Pentecost 23 Thursday
“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.”
Now, to be sure, the gospel is heard by many. And it seems to be quite easy to say such a prayer. Yet, unlike what people think, it is not that easy so that everybody could do it. No one understands better how hard it is than the few who learn to follow the example of the tax collector’s faith and prayer. This is so because that pious rogue and hypocrite, the Pharisee, is still in us all; he hinders and prevents us from bringing sin and grace together like the tax collector. What also stands against combining these two together is the outward, worldly life and its goodness. According to it, too, we must also say and teach: Wrath and punishment, not grace, are due the sinner. Otherwise, no one could live on earth and God could not defend his Majesty if he did not insist on punishing sin and rewarding good works…Yet God’s judgment seat and the world’s judgments are of two kinds, as far apart as heaven and earth. Before the world, things must be thus: If you are good, you shall enjoy it; if you are a thief, you are hung at the gallows; if you kill, you will be beheaded. God himself must insist on this governance; otherwise, there would remain no peace on earth. Yet in his own government, where he alone is Lord and Judge without any means, things are different: There he only has mercy for the poor sinners; for there you have nothing but sin, and no one is innocent before him, as Scripture says, Romans 3:10-20. Yet it is also true that not all sinners are the same, so that we must distinguish once again and point out who belongs before God’s judgment seat and who belong under his grace. For there are many coarse and fresh sinners, robbers, murderers, thieves, rogues, unchaste people who act coarsely and who, drowned in sin, go on and on, never considering or wondering how they might get a gracious God; they live their lives without any concern, as if they were not in danger…These are not like this tax collector because they wickedly lead their lives without repentance. They do not yet belong under God’s kingdom but are still in the world’s first kingdom. Like them are also the other rogues who want to imitate this tax collector. They also pray the Lord’s Prayer. They have heard the words that God wants to be gracious to poor sinners. They learn to say them well, are able to beat their breast, and are able to pretend to be so humble and repentant in words and gestures that one should swear, as they swear themselves, that they are just like this tax collector. And yet, it is false and deceit. For they are no better than that Pharisee, and God is gracious to them in the same way he is gracious to the Pharisee, so that they do not
feel any wrath and God does not beat and punish them with rods but lets them remain rogues. These are the false Christians or sects and false brothers.