Sermon on the Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee/ Feb. 17th

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nick cobb

Feb 16, 2008, 6:06:31 PM2/16/08
"One of the main distinctive features of the gospels, and quite unique
them, are the short stories known as parables which Jesus used in his
teaching and meetings with people. What is most striking is that these
parables, told two thousand years ago in conditions utterly unlike our
in a different civilization, in an absolutely different language, remain

up-to-date and right on target, going straight to our heart. Other books
words written only recently, perhaps yesterday or the day before, are
already old news, forgotten, vanished into oblivion. Already they don't
speak to us, they're dead. But these parables, so apparently simple and
unsophisticated, continue full of life. We listen to them and something
happens to us, as if someone were looking straight into the deepest part
our life and telling us something just about ourselves, just about me.

In this parable of the Publican and the Pharisee we have a story about
men. The Publican was a tax-collector, an occupation universally
despised in
the ancient world. The Pharisee belonged to the ruling party, the elite
that society and government. In contemporary language we could say that
parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is a symbolic story about a
respected represenative of the ruling class, on the one hand, and a
disreputable 'apparatchik' on the other. Christ says:

-Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a
-collector. The pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself, 'God, I
-thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or

-even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all

-that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even
-up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful
to me,
-a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather

-than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but
-who humbles himself will be exalted. (Lk 18:10-14)

The story takes up to only five short verses in the gospel, yet it
something eternal that applies to all times and situations. For now,
however, let's consider the parable only in light of our own time and
ourselves. If anything lies at the foundation of our government,
and yes, our personal lives, then it is the Pharisee's continuous
self-promotion, self-affirmation, or to use a more venerable and eternal

word, pride. Listening to the heartbeat of our times, we can't but be
at the frightening self-advertisement, boasting and shameless
that has entered our life so completely that we almost don't notice it.
self-criticism, self-examination, self-assessment, and any hint of
have become not simply weaknesses, but worse, a social or even a
crime. Loving one's country now means forever praising it brazenly while

belittling other nations. Loyalty now means forever proclaimimg the
sinlessness of authorities. To be human now means to demean and trample
others, raising yourself up by putting others down. Analyzing your life
the life of your society, its basic structure, you will surely admit
this is an accurate description. The world in which we live is so
with deafening boastfulness, it has become so natural a part of living,
we ourselves don't even notice it. This indeed was Boris Pasternak's
observation, as one of the greatest and most clear-sighted poets of our
time: '...everything is drowning in phariseeism...' Most frightening, of

course, is that phariseeism is accepted as virtue. We have been
so long and so persistently with glory, accomplishments, triumphs; we
so long been held captive in an atmosphere of illusory pseudo-greatness,

that all this now seems good and right. Imprinted on the soul of whole
generations is now an image of the world in which power, pride and
self-praise are the norm. It is time to be horrified by all this and to
remember the words of the gospel: 'Every one who exalts himself will be

At present, those few who are just beginning to talk about this, in a
whisper, who little by little remind the world of this, are shunted off
court or imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals. They are hounded without
'Look at these traitors! They oppose the greatness and might of their
country! They are against its accomplishments! They have doubts that we
the best, most powerful, most free, most happy country of all. Be
that you are not like these unfortunate renegades.' And so on...But
understand that the argument, the war being waged by this embattled
minority, is a fight for the spiritual foundations of our very life,
the Pharisee's pride is not merely words. Sooner or later his pride
with hatred and turns on those who refuse to acknowledge his greatness,
perfection. It turns on them with persecution and terror. It leads to
Christ's parable is like a scalpel lancing the worst pus-filled boil of
contemporary world: the pride of the pharisee. For as long as this boil
grows, the world will be ruled by hatred, fear and blood. And that is
situation today.

Only in returning to the forgotten, discredited, and discarded power of
humility will the world be made clean. For humility means acceptance and

respect of the other, the courage to admit one's own perfection, to
and to set out on the path toward correction. To leave the boasting,
and darkness of the Pharisee, and to return to the light and wholeness
genuine humanity. To turn toward truth, toward humility, and toward
This is the call of Christ's parable, and this is the invitation, the
invitation of the lenten spring..."

[Taken from, "Celebration of Faith" Sermons, Vol. 2 "The Church Year" by
late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, 1994; available at:


Feb 18, 2008, 4:28:01 AM2/18/08
nick cobb wrote:
> "One of the main distinctive features of the gospels, and quite unique
> to
> them, are the short stories known as parables which Jesus used in his

> [Taken from, "Celebration of Faith" Sermons, Vol. 2 "The Church Year" by
> the
> late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, 1994

such a good, great and timeless sermon deserved a part of my night to have it in French :

thanks again for the forwarding of it


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