Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We have a parallel in our Old Testament reading and the gospel for today. Two men worshiped God with sacrifices of thanksgiving or prayers. One worshipped in an unworthy way; the other in a manner pleasing to God. Let's think about the differences and the consequences.
In the book of Genesis, we read of Cain and Abel, the first children of Adam and Eve, the first human beings. Notice, this story happened before the covenant that God made with the people of Israel through Moses. There was no command to offer sacrifices to the Lord, however, Cain and Abel offered offerintgs of their crops to the Lord. Cain was a farmer, Abel a shepherd. Both had honorable work, and there was no difference in the value of their crops. Both offered their crops without God's command. o worship and thank God for His blessings is natural for any human being.
So, what was the problem? The Genesis narrative does not tell us what Cain and Abel thought inside their minds, but what happened after the offerings. “And Jehovah looked with pleasure upon Abel and his offering; but he did not look with pleasure at Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” It was evident that Cain offered his harvest not simply for gratitude to God, but in the expectation of more blessings because of his sacrifice. But, God blessed Abel more than Cain and Cain was angry to the point of killing his brother. The reason for the first homicide was envy of God's favor.
Then in the parable of the Pharisee and publican, our Lord used the examples of two men to teach something to us. To whom did the Lord speak in this case? "And he also said this parable to some who trusted themselves as righteous, and belittled others."
The Pharisee is an example of this type of person. He did not thank God for his undeserved blessings, but rather because he thought himself to be better than other men, especially the publican. The publicans were tax collectors for the Romans, a foreign and pagan empire. Many times the publicans collected more than the Romans required to fill their own pockets. For the other Jews, publicans were traitors and thieves. On the other hand, the Pharisees were pious men who did many good works.
However, good works do not justify anyone in the eyes of God. "But the publican, standing far away, did not even want to raise his eyes to heaven, but struck his chest, saying: God, be merciful to me, a sinner. I tell you that he went down to his house justified before the other."
Our good works could never be enough to justify us in the eyes of God. Only the blood of Christ on the cross are we justified by faith in his promise. So, justification is by grace, not by merit.
St. Paul was a Pharisee like the man in the temple. He was very zealous for the traditions of his fathers. But Paul says in our epistle (1 Corinthians 15: 1-10), “Because I am the least of the apostles, that I am not worthy of being called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace has not been in vain for me; I have worked more than all of them before: but not me, but the grace of God that went with me. ”
The Pharisee in the Temples despised the publican as Cain despised his brother Abel to the point of killing him because they trusted their own merits and expected to receive more from God than those around them. This is not the attitude for offering our worship to God. We must think of others as saints by grace in Christ, as we are, and God's blessings as undeserved gifts.
God loved us first and showed His love and grace in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Through this sacrifice we have the promise of eternal life. Therefore, our response to God's love is to show love and mercy to our neighbors, to help them in their afflictions. Our faith bears fruit in good works, not for the sake of winning God's favor and the admiration of the multitudes, but to show God's love to others and bring them to the church of God, the refuge of the redeemed.
We begin our worship with confession and absolution. This is the preparation for approaching the altar of God. But, also, the culmination of the liturgy of the Word is the sharing of peace. We say to each other, "The peace of the Lord be with you", not to greet others, but to show that we have forgiven all their sins against us, as God has forgiven us in confession and absolution. This practice is based on Matthew 5: 42-43. We must reconcile with others before receiving the body and blood of Christ before the altar.
We gather to praise God together for his love and mercy, and we come together to the altar to receive the nourishment of our faith without envy, hatred and pride. In this we have hope, joy and peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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