A Study in Contrasts

Pentecost 23 Monday

Luke 18:11-13

“The Pharisee stood and prayed by himself thus: “I thank you, God, that I am not like other men, robbers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” I fast twice a week and tithe all I have. And the tax collector stood far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but b eat his breast and said: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

What is amazing is that Christ sets these two people side by side although they are completely different. What is even more amazing is that he pronounces such bizarre judgments by utterly condemning the Pharisee and declaring the tax collector righteous. At the same time, however, he clearly speaks of them so as not to reject such works of which the Pharisee here boasts; for he wants to depict him as a beautiful saint with the kind of works that are not to be criticized or rebuked but that are good and are to be praised. The tax collector, on the other hand, cannot be praised or extolled based on his life and works, as he also must himself confess before God, condemning himself as a sinner who cannot remember a single good work. At the same time, however, Christ scrutinizes, examines, and searches both in such a way that he finds nothing good in the holy Pharisee although he has many precious works–not on account of the works which are not blameworthy in themselves, but because the person is not good and full of uncleanness. Contrariwise, he finds the tax collector, who previously was a publicly condemned sinner, to be a truly good tree with fruits, although he does not have the appearance of grand works like the Pharisee. Let us, therefore, take a closer look at both persons. First, you must properly praise and adorn the Pharisee, as Christ himself pictures him here with his beautiful life; for here you hear of a man who may step before God and may boast in his life before him which must not be a false boast, but may be earnestness and truth. He thereby invokes God and calls him as a witness and wants to show himself and wants to be found in the true service of God and give an account of his entire life, demonstrating that it aims to obey God according to the Ten Commandments…In summary, in the Pharisee’s life you see all the commandments in one place and a model of a fine, good, and, as it appears before the world, God-fearing, holy man who is to be praised as a mirror and example for the whole world. One can only wish for such people; the world would be a better place. When you compare the tax collector to the Pharisee, you will find nothing that can compare to the holy Pharisee; for even the name
tax collector indicates that not much virtue or honor can be with such a one. No one can think of him as someone who cares much about God or his commandments. He not only gives none of his possessions to serve God; he also publicly robs and plunders his neighbor. In short, the tax collector is the kind of person whose sinful life has made him a publicly known example. The Pharisee looks at him, accordingly, as someone who is utterly wicked, has given up on
his conscience, and nothing good is to be expected of him anymore.

St. Louis ed., 11:1497-1499.

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