Pentecost 23 Sunday
Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
In this gospel reading we are presented with two particular people, or two kinds of people, in the multitude that is called God’s people, who want to be servants of God and come before him and seek righteousness. And in this way we are presented with two kinds of the righteousness that is found on earth–one which has great prestige before the whole world and the eyes of men although it is nothing before God and is also condemned before him; the other which is not recognized before men although it is called righteousness before God and is pleasing to him. One righteousness is that
of the beautiful arrogant saint, the Pharisee; the other is that of the poor, humble, contrite sinner, the tax collector. We
here also hear of two amazing, strange judgments, totally contrary to human wisdom and thoughts on reason, quite horrifying to the whole world: The great saints are condemned as unrighteous while the poor sinners are received and are declared righteous and holy. However, as the text itself indicates, Christ here speaks of those saints who dare to find righteousness in their own life and works which God would have to take into consideration–and Christ here speaks of those sinners who wholeheartedly desire to be rid of their sins and who long for the forgiveness and God’s grace. For this text is not about the great multitude in the world that is neither like this tax collector nor like this Pharisee, who care about neither sin nor grace, but who lead their lives securely and heinously, who do not worry about God, heaven, or hell. We have previously in the gospels heard with sufficient clarity what these two persons, Pharisee and tax collector, meant among the Jews: Pharisees were the best, the most honorable, the most pious people who in all earnestness endeavored to serve God and to keep the law; St. Paul, too, boasts about himself that he was such a one before his conversion, Philippians 3:5. Contrariwise, a tax collector was among the Jews a person whom everybody knew to live in sins and vices, who served neither God nor the world, who only endeavored to steal, grind, and injure the neighbor, as they had to do in their offices, which they purchased from the Romans for much money, in order to enjoy them. In summary, they were the kind of people whom the people considered to be no better than public, unbelieving, godless Gentiles even when they were Jews by birth, as Christ himself compares these to the Gentiles in Matthew 18:17: “If he does not hear the congregation, regard him as a Gentile and tax collector.”