sureness and certainty of God's death and resurrection! Here salvation is displayed and dispensed! It is no wonder that the church throughout the centuries has replied to this grace and forgiveness in such utter awe - "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth, heaven and earth are full of your Glory, Hosanna! (save us now) Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And then listen to what happens - (say Verba) THERE HE IS - and wherever Jesus is, there is life and salvation! "But Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but just say the Word and I shall be healed," says the tax collector in us! Through the mouth of His servant He says the Word - "Take and eat, take and drink, O sinner - this is my very body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of sins! "Oh thank the Lord and sing His praise! Tell everyone what he has done!" And with His benediction, we leave His Holy house completely justified - completely forgiven, completely pardoned, completely saved, completely loved; not because of anything that we did, but all because of Jesus - Jesus is our Piety, our Pride and our Pardon!

In the NAME of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.


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