Keeping Your Eyes to Yourself - Luke 18:9-14 (Eleventh Sunday after Trinity)
[Luke 18:9-14] He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Keeping Your Eyes to Yourself
Whether at the dinner table or on a long road trip, with young kids, you are bound at some point to have to tell them, “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Stop poking each other. Stop prodding each other in the ribs. Keep your hands to yourself.”
Our Lord, in part, in today’s parable, is telling His children, “Keep your eyes to yourself.” “Stop watching each other’s sins – don’t poke and prod into other people’s faults. Keep your eyes selfward in regard to sin.”
When the Pharisee stood in the Temple to pray, He prayed with His eyes on the conduct of others: “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” He only turned his eyes toward himself for the good things.
The Pharisee prayed the way you and I too often watch the news: “Look at the sins of all those politicians. Look at the sins of all those celebrities.” We are guilty of saying, “I thank You that I’m not like them.”
The Pharisee prayed the way some of you attend worship, gazing across the pews thinking about that other member who has faults, who doesn’t meet your measure – or the person across the hall or across the street who is a sinner.
Do not turn outward to confess the sins of others. Turn selfward, and you’ll have enough sin to confess for a lifetime – if only you look honestly and in the mirror of God’s Law. God’s children must learn better to keep their eyes to themselves. Especially as we go on this long car ride through the world together.
And, like every election year, the road to November is a long ride. Don’t let the world’s political circus dirty your own soul every four years. Don’t engage in Pharisee like talk or thoughts about “the other guy”, whichever guy is your other guy.
It is no great glory in heaven – no great righteousness – that you vote for the least of two sinners. But it is a great victory of the devil if, for a season, you stop seeing your own self as the chief of sinners and adopt a Pharisee like attitude against the blue or against the red.
Hasn’t Christ convinced each of us that we have all been murderers? Hasn’t Christ convinced each of us that we have all been extortioners? Hasn’t Christ convinced us that we’re all unjust and adulterers to God? In regard to sin, what is there to do more urgently than to be repenting of our own?
In keeping our eyes to ourselves, we should first look selfward and then look Christward – toward the cross of Christ. It’s the tax-collector in today’s reading who goes home justified – so now we’ll learn from him.
To be justified means what? Christ said of the guilty tax-collector, “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” To be justified means to be declared righteous to God – to be made right with God. It is the sinner, the tax-collector, who is declared righteous to God, rather than the Pharisee.
Why? The Pharisee looked to himself to be justified by what he was doing – “I fast twice a week; I give tithes, etc.” Whereas the tax-collector trusted only in the sacrifices that were being offered for him in that Temple where he prayed. He was justified by faith in what God was doing [Ephesians 2:8-9].
The tax-collector in today’s parable, while standing before God in the Temple to pray, knew nothing of the sins of others. Instead, he kept his eyes to the ground and beat his own breast. And what did he say? “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
We must note a couple things about the words and the translation here in the plea “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Most literally, in the original Greek, this tax-collector actually says, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” I am the sinner.
Between him and God, as far as he was concerned, he was the only sinner he knew. I turn my eyes selfward. I repent of my sins. I’m the sinner.
And “mercy” here isn’t just mercy. It’s not just kindness or pity. This word “be merciful” means “be propitiated”, “be appeased of Your wrath.” “God, let Your wrath toward me be quieted – let it be extinguished – be appeased on account of the sacrifice that has been made.”
The tax-collector was standing in the Temple – the place where the lambs were being offered for sacrifice. The word he uses for “be merciful” is a word that refers to those sacrifices being offered. It means, “be at peace toward me on account of these sacrifices.”
At the hour of prayer in the Temple, many lambs were offered for sacrifice day after day – none of which could fully atone for sin. For you, the Lamb of God has been offered, who takes away the sin of the world once-and-for-all. [John 1:29; Hebrews 9:12,26; 10:10]
The tax-collector called himself the sinner and lived by faith in the sacrifices offered for sinners. You and I look inward to see we are each the sinner; and then we turn Christward to live by faith in the sacrifice made once-and-for-all – which atones for all your sin and turns away God’s wrath forever.
The Pharisee in the Gospel looked at the sins of others. Cain today, in the Old Testament, looked with envy at his brother Abel and hated him. But Christ has now shed His blood to forgive and wash away even the Cain-and-Pharisee-like sins in each of us.
We are the-Cain-and-the-Pharisee-and-the-tax-collector-sinner. And we are each the same as the elephant-sinner; and we are each the same as the donkey-sinner.
We should always support what is right. And we should always condemn what is wrong. But we should never look at any man or woman with contempt. Because we are not, any of us, more righteous in ourselves than any other. And each person’s sin is atoned for in the blood of Christ alone.
As a congregation around Christ’s dinner table, and as a people traveling a very long ride through this world, let’s each of us keep our eyes to ourselves regarding sin, and turn our eyes toward Christ alone regarding righteousness and salvation. Amen.