Proper 25C October 27, 2013
There’s a big difference between good advice and good news. When we listen to God’s word to us in the bible we can hear good advice, or we can hear good news. Good advice helps with the outside of life – with our relations with other people, with the use of our money, our things, even our time. But good news deals with the inside of life – where the blood flows through the heart and mind.
We can hear today’s gospel as good advice or as good news. The reading ends with Jesus’ words, “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted." At first this sounds like the good advice we learned early in life – don’t be pushy, don’t brag too much about yourself, be modest, let others take a turn, and so on.
But of the man who “beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' Jesus says, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified.” The man repented his sins, trusted in God’s mercy, and received God’s mercy. He went home reconciled with God, and with himself.
We receive by faith God’s gifts of mercy and grace, and as we receive these gifts we are set free from the power of sin and set right with God - by God’s mercy and grace received by faith. The man who “beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' went down to his home justified.”
The other man, the one who “standing by himself, prayed ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income,’ that man was not justified. He was not reconciled with God; he was not really reconciled with himself.
Why not? He did more than the Law required. Good people in Jesus time were to fast once a week; he fasted two. They were to give a tenth of their income; he gave the full tenth of everything, even of what he grew in his kitchen garden. He was a good man; it is good to eat less food and to be able to give to those who need help.
There are three reasons why the good man was not reconciled with God or with himself.
First, the man’s good behavior was intended to show off his goodness to God and everyone who watched him. He was not serving God; he was drawing attention to himself.
Second, the man despised other people. He said “I thank you, God that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” God does not want us to compare ourselves to others. That leads to envy and hatred. God made each one of us unique, different from every other person who has ever lived. We are to compare ourselves to God, to God’s son Jesus Christ. When we do compare ourselves to God, to God’s son Jesus Christ, we see when we are honest how far we fall short of God’s goodness and God’s will for our lives.
And third, the man refused to admit his own sin. We all know in the secret places of our hearts when we have sinned, when we have done things we know God does not want us to do, and when we have not done the good things God wants us to do. God lets us refuse to admit what we know is true, but there is a price. When we deny the truth, we eventually lose the ability to know truth. When we deny we tell lies to other people, and to ourselves. Eventually we can no longer tell the difference between the truth and a lie. We are lost in deceit.
The man who “beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' went down to his home justified.” Jesus tells us in St. John’s gospel, “the truth will set you free.” We know ourselves to be sinners, we know we have done things we know God does not want us to do, and we know we have not done the good things God wants us to do. When we admit our sin, as St. John tells us, “God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So in every service of worship we say together a confession, and we receive absolution.
We learn in confession to do all that we do for God, for his honor and glory, not our own. We learn to compare ourselves to God, to God’s son Jesus Christ, and not to other people. We learn to give up envy and hatred and malice. And so we no longer lie to ourselves or to other people. We learn to live life free of lies and deceit. We are set free from the power of sin and set right with God by God’s mercy and grace received by faith. We go to our homes justified. And that my friends, is not good advice, but good news. Amen.