Митрополит Антоний Сурожский

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

February 7, 1993
Theme: Gospel parables, Spiritual life   Place: London Parish   Period: 1991-1995   Genre: Sermon

Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel relating the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus (St Luke XVIII :35-43), and last week that of Zacchaeus (St Luke XIX: l-10).

Bartimaeus had been blind, perhaps all his life, or perhaps at a certain moment he had lost sight of all the beauty of the world, of human faces, of everything that related him directly through the created world to God who made all things. He was a blind man. One day a crowd passed by him, a strange crowd — not just a noisy crowd of passers-by, but a crowd that had a centre, and the centre was the Lord Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus perceived the uniqueness of this crowd and asked who it was that made it into a whole; and then he began to cry for help, to be freed from his blindness.

How many times have we been blind, or how many years have we all lived blind? Blind to that revelation of God which the created world is offering us; blind to beauty, not to its external quality but to the shining of the divine wisdom and the divine beauty through it. How often have we looked at faces and never seen that they are icons of God that should relate us to God, and not stand between God and us as a temptation. How often has Christ passed quite close to us and we have never noticed His presence and His passing?

Let us reflect on ourselves and ask ourselves not only how often we were blind in the past, but how blind we are at this present hour. Christ is in our midst. Are we aware of it? Christ meets us in every person. Are we aware of that? One of the Desert Fathers said: “He who has seen his neighbour has seen his God”. Yes, an image of God, a real image. Damaged indeed like so many icons, desecrated or damaged; damaged to the point, at times, of being unrecognisable, and yet, a divine image.

Last week we heard about Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus overcame another temptation which is very familiar to us, that of vanity; vanity that consists in attaching ourselves to things of no value and trying to derive through them the admiration of other people who have no right to judge, because they also are prisoners of the same smallness of mind and smallness of heart. Vanity, in the words of St John Climacus, is arrogance before God and cowardice before men; a desire not to be judged, not to be condemned, but to be admired, to be praised, to be approved of, even for things that are not worthy of approval, just to be approved.

I suggested last week that we must concentrate our attention on that particular sin of ours and ask ourselves how dependent am I on the judgement of men, how indifferent am I to the judgement of my own conscience and beyond it, through it, of God Himself? How much do I look for approval and admiration of things that are unworthy of me, not only to speak of God?

To-day we are confronted with a third image; we are confronted with the story of the Pharisee and of the Publican (St Luke XVIII: 10-14). The Publican was aware of his unworthiness, he was aware that he was unworthy of presenting himself before the face of God, but also of being admitted into the company of respectable people, people of whom God would approve. He came to the door of the Temple and could not cross the threshold because he knew that in this world – soiled, polluted, desecrated by human sin, by blood and evil in all its forms, the Temple was a place which was devoted to God alone. All the rest of the world, to use a phrase of satan tempting Christ, all the rest of the world “has been betrayed into my hands by man”. But the Temple is a space which men of faith, frail indeed but believing in God, cut out of this realm of horror to be a vision of divine beauty, a dwelling place for the One who has nowhere to rest His Head in a world that was stolen from Him and betrayed into the hands of the adversary.

As the Publican stood on the threshold he knew that he belonged to the realm of evil, and had no access into the realm of God; and yet, he felt the difference, he felt horror at himself and a sense of worship, of adoration with regard to the Divine Realm. He beat his chest and asked for mercy because there was nothing else he could hope for and count on.

And the Pharisee stood right in the middle of the Church; he had walked in and taken his stand there as one who had the right to be there. Why? Not because he was a man of pure heart, but because he was faithful to every one of the formal rules established by the Synagogue, as a number of us are faithful to the outer, external rules of life that do not penetrate even through our skin, which do not reach our heart, which do not give a new shape and meaning to our thoughts.

So, again, we are confronted by two men and asked by Christ: who are you? Are you one who is so deeply aware of the sanctity of God that he knows that, apart from a God who would step down to us to heal and save, there is no access to Him. Or are we like the Pharisee who would say to God, throw it in His face: I have done all that is prescribed. You have nothing to ask of me!.. We are not that arrogant because we have not even the courage of being arrogant as the Pharisee was, neither have we got the constancy of courage to be as faithful as he was to the whole /full?/ of the life of the law.

Let us ask ourselves then: Do we emulate the Pharisee in deed, outwardly faithful to all the tenets of our Christian Faith? And beyond this, do we allow our Faith to transform our hearts, to rule our will, to enlighten our mind?

This is the task which the Gospel offers us. Think it out. It will be one more step to pronouncing upon ourselves a judgement so that we are not condemned.


Published: Newsletter №282, 1995 March

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