You Are Righteous. Are You Justified?
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of Monica, Mother of Augustine
August 27, 2017
If last week we were taught that our Father’s House is a house of prayer this week we are taught how to pray. Luke tells us right off the bat the point the parable of our Lord of the Pharisee and the tax collector. There are those who approach God confident in their own righteousness and there are those who approach God terrified that they are without righteousness.
When you trust in your own righteousness, you see other people through the eyes of one whom God is pleased with. Certainly there are many people who God sees as you do. They are the ones who commit the really bad sins. The thieves, the ones who cheat others, the ones who commit adultery. They are the ones who are racist, and we’ve been hearing plenty about those people lately.
When you are confident in your own righteousness you see yourself in a good light. Not only do you not do all of those wicked things that all those other people are doing, you are pleased with all the good things you do. The Pharisee went above and beyond, fasting twice a week, tithing not only on his income but all his possessions as well. Your list may not look exactly like his but if you are aware of your own righteousness then you know God is pleased with you as well. You faithfully attend church, you take time out of your normal schedule to help others.
If you see in yourself your own righteousness you can’t help but see yourself in a more favorable light than all those people who plainly do not value God’s commandments as you do. You serve willingly but notice that so many others are just going through the motions. You make an effort to do more than what is reasonably expected of a Christian but find that so many others are just getting by with minimal expectations. And some think they’re fine even without making much of an effort at all.
Here is the challenge Jesus is presenting to you in this parable. Will you pray in this way, where you are focusing on what you see in yourself for your righteousness? Or will you see that no matter how hard you try, perhaps that you don’t even try at all, that you will never measure up? In showing you this Pharisee Jesus is showing you someone who is a good person, a model Christian. But a person who prays to God confident that God must be very pleased with him because of all his good works and avoidance of evil works.
If this is how you see yourself in the sight of God then you do not know what prayer is. It’s true that the Pharisee gave thanks to God. But he didn’t give thanks to God for what God had done. He gave Him thanks for what he himself had done. God, I thank You that I am not like all those other people, you know, the sinners. I thank You that I do so many things that You have commanded. God, You must be really pleased with me. And for that I am grateful!
This is not prayer. It is talking to yourself and building yourself up, patting yourself on the back. God doesn’t need you to tell Him about yourself. He knows all about you. He wants you to hear what He has to offer you. There is nothing you can offer to God that will help Him out. All the commandments of God that we obey are not for His sake but for ours. When we keep God’s commandments we are blessed by Him because His way for us to live far surpasses our sinful desires for how to live. So we shouldn’t be thanking God that we keep His commands but be thanking Him for them and asking Him to give us the will and strength to keep them.
Jesus’ challenge in the parable is to see the tax collector, the one who is the sinner, as the one to look to. The one who does not live as he should. The one who does not treat others as he ought. Jesus teaches you how to pray by showing you a man who cannot even stand before God because he is in terror. He knows he does not live as God has called him to. He knows he has chosen sin rather than living according to God’s commandments. His prayer is the prayer of one who is not confident in his own righteousness but despairs of his own righteousness. He doesn’t have anything to thank God about himself. He needs mercy. He needs something from outside of himself.
This is his prayer. His prayer is that God would act toward him not in the way he deserves. He prays that God would give him instead mercy, forgiveness for his unrighteousness. When you come here to your Father’s house, you know how to pray. Confess your sins. Pray for the mercy of your Father. Pray for forgiveness.
If you pray as the Pharisee did you are left with what you came with and that is your own righteousness. He entered the temple confident of his own righteousness and he left confident in his own righteousness. But the tax collector, he entered the temple knowing his unrighteousness. But Jesus says he left justified. He left knowing that he wasn’t suddenly a man who would do everything right in God’s sight but he went back to his home forgiven.
When you pray trusting in your own righteousness you are trusting in yourself. Since you are a sinner there is no justification in that. You are still in your sins. But if you despair of your righteousness and trust in the mercy of God then you are forgiven of your sins. This is what Jesus means when He says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. When you come to God as the sinner you are He will exalt you. He will lift you up from your wretched state of sin and guilt and give you new life.
Your heavenly Father has mercy on you because His own Son has humbled Himself. He humbled Himself to suffer the punishment that belongs to sinners. He as Lord became as one who sins. He was charged with the judgment of condemnation because He took your place. The Father’s wrath was poured out on His Son so that His mercy would be poured out on you. He answers your prayer for mercy because He has accepted the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.
Even though you are a sinner you are righteous. But your prayer is not based on your righteousness. It is based on righteousness that is not your own. It is righteousness outside of you. It is given to you. It is counted to you as if it were your own. The righteousness of Christ is what your Father in heaven sees when He hears your prayer. You are righteous. You actually do live as God has called you to live because He has given you new life in His Son. You are justified because of what Christ has done for you not what you have done for God. The Bible even says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. It says that we were saved not be righteous works we have done but by the salvation He has accomplished.
When you approach the Table of the Lord do not pray as the Pharisee would where you are thanking God that you are not like others and how God must be so pleased with you. Pray as the tax collector would and trust in the mercy and forgiveness He gives to you in the Body and Blood of His Son. That is after all how your Father answers your prayer, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. He gives you His Son. He gives Him to you in your Baptism, where you have been united with Him in His death and resurrection. He gives Himself to you in His sacred Meal, where His body given on the cross is given to you to eat for the forgiveness of your sins and where His blood shed on the cross is given to you to drink for the forgiveness of your sins.
You go home justified, forgiven. You go about your life not having to fear your righteousness or lack of it. There is nothing you can do to be saved, Christ has done it all. Having justified you, there is so much you can now do since you see that God’s commandments are blessings, for you and for how you are able to serve others. Amen.