19 - Publican & Pharisee, Feb 1, 2015

II Timothy 3:10-15

Luke 18:10-14

When our daily life is folded into the Life of the Church, we find ourselves on a liturgical path that wends its way in time through the days of our life in this world. Where is this path going? Today, having come to the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, it has led us from our home address up into the temple of the Church to pray alongside the Pharisee and the Publican. It has led us up to Jerusalem, for that’s where the temple is.

Now, obviously, both men, when they had finished with their prayer, left the temple and went down to their house – as will we. Why, then, does this morning’s Gospel tell us that only the one went down into his house? (v. 14) I believe it’s because only the one stepped onto the liturgical path of the Church; and he went down inwardly not to, but more literally into his house. The Pharisee most surely went down to his house, too; but outwardly. He did not step onto the liturgical path of the Church to go down into his house inwardly.

What might that house be that the publican went down into inwardly and the Pharisee did not?

Does it occur to anyone that the up and down movement of the publican this morning is the movement of the LORD to His Passion? The LORD will say to His disciples: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (Lk 18:31) On Palm Sunday, He goes up to Jerusalem and into the temple, His Father’s House. There, He cleanses it of the moneychangers. His House was meant to be a house of prayer, He said, but they had turned it into a den of thieves.

On Palm Sunday, we watch the LORD go down from the temple, His Father’s House, into our house on Great and Holy Friday: the tomb, where He is dead and buried. The Righteousness of God who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life is taken down from the Cross and laid, dead, in the “house” of His tomb, which is our house, the house of the Pharisee and the Publican. It is the movement of divine humility in love for us. Beloved faithful, the house the publican went down into inwardly was the tomb of his heart in a human movement of humility in love for God.

This Path of the LORD that goes up to Jerusalem and into the temple and from there down into our house, the tomb of our heart, in humility and love, is the liturgical path of the Church that we are seeing in this morning’s Gospel. Following this path, the publican was justified, or “made righteous”. How so?

Is it not very clear in this morning’s parable that to be justified or made righteous is quite different from being moral or nice or even religious? By that standard, the Pharisee was a righteous man as He tells us himself: “I thank Thee, O LORD, that I am not unrighteous (adikos) like other men are.” He fasted twice a week, he tithed. He was not a swindler, he was not an adulterer. He was moral; he was religious. I bet he was even a nice person. But, by the LORD’s standard, he was not justified or made righteous. Why, when by worldly standards he was very “righteous”?

“Righteousness does not die,” says the Wisdom of Solomon (1:15). To be justified or made righteous in biblical terms means to be have eternal life. The Pharisee was moral, he was nice, he was religious; but, he was spiritually dead because the movement of his heart, as we can tell from the words of his prayer, was not down to the tomb of his heart in the humility of God but upward in the pride of Lucifer, who fell like lightning from heaven. (Lk 10:18) In short, he was not righteous because he was dead in his sins and trespasses, walking not on the narrow liturgical path of the Church but on the broad path of the prince of the power of the air whose spirit is at work in the children of disobedience, who follow the wisdom of their own exalted opinion.  

Our Christian Confession reveals to the eyes of faith what is hidden to the eyes of the world: on the Cross, the final and most perfect Theophany, Righteousness, Jesus Christ, dies – not of necessity and not under constraint but out of His own will because of His inexpressible love for us. In the tomb, in our house, with His body, He “goes down” with His soul into our house, hell. He shatters the doors of bronze; He cuts in two the bars of iron (Ps 107:16) – think of the heavens being rent open at His Baptism, the curtain of the temple being rent in two from top to bottom at His death on the Cross to reveal in the Sanctuary of our heart at the bottom of the Jordan the liturgical path of the Church, the better and changeless Path that ascends to God. That Path is Christ Himself rising from the depths of hell, leading a host of captives in His train (Psa 68:18; Eph 4:8) as a Bridegroom in procession! For having emptied Himself, having gone down from His House in Heaven, He became flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Most Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary. As the New Adam, He was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross; and, because He is Himself the Righteousness of God, the Resurrection and the Life, He destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs. That is to say, He justified them; He made them righteous. The publican, then, was made righteous because he took the liturgical path of the Church down into the house, the tombof his heart. Uniting himself to Christ in the tomb of his heart, his unrighteousness was put to death in the death of Christ, and he was united with Christ in His Holy Resurrection. He was raised up to eternal life. He was made righteous in the Resurrection of Christ.

So, in bringing us this morning up to Jerusalem and into the temple to pray at the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, the Church brings us with Christ into the temple of our soul. She invites us to look inward beneath the masks and the costumes of our vanity and pride,to see if the prayer of our heart is not secretly the prayer of the Pharisee, and if we have not become a den of thieves. How so? Do we not steal God’s righteousness and claim it as our own when we say like the Pharisee: I’m moral, I’m a nice person. I therefore am not unrighteous. I.e., I am not dead. I am righteous. I am deathless – I am God like God! Can you see now that the Pharisee’s exalted opinion of himself is but the mind of Lucifer? I think that may be why we do not hear in this morning’s Gospel of the Pharisee even going down into his house, let alone that he was made righteous.

This morning, the Church shows us another path: the liturgical path of the Church. It is Christ Himself, the Better and Changeless Path who ascends to God by going down into our house, the tomb of our heart. But, we do not begin to see this path in ourselves until we begin to pray in the broken contrition of the Publican: “LORD, have mercy on me, a sinner!

And now I’m fairly sure that when the LORD says, “I tell you; this publican, and not the other fellow, is the one who went down into his house having been made righteous,” – i.e., having been raised from the dead to eternal life in God – He is, in fact, not talking about the publican leaving the temple to return to his house at all. He is talking about the liturgical path of the Church that leads inward, down into the house of our heart that was taken by the publican when he came up to the temple and began to pray in a broken and contrite heart.

Beloved faithful, we have followed the liturgical path of the Church and gone up into the temple to pray today, the beginning of the Lenten Triodion. By which path shall we go down to our house this morning? And, which house shall we go down to?

Let us begin today to pray in our heart the prayer of the publican together, to set our face toward Jerusalem with Christ and make ready to follow the liturgical path of the Church down into our house, the tomb of our heart, by taking up our cross, the Great Fast in the prayer of the publican that we may die with Christ, that we may be buried with Him, and so be raised with Him to eternal life, having been made righteous, alive, in Him, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ Our Life who lives in us! Amen!