Got Grace?

October 27th, 2019 30th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

The tie in between today’s readings: Trusting in whose righteousness?

Psalm 34:1-2;16-22, Sirach 35:12-18, 2Timothy 4:6-8;16-18, Luke 18:9-14

Two people are in the temple early one morning. One is a Pharisee. He is meditating on Sirach 35:12-18, praying to himself as he looks up to heaven.

“Give to the most High according to what He has given thee” (Sirach 35:12).

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people. I tithe all that I have,” he whispered.

“The Lord will not accept a poor sacrifice” (Sirach 35:15).

“Lord, I fast twice a week and offer the best of my abilities back to you,” he affirmed softly.

“The Lord will not accept any person against a poor man and will hear the prayer of him that’s wronged” (Sirach 35:16).

“God, I give alms and treat all men with fairness. I am not a swindler, or unjust, or even like this tax collector behind me,” he said a little louder. After he finished boasting of himself before the Lord, he left the house of God with a warm glow, a misapplication of scripture, and a soul in peril.

The Publican stands head down in the back of the temple. He was at dinner last night thrown by his tax collector friend, Zaccheus, who at this very moment was giving his money away to the poor and paying back the people that he had cheated with interest. Jesus was there and Matthew, among others. He heard that Matthew had quit the business to become a disciple. He spent the evening listening and trying to understand what happened in these men’s lives. The words of Psalm 34 echo in his mind from last night’s discussion and he grapples with them.

“The righteous cry, the Lord hears and delivers them out of their troubles” (Ps 34:17).

“I’m a sinful tax collector. Would God ever hear my cry?” he asked himself.

“The Lord is near the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18).

“God, I feel so far away from you. How can you be near me in my wretchedness?” he despaired.

“The Lord redeems the soul of His servants. None who take refuge in Him will be condemned” (Ps 34:22).

Then the light of scripture broke through. “My righteousness, my salvation, my redemption, and my forgiveness are found in God and not in myself. Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Oh, God…” He kept pleading and beating his breast until the peace of the Lord flooded his soul. Though he still had many questions, he left justified. He was a changed man with a fresh faith and a new life to lead. He had found grace!

To understand the shock of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, in Luke 18:9-14, you must remember that in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the good guys. If we brought this story into modern times we could just as well call it, The Bishop and the Drug Dealer. Our Lord warns against trusting in our own morality and it speaks to many of us. We deceive ourselves that we are good because we don’t commit the sins that we see in others. We always come out on top when we measure our lives against the contemptuous. In other places in the gospel, Jesus says that if you don’t see that you are sick, then I can’t heal you (Mark 2:17). This story knocks us off our feet, plants us on our backs, and makes us look up at our Judge. His standard is perfection. No one measures up. There is none good except God…but there is grace. By grace, God will share His righteousness with you through faith in His Son’s sacrifice on the cross. It is the clear message of the New Testament. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The results of this saving grace can be seen in the life of the Apostle Paul, clear up to the end, as he writes in today’s reading in 2 Timothy 4, his last epistle:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and willbring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Sounds like the lyrics to Amazing Grace

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

So claim the grace of God, trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus for your sins, and receive His righteousness found in His Redeemer. Two people are in church early one Sunday morning…which one are you?

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