PRAYER OF COLLECT
O GOD, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As revealed in our Prayer of Collect today, God’s greater virtue and power is demonstrated in His miraculous power to forgive our sins of rebellion and omission. Whatever grace we have is an endowment of grace from God that enables us to keep His Commandments and be accounted righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. It is thus that we may, with Abraham, attain to the promises made available through the Lord Jesus Christ, and to share, with Him, in the blessed treasures of Heaven. This Collect is unique in specific aspects as are each of the Collects. I wrote a series of devotions a few years back on that uniqueness of each of the daily Collects – their origins and relevance to the Church Calendar, and to our lives. They are gifts to us of the early church fathers, many of whom gave their lives in fidelity to the Word of God.
In the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays out the means and way of salvation through Christ alone. He, too, had been a Pharisee as we see in the Gospel account today whom Jesus addressed “certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” (Luke 18:9) In fact, Paul (as Saul) had been a tool of the Pharisees by which many Christian worshippers had been persecuted and murdered. This will be our context for the Words of Christ today from the Gospel of St. Luke 18:
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)
First of all, we note that Jesus was addressing His remarks to certain men present. Who were these men? Some are in church today. His words were addressed to certain men and women who believed in their OWN righteousness – even to the extent of condemning others and looking down on them. We would call that self-righteousness (and there is no such thing under Heaven). Such would be wise to heed the counsel of Paul to Timothy: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)
Secondly, our Lord is speaking of two DIFFERENT kinds of people (a Pharisee and a Publican) – BOTH went up for the seemingly same purpose (to pray). BOTH went t to the right place for prayer – the House of the Lord. But the similarities end with those two facts. Let us examine, now, wherein the characteristics of these two men diverge, and examine our own hearts to learn if we are like unto one or the other of the two:
1) The Pharisee’s ATTITUDE of Prayer: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.” Intimated herein is that the Pharisee stood proudly, and he prayed out of a false perspective. He did not humbly pray to God, but prayed “thus with himself.” His words were not directed to God, truly, but for his own personal purposes which are explained further in the text. He trusted that he was righteous just as millions of Christians do every Sunday at worship. Smug and arrogantly they sit in the pew thinking of those others when the word ‘sinner’ is mentioned. They trust too much in their OWN religion and not upon the imputed righteousness of Christ.
They trust too much in a particular denomination and not the sole grace of God and the sacrifice of His Son.
They feel like they are not “like those others.”
We read of how proudly the Pharisee prayed “with himself” – not to God. He prayed that others might hear his boastful words. The contrary is true of the publican who felt himself unworthy to come so near the Temple. He did not lay claim to ANY GOODNESS, or righteous deeds, in his life but only sought mercy upon himself as a sinner.
2) The Pharisee’s PRESUMPTION in Prayer: He did not begin by glorifying God, or showing a spirit of repentance for sins he, like us, had surely committed. But, if taken alone, his prayer would have been more fitting than it became when he added his reason for gratitude to God. “ God, I thank thee.” The Pharisee would have been better off to stop right there with that salutation! But he did not!
3) The Pharisee’s ARROGANCE of Prayer: For what was the Pharisee thankful?
The Pharisee boasts of being thankful for what he is not!
- “I AM NOT as other men are” In other words, “I am better than all others. I am good in, and of,
- I am not an “extortioner“ “I have never been guilty of such a sin” (but probably was stained badly
- I am not “unjust” He is being unjust on the face of his proclamation and his indictment of the publican!
- I am not an “adulterer” He may have been one of those guilty Pharisees who brought the Woman
taken in Adultery to Christ who left early because of his guilt.
- I am not “even as this publican.” In other words, “I am not a COMMON sinner as is this publican!”
The Pharisee boasts of being thankful for what he DOES!
- “I fast twice in the week”
- “I give tithes of all that I possess“
In TRUTH, the Pharisee was none of what he claimed as his own:
- In truth: He was a liar! Though he claimed otherwise, he was precisely as other men are – a sinner. (Romans 3:23)
- He was an extortioner. (Matthew 23:14, Mark 12:40)
- He was unjust. His very attitude and self-opinion of himself proved this.
- He was a worse man than the publican for the publican realized his need to which the Pharisee was blinded of his own.
- He did not fast to satisfy a Godly purpose but only for the purpose of show and boasting.
- He did not tithe of all he had for he kept his heart from God by not surrendering it to Him. (Luke 20:25)
- He had a religious zeal, but not according to the Bible. “….they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2-3)
Now let us look at the Publican: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.”
- The publican knew who he was – a lost sinner and condemned.
- The publican knew his place with God without mercy – at a distance!
- The publican knew how he felt – guilty, ashamed and needing mercy.
- He knew WHAT he needed – MERCY.
- He knew how to attain mercy – repent, confess, and call upon the Lord.
- He knew of his salvation – went down to his house justified.
There is a great secret revealed, too, in this Parable – sin causes a great separation from man and God. The only means to bridge that separation is repentance and confession of sins. When we have betrayed or hurt a close friend, do we not avoid looking them in the eye until we have reconciled ourselves to that friend? We may not speak to that friend for months due to our guilt. The friend may not even be aware of our guilt, BUT WE ARE! When we forget God, we live according to our own prerogatives. This free will always leads to sin. That sin raises a wall between us and God. Suddenly, we are ashamed as was Adam in the Garden. We cannot tear down that wall with our good deeds, but only by our tearful cries for mercy!
Do we mark our offering envelopes at church with large letters to show our great tithing? Do we embellish our prayers with beautiful words that do not come from the heart, but from a proud mind? Do we attempt to seem so close to God that publicans cannot approach Him? Do we admit our unworthiness apart from God’s grace? Have we known that the very moment we feel that we are “good enough” is the very moment that we are NOT? Do not be a pharisaical hypocrite, but be a humble sinner who lays claim to grace and mercy in God. Which of the two are we most alike – the Pharisee, or the Publican? Better be a lowly Publican than a proud Pharisee! AMEN!