Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
The Foundation of Love has to come first
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
24 February, 2002
2 Timothy 3:10-15 ; Luke 18:10-14

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

On this Sunday of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, we are beginning our serious preparation for Great Lent. The Publican and the Pharisee are given to us to remind us what must come first in our lives – how to live as Christians.

Thus, our Lord says to us that there was a Pharisee who observed the Law very carefully. There was also a Publican. Do you know what a Publican was ? He was a tax collector. A tax collector in those days was not like today’s Canada customs and revenue agent who operates according to very strict rules. It was not like that in the Roman Empire. The Emperor in Rome had many tax collectors throughout the empire ; and he simply said to them : “I need this amount of money. Get it for me”. The tax collectors then went to everyone, and they extracted from them that amount of money, in one way or the other, “by hook or by crook”. Of course, the people were very careful to hide their money and goods as much as possible, so that when the tax collector came, he would not be able to get everything. The tax collectors had no restrictions placed on them. They took as much as they wanted. For example, if they were nasty, they could take all the cows, or all the horses, and this very often happened.

Last week, we encountered Zacchæus, another tax collector. When he repented of his behaviour and turned to Christ, he not only gave one-half of everything he had to the poor, but he also gave back four times as much as he had taken from everybody. Can you imagine how wealthy this man was ? Can you imagine how much he had taken from people, so that he could return four times as much as he stole and still had money left over ? He was not only an expert tax-collecting thief, but he was also a very responsible developer of his goods and belongings (even though he had gotten them wrongly). This sort of man changed his ways, and he turned to Christ.

In today’s parable, the Publican standing in the temple knows what sort of person he himself is. That is why he says : “God, be merciful to me the sinner”. The Pharisee, a very careful observer of the Law, standing up in front of everyone, and showing himself very obviously to be a perfect observer of the Law, sees the Publican. He says : “Thank God I am not like that”. The Lord makes very clear to us who is saved. It is the repentant Publican who is saved. Even though the Pharisee is a strict and careful observer of the Law, his heart is full of pride. His heart is full of himself, not of God. By parading all his right observances to everyone around him, he inflates himself and his pride, saying : “See what a good man I am. See what a good observer of the Law I am !”

What the Lord wants from us is not merely a careful observance of the Law, although it is a very good thing to obey His commandments. However, He wants us to obey Him out of love, not out of fear, or because of pride. Zacchæus repented. Out of love for the Lord, he began to observe the Law, and to do what is right. Until that time, the Law was the only way given to us so that we might know how to live life rightly, in accordance with God’s will. In fact, the Law is all concerned with love. The Ten Commandments (the Law), given to us in the book of Exodus (second Book of Moses), tell us the same things that our Saviour says to us in the Gospel. The first part exhorts us to love God first, above and before anything or anyone else. All the rest is about loving God in the right way, revealing that love to other human beings.

If people are in love with God, if our hearts are filled with love for God, we will fulfill the “Law” naturally. We will naturally have the love of God in our hearts. We will not make idols. We will honour the Sabbath day. We will honour our parents. We will not murder, lie, or covet. We will do all these commandments naturally out of love. That is what the Lord wants from us. He wants us to love Him. The Christian live consists in deepening our love for Jesus Christ, getting to know Him better and better, and showing this love by loving each other.

This community is growing. How is it growing ? It is growing because Christians are learning to love each other, to trust each other, to work together in love. Other people see this love, and they feel safe to come into our midst. In the world, we find plenty of deception and lies. People are mostly living in fear about one thing or the other. As we live our Christian lives, we spend a lot of time asking the Lord to take that fear away from us. Fear poisons our lives as we live in the world. As that fear is taken away from us by God, we become more and more our real selves. The more we know our Saviour Jesus Christ, the more we love Him, the more we can tell the difference between truth and lies. We can see the truth about ourselves much more, and we can see the lies about ourselves too. Many people suffer agony about themselves because they have accepted lies about themselves. These lies come from the devil and from the way people have been mistreated by other human beings. In general, we do not have the correct knowledge of ourselves ; we do not know the truth about ourselves. Deepening our love of Jesus Christ heals our spirit and enables us to become truly ourselves – in Jesus Christ. Because of the love of Jesus Christ, a community of believers becomes a place where people can find healing in their hearts and souls, and where they can find out the truth about themselves. They will find out that they are not so bad, that they are healable, and repairable. In other words, they will discover that there is hope. Then they can witness together because of this love so that others in turn can find themselves, and, in due course, they can find a place amongst us.

I have already heard how this community has been developing just like this. This means that the Lord is preparing this small community (small right now) to become an important witness in this city. We must make sure that there are no divisions amongst us and that we resist the devil. Rather, knowing the truth about the love of Jesus Christ, we should live in forgiveness of one another all the time, praying for each other all the time, so that God will strengthen, heal, renew and perfect us in due course. Once the foundation of love is solidly laid, the Lord will send more people. This has been the case everywhere in this country. However, the foundation of love has to come first. The sooner this foundation is laid, the sooner the Lord will send others to participate in this foundation of love. Please persevere in this, and let this coming Great Lent be a time for you all to deepen your love for our Saviour, and deepen your love for each other. Clean the house of your heart and your soul of whatever dirt is lying around, so that when you come to the greatest of all feasts, Pascha, you will be able to rejoice with great joy, having made some progress in love and in repentance in the Lord. You will thus come to Pascha a little bit closer to the Lord, a little bit more loving of our Saviour — each and all of you personally, and together.

May God grant that you all be just like the Publican. May you all, and I also, be able to repent, but to repent of our sins knowing that God loves us, that He will heal us, and, as He promised, He will always be with us. Do not be shy to speak about Him when He gives a clear sign to your heart to offer someone a word of encouragement, hope and love. In so doing, you will glorify Him, our Saviour – your Saviour – to Whom, together with the Father and the life-giving Spirit, be glory now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.