St Augustine: Homily on Luke 18:9-14
Posted by Dim Bulb on July 30, 2010
GOSPEL: Luke 18:9-14. At that time: Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one was a Pharisee, and the other a Publican. The Pharisee, standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this
Publican. I fast twice in the week: Igive tithes of all that I possess. And the Publican standing afar off would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other, because everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled , and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
1. The proud Pharisee, boasting of his virtues, might at least have said: I am not as many men are. But what is the meaning of the rest of men? All other men, but himself. Indeed, to say I am just, does it not mean that all others are sinners? I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. And, lo, the presence of the Publican gives him an occasion of greater pride: As also this Publican. He was alone, according to his proud thoughts, and the Publican was of the rest of men. My own justice makes the difference between me and the wicked, such as he is. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess. Now it would be in vain to look in his prayer for anything he went to the temple to ask for; you will find nothing. He went up to pray; but his prayer was not a request for anything from God, it was a glorification of himself. It was but little not to pray to God; but what do you think of his praising himself, and even despising his neighbour who did pray? And the Publican standing afar off was yet praying near to God. Conscious of his own self he kept at a distance, while his piety drew him near to God. Though the Publican stood afar off, the Lord was at hand to hear him. For the Lord is high and looketh on the low, and the high, as was this Pharisee, He knoweth afar off (Ps 137: 6). The proud, indeed, God knows afar off, but He does not pardon them. Consider still more the humility of the Publican. It was not only that he stood afar off, but he would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven. He looked not, that he might be looked upon. He dared not to look, forself-knowledge kept him down, but hope raised him up. Consider again how he struck his breast. He punished himself; therefore God had compassion on his confession of guilt. He struck his breast, saying: God be merciful to me a sinner. Behold him that is praying. And what are you wondering at? The sinner remembers, and God forgets!
2. After seeing the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican, let us now examine how they are judged by God Himself. The first praises himself, thinking himself better than the rest of men; the other, in his humility, accuses himself of his sins. And what is the Judge’s sentence? Amen, I say to you: this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, the Pharisee. O Lord, I ask Thee for the cause of this difference; why did the Publican and not the Pharisee go down to his house justified? Thy answer will be: Because everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Have you heard the sentence? Then take care lest your pride be the cause of your condemnation.
3. Those who rely on their own power and make use of the language of infidels, let them consider that, when saying: God gave me my nature, but I made myself just, they are worse than this Pharisee. For, after all, this Pharisee, though praising himself,was grateful to God, since he added: God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men. He is blamed, not for giving thanks to God, but because by his words, boasting of not being as the rest of men, he expressed the pride of his heart. Indeed, he seemed to say in as many words, that nothing could be added to his merits, and that he was asking for nothing. I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. Does he not seem to say that he alone was just, that he was in need of nothing from God, since in his conceit he was already overwhelmed with merits and virtues? Therefore, boasting in this way he imagines himself not to be in need of God s help, and gives the lie to the Truth, saying: The life of man upon earth is a warfare (Job 7:1). O proud Pharisee, thou seemest to say to thyself that it would be useless to ask God to forgive thy sins, for thou thinkest thyself just! Now that this man is justly condemned for thanking God in a proud manner, what shall we think of those who wickedly attack the grace of God?
4. After the justification of the Publican and the condemnation of the Pharisee, children are presented, and our Lord is asked to receive and even to touch them. Did it not become Jesus Christ, the great Physician, to touch them so as to cure them? Do not object and say that these children were not afflicted with any corporal disease; for my answer will be, that these children were in need of a Saviour, and that they were received by the Saviour who had said: The Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). But how were they lost, and in what consisted their sins, since they were innocent children? What was their sin? Listen to the Apostle saying: By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned (Rom 5:12). Let, then, the children come; let them come and hear the Lord : Suffer children to come to Me. Let them come to the heavenly Physician, that He may touch them; let them come to the Saviour and be saved by Him. They have not sinned; yet they are like the branches of a tree the roots of which are infected with disease. May the Lord bless the little ones and the big ones, and touch them both to cure them. We beseech you, who are grown up, to take care of the little ones ; to speak for those who are still mute; to pray for those who have but tears. Consider that, at an age when work is your duty, you must be the protectors of the little ones, and defend their cause. We were lost like them, so let us be united with them in Jesus Christ. They are less guilty than we are, but the grace of Jesus is given to all. The children have but the sin of their origin that is, the original sin; why then should those, who to this first sin have added many other sins, place obstacles to the salvation of the little ones? Is it not true that the more we advance in years the more we increase in wickedness?
However, the grace of God blots out both the sin brought with us into this world and all sin added to it; for where sin abounded, grace did more abound (Rom 5:20).