Pentecost 23 Wednesday
“And the tax collector stood far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and said: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
But look here how the word and prayer of this tax collector sounds, when he says: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Where did he learn to speak before God in this way? Or how does he dare to use, order, and posit such words? Reason and human judgment cannot bring this together; and no human being can force such a prayer out of his own heart and thoughts, no matter how short it may be. The Pharisee’s words, however, “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, unjust,” etc.–these words a good man may well say, and he should say them. For no one should be a liar if
he is not aware of being a robber, adulterer, etc…Just as a rogue can say these words, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,”
as these words are probably said more often by rogues than by truly repentant, good people. Indeed, who but a sinful, condemned person would say them?…But, speaking in basic terms, this cry for mercy is such a cry and example that belongs in the school and theology of the Christians whom the world calls heretics. For, as I just said, no reason can make sense of what the tax collector here puts together, making a prayer out of completely contradictory words, concluding: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Indeed, this is the chief art that is completely outside and far beyond human reason…For God’s law lets man know that sin is condemned and that God’s wrath has been pronounced over it. In view of this, it does not make sense that such a sinful, condemned man should be allowed to come and pray before
God, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” For these two, sin and grace, are contrary to each other like water and fire. Grace does not belong where sin is; wrath and punishment belong there. How, then does this man get the art of being able to combine the two so as to desire and cry out for grace for his sin? Here belongs more than what the law and the Ten Commandments know which the Pharisee knew as well. It is a different art of which the Pharisee knew nothing and of which all people know nothing of themselves. It is the preaching of the dear gospel concerning God’s grace and mercy in Christ which is proclaimed and offered to condemned sinners without any merit of theirs. This sermon this tax collector
must have heard as well; and the Holy Spirit must have touched and urged his heart thereby when he felt his sin by the law. This is why the tax collector steps before God and prays such prayer that he certainly believes, as he heard from God’s Word that God wants to forgive the sin of poor sinners and be gracious to them, that is, that he wants to turn from them his wrath and eternal death because of the promised Messiah, his Son. Such faith knit and tied together these two contradictory parts in the tax collector’s prayer.