God’s Judgment Looks Deep into the Heart

Pentecost 23 Tuesday

Luke 18:11

“The Pharisee stood by and prayed by himself thus: I thank you God, that I am not like the other people, robbers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

Given that Christ paints the Pharisee as a paragon of virtue while the tax collector has no virtue at all, how is it that the Pharisee is paradoxically condemned by God while the tax collector is declared righteous? Does God now want to speak and judge contrary to his own law according to which it is just that those who have lived according to it and are good should enjoy the same and be preferred to those who live publicly in sin against the law? Is God now the kind of person who delights in those who do no good work but are nothing but robbers, adulterers, unjust men? By no means! Rather, here is a different judgment that is higher than what the world or flesh and blood understand; this judgment looks deeper into the heart of both of them. It finds in the Pharisee some great evil that ruins everything that otherwise might be called good. The evangelist calls this trusting in oneself and additionally despising others. This is how this fine man is rebuked. This is the rogue that is great in the world. Would to God that he had remained single and had not left behind so many children and heirs. For the whole world, where it is at its best and is any good, is drowned in this vice. It neither wills nor is able to avoid it: If it is aware of something good in itself, it must be arrogant about it and despise others who do not have it. In other words, it must exalt itself above God and neighbor. Thus, by thinking that it keeps God’s commandment it breaks the commandment. This is what St. Paul says about his fellow Jews in Romans 9:31: By striving after the law of righteousness they did not reach righteousness. What a strange thing is this! Those who diligently follow the law and serve God so much–they are not the ones who keep the law. These are strange saints: By acting according to the law, they do not keep the law but break the same. Who are those, then, who keep it?…To be sure, the Pharisee’s beautiful discipline and honor is the highest gift from God…Christ does not rebuke or condemn the Pharisee for doing the works of the law; otherwise, he would have to condemn God’s gifts and his own law and praise what is contrary to the law. But what I am saying is that here the person is placed under God’s judgment. God’s sentence is different from the world’s: Although the Pharisee has many beautiful, praiseworthy gifts, he, to his great shame, misuses such gifts and thereby perishes before God. For here he is blamed for sinning thereby against God and man and against all commandments.

St. Louis ed., 11:1499-1501.

This entry was posted in Daily Devotions From the Writings of Martin Luther. Bookmark the permalink.