Today’s gospel reading of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10 – 17) marks the commencement of the Triodion – a three-week period that proceeds the Lenten period. Today, we begin an interior, reflective and sombre journey to prepare us for the coming spiritual struggle that we must engage if we are truly to consider ourselves as believing Christians. In keeping with the tone of contrition the next two Sundays occupy us with the parable of the prodigal son and then the frightful and awesome second coming of Christ.
Today’s reading is manifested in the preceding verse to this reading: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” There are two distinct arms to the purpose of this reading: the first is your trust in God only; and the second is this: your relationship to God is personal to you– comparing the strength of your faith to others is a sure and certain sign that you have a spiritual malaise.
Notice the declaration of the Pharisee: he thanks God! – but he then begins to extol his goodness. He is clearly of the view that his virtues are generated solely by him by fasting and tithing in accordance with the Jewish law. The truth be told there is nothing wrong with what the Pharisee is saying. He is merely articulating the Jewish understanding of the relationship between God and man. The Old Testament makes it clear that to the Jewish mind all that mattered was following the law. It is as a direct and immediate following of that law that all virtue flowed to him.
Now look at the declaration of the tax collector: sin weighted so heavily on him that he could not even lift up his eyes but beat his breast saying: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” According to the Jewish law tax collectors were despised and unclean. No right-thinking Pharisee would be associating with such a sinner. The law of the old Testament is clear. If you take from your neighbour then you must give restitution to your neighbour (Leviticus 61–6) but if he did not know whom you stole from then how could you make restitution? Under the law the tax collector was doomed but, consider this: whom did Christ considered justified? – He who sang his virtues in accordance with the law or he who only saw his faults?
Here’s the thing: in extolling our virtues we become blinded to our sins. If we fail to confess our sins then we deceive ourselves – but it gets worse. Christ gave himself to this world for the redemption of sin and “if we say we have not sinned we make Him, a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10). Now, let us be frank: do not all of us think that we are without sin? Do you see how easy it is to deny God?
This week in and around our parish will be very quiet. I will be interstate to see my mother. The next service will be on Saturday the 23rd February.
Thought for the week: be joyous in all things and trust in the Lord. Why? Because “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28). How can we go wrong when God is in charge.
Till next time.
Father John Athanasiou 0411 061 554