Sunday, February 9, 2014
Today's Publicans and Pharisees
"Brethren, let us not pray as the Pharisee: for he who exalts himself shall be humbled. Let us humble ourselves before God, and with fasting cry aloud as the Publican: God be merciful to us sinners."
-First sticheron at Psalm 140, Vespers for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.
Believe it or not, we are at the first Pre-Lenten Sunday again.
Let us heed the lesson of the Publican and the Pharisee. Let us not be one of the people in the "Establishment" Church who like to be considered "Catholic" and in good standing with Church law, who fulfill all that Church law requires them to do without doing one iota more than what the law requires, all as justification for living whatever lifestyle they so choose. They go off and live a life of "whatever makes them happy" doing whatever is socially acceptable, with their membership in the Church and fulfillment of what Church law requires (and no more) being justification for living however they want, doing whatever is fashionable. So what if he is a "faithful Catholic" on the outside? The white-washed tomb exists only to protect the dead man's bones. Such a person is the Pharisee. Let us not be such a person.
Let us be the Publican: the person who also lived a sinful life and is just as evil, but repents and regrets his sins, simply because his sins separate him from living in the exchange of Divine Love. This is the person who wakes up and realizes that earthly physical and emotional pleasures and worldly fashions are all empty and passing pleasures and only Divine Love exists on a profound level. Only the Love that is not from this world (and indeed is contrary to it) is profound or capable of surviving death. Nothing else lasts. Only Christ survives death. Only by rejecting the world and living in the Divine Love of Christ can we hope to survive death. That is why He came: to convert sinners. He did not come to support sinners in what they were already doing. Reality is not something man-made and God-approved as the Pharisee and his successors in the Church today mistakenly think. Reality is something God-made and accepted by man as the Publican figured out.
We can either live in empty man-made pleasures that "lead down to the chambers of death" (Prov. 7:27), defending them by "making excuses with excuses in sins" (Ps 140:4), or we can reject them and live in the exchange of Divine Love that Christ came to show us, the exchange for which we were created, the exchange opened to us by His Death and Resurrection, for He alone survives death and we can only survive death by joining ourselves to Him. That is the purpose of the Great Lent on which we are about to embark.