Митрополит Антоний Сурожский

The publican and the pharisee

February 20, 2000
Theme: Gospel parables   Place: London Parish   Period: 1996-2000   Genre: Sermon

On our journey towards Lent, and beyond Lent towards Easter, we come to a series of parables which must prepare us to our journey through Lent. And to­day’s parable speaks to us of the pharisee and of the publican.

The publican came into the church knowing that he has no right to be there. In what sense? The church is a small place on earth which is totally dedicated to God, which belongs to God alone, in which God has a right to live, into which we come to meet Him, and no-one else. O, of course, everyone else, but only together with  H i m.  And the publican stood by the door knowing that he is a stranger and that his only hope lay in the fact that God loves. He had said in the Old Testament, ‘Child,  g i v e  Me thy heart –  a l l  the rest belongs to Me’.

So, we can come and give our heart to God, and only then can we walk into this sacred ground.

The pharisee lived according to rules; he thought, he felt that he did everything that was expected of him according to the Law, he had a rights (?) to God; he had a right to be in God’s realm, he was one of His people. And therefore, looking round he could compare others who in his eyes were not worthy of the same.

Let us reflect on ourselves; when we come to church, are we aware that it is a realm into which we can come only if our heart has been given to God, and if our heart has become His dwelling place. And also, if we have tried, however hard, however honestly to live according to the Gospel, can we say ‘I am worthy’, can I say ‘I have a right to be here’? No, it is only love that can give us a right; it is only our love, mutual, and our love to God that can allow us to enter into this sacred realm. And when we come, let us stop one moment by the door, and think, ‘This realm is sacred; it is God’s dwelling place; let me enter into it with all my heart;’ turn to God and say, ‘Lord, I am unworthy, and yet, I am loved; I am impure, and yet I can love Thee, O Lord, and the people around me. Imperfectly, but this is the only ground on which I can stand here’. Amen.

 

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