Pentecost 23 Friday
“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.”
In addition to the open impenitent sinners and the hypocrites, both of which can outwardly say the tax collector’s prayer, there is a third group who should, and gladly would, say this prayer honestly. It is most difficult for them to say these two words, sin and grace, together from their hearts and to put such confession and absolution together…On the one hand, as I said, much of the old rogue, the Pharisee, is still in us: We would like to be good and righteous before God, better than others…On the other side, where the tax collector must come before God with nothing but sin and shame, there is much fear and labor to grasp this word, “be merciful to me,” and to apply it to ourselves…This is why this little prayer requires an ability beyond man’s ability. Indeed, it is the most marvelous thing on earth that a man has the grace to know that he is a sinner while at the same time setting God’s wrath aside and grasping only God’s grace. For a heart that truly feels sin cannot help but think and conclude that God is ungracious and angry like Judas when he realized that he had betrayed Christ into death…No human heart is able to avoid this conclusion since there are God’s commandment and law sentencing you to death and the devil driving and chasing you into hell…Two contrary things must happen here at once: Hearing the Ten Commandments that condemn to death and hell and losing the Ten Commandments again and extricating oneself from the same and thus ascending from hell to heaven. Therefore, if you can, learn this lofty wisdom and be this tax collector’s student so that you too might be able to distinguish these two parts lest the wrath remain stuck to the sin, so that you might grasp reconciliation and forgiveness. Do not consider this matter according to human reason or the law, but grasp the gospel’s comfort and teaching about Christ by faith. Faith alone teaches this marvelous union and how to harmonize these two words, sin and grace, although they are farther apart than heaven and hell…See, in this tax collector you have a beautiful example of the true Christian repentance and faith. You also have a splendid masterpiece of the lofty spiritual wisdom or theology which the Pharisee and his ilk have never tasted or smelled. Additionally, you see the proper fruits that follow faith: Now he has become a different person, having a different mind, thoughts, words, and works than before. He gives honor and praise to God alone for his divine grace. He calls upon God and prays to him wholeheartedly and in true confidence in his Word and promise, otherwise he would not have been able to think or pray these words. In this way, he offers the proper pleasing service to God and observes the true Sabbath. Accordingly, he now also has such a heart that hates sin and disobedience, does not rejoice in them, but is sorry that he lived contrary to God’s commandment, and now seeks earnestly and wholeheartedly to abstain from them, to offend no one, to defraud no one, to lie to no one, or to treat no one unjustly or violently. He would be glad if everybody lived this way.