For the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost the three assigned readings for Series C are Genesis 4:1-15; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 and Luke 18:9-17. Chosen to preach on is Luke 18:11a, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.”
Of the ridiculous notions found in the Christian faith, one of the most disturbing is that outwardly fine religious leaders may go to hell while the members of the Hell’s motorcyle club may go to heaven. It’s precisely that kind of teaching that got Jesus crucified as He continued to speak against the common sense notions of Judaism in regard to God. This parable from Luke 18 is introduced by Luke as about those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. But are we not to know and be assured that we are righteous? For there is no unrighteous person who will enter into the kingdom of God!
The answer to such a dilemma is to look at the context. Jesus’ parable does not speak against our assurance of being righteous. It is a parable that speaks out against such assurance based on our own works, words and thoughts. The Pharisee makes it clear that his assurance for being saved is that he is not an extortioner, unjust, adulterer or a tax collector and, in fact, fasts two times a week plus gives tithes of all that he has. This is called boasting of one’s self-righteousness.
In contrast, the tax collector pleads for mercy because he knows that he does not deserve any salvation at all. Those living under the Law have a just god in mind who supposedly gives you what you deserve while those living under the cross have a merciful God Who does not give you what you deserve and a gracious God Who gives you what you do not deserve, such as the forgiveness of sins, the robe of righteousness, eternal life and so forth.
That such a boastful Pharisee is not praying to the true God is clear from how Jesus describes his prayer, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself…” Note the “with himself.” For who is the god of the unbeliever? Bottom line is that the unbeliever worships himself.
The sermon would point out how every member of the congregation tends to think that God loves me more or will bless me more insofar as I am obedient to His will. Our old Adam is nothing but a self-righteous Pharisee. Thanks be to God that rather than getting what we deserve, our merciful and gracious God gives us what we do not deserve all out of his bountiful love towards those of us who are unable to love Him until He first loves us. And how can we be sure that we are righteous in God’s sight. Not by looking at our works but by meditating on the work of God in baptizing us into His family.