Homily Notes: Publican and Pharisee

Big problem:  the deep-rooted temptation/sin of self-justification. 

  • Justifying by religion – especially by religious leaders.
    • Hypocrites are the worse.  Priests and bishops really do have to set a good example
    • The news gives us constant reports of clergy who make a mockery of the faith with their lifestyles; I always wonder why they didn’t get help – and step down from their position.  God is clear that we cannot be stumbling blocks for others.
    • We are all part of the priesthood of believers.  Unrepented sin – especially when it is habitual – is incompatible with life in the Church, period. 
      • This is true for priests, it is true for lay leaders, and it is true for all of us. 
      • Either we are serious about fining common salvation through Christ in Holy Orthodoxy or we are not; and if we are not then we are not just wasting our time, we are doing the very same thing the Pharisee did: we are being hypocrites and standing in the way of  others who genuinely want to be healed.
      • Justifying by the world
        • What the Publican did wrong was perfectly legal.  He had plenty of ways he could have justified himself.  The world gave him all the words that would have allowed him to pat himself on the back.
        • It also gave him words that would have allowed him to condemn the Pharisee.
        • But he didn’t.  How did he come to the point of confession and repentance and the Pharisee did not?  It’s a parable, there are plenty of people in all four boxes of our 2×2 table: good religious leaders, bad religious leaders, good publicans, bad publicans. 

 The need for honest and penetrating introspection and repentance

  • Look for things that have become habits that go against the commandments of God – but recognize that you are automatically going to interpret those commandments in a way that justifies your self-righteousness.  KNOWING THE COMMANDMENTS AND ATTEMPTING TO FOLLOW THEM DID NOT GET THE PHARISEE TO REPENTANCE
  • St. Dionysius (Apophatic Method): go through each of the things you do that you consider good and see if there isn’t a darker side to it.
    • Coming to Church (but for wrong reasons or would rather be elsewhere)
    • Working hard for the family (has it become destructive?)
    • Pay dues at Church (but what about the widow’s mite?)
    • I have love (but am I exercising that love in a Godly manner (remember, we can justify “living in sin” with both religious and worldly words!))

 The need for purification through tears

  • Tears of sorrow over sin
  • Tears of joy over forgiveness and salvation

 Conclusion: let the old man die – don’t keep him on life support! 

Trust that the tears that come will be turned to into tears of gladness as the funeral dirge is transformed into the hymn of “alleluia – praise the Lord!”  We don’t give up everything so that we can be miserable, we give up everything and submit it to God’s guidance and control, so that we can be free from the slavery of sin and live a life of joy.

If you are looking for something else – a comfortable place to place to bask in your own self-worth – you are in the wrong place (especially as we go into Lent – we aren’t just emptying our fridges and pantries of non-fasting food, we are putting to death the old man so that we can be resurrected in the new with Christ in Pascha)! 

 No, this is not the right place if you are comfortable in your sin – God came to heal those that actually wanted to be healed – But if freedom from the tyranny of self-delusion and the ruler of this world – that is to say the devil – is what you are looking for, then you are in exactly the right place.  The Prince of this World is our enemy and we know how to fight him – and we begin to work against the way he and his ideas and his pomp have made their way into our hearts. 

 We begin our liberation by naming each of our sins – especially the ones that have become central to our identity – and asking the Lord God to obliterate them and heal us from the damage they have done to us, our families, this community, and the world.