Here are some worthwhile excerpts from a sermon on Luke 18:9-14 by Gregory Palamas. Note the way that Gregory gets under the Pharisee’s skin and exposes his mindset. He puts his Pharisaical heart right in the crosshairs. This helps us see how we’re like the Pharisee. Jesus was able to accomplish the same thing with just a few masterful brushstrokes.

Note also how Gregory teaches about faith that obtains the forgiveness of sins, although he speaks of it in more elliptical but still unmistakable terms. Grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone are not Lutheran distinctives — they’re the true Christian teaching that the Lutheran confessors preserved and purified from the false doctrine of their day, as indeed we must do in our own day.

Hope this helps you prepare for Ash Wednesday tomorrow. Grace and peace be with you.

9.Instead of the attitude of a servant, the Pharisee’s stance displays shameless self-exaltation, the opposite of that other man who, in his humility, did not dare to lift up his eyes to heaven. It stands to reason that the Pharisee prayed to himself, for his prayer did not ascend to God, although it did not escape the notice of Him Who sits upon the Cherubim and observes the lowest depths of the abyss. When he said “I thank thee”, he did not go on to say, “because in Thy mercy Thou didst freely deliver me, weak and unable to fight as I am, from the snares of the devil”. For he is spiritually courageous who manages to take refuge in repentance when caught in the snares of the enemy and fallen into the nets of sin. The circumstances of our lives are directed by a higher providence and often, with little or no effort on our part, by God’s help we have stayed out of reach of many great passions, delivered by His sympathy for our weakness. We should acknowledge the gift and humble ourselves before the Giver, not be conceited.

10. The Pharisee says, “I thank thee, God”, not because I have received any help from Thee, but “because I am not as other men are”. As though it was from his own resources and through his own ability that he was not an extortioner or unjust or an adulterer – if, indeed, he really was not. He did not pay attention to himself, or he would not have said he was righteous. He was looking more at everyone else than at himself and, in his madness, despised them all. Only one seemed to him to be righteous and chaste: himself…

With a humble mind [the penitent tax collector] bears your arrogant accusation and, reproaching himself, he offers supplication to God and is delivered by Him from the condemnation of having treated others unjustly. You, however, will be rightly condemned for having arrogantly made accusations against him and all men, and deemed only yourself righteous. “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers.”

11. These words show the Pharisee’s disdain for God and for everybody, but also for the standards of his own conscience. He openly despises everybody and ascribes his abstention from evil not to God’s strength but to his own. If he says that he thanks God, it is only because he considers all men apart from himself to be licentious, unjust and extortioners, as though God saw fit to grant virtue to him alone.

12. …For “week” the Pharisee uses the word “Sabbath”, but he means not the seventh day but the seven days, on two of which he brags that he fasts. He is unaware that such fasts are mere human virtues, whereas pride is demonic. When pride is linked with fasting, however genuine, it annuls and destroys the virtues, and how much more so if the fasting is a sham.

13. These are the words of the Pharisee. By contrast, the Publican “standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). See the extent of his humility, faith and self-reproach. See the utter abasement of his thoughts and feelings, and, at the same time, contrition of heart mingled with this publican’s prayer. When he went up into the Temple to pray for the remission of his sins, he brought with him good advocates before God: unashamed faith, un-condemned self-reproach, contrition of heart that is not despised and humility that exalts. He linked attention to prayer most excellently. It says, “The publican standing afar off’. Not “stood”, as in the case of the Pharisee, but “standing”, to show that he was standing for a long time continuously praying and asking for mercy. Without any other intention or thought he paid attention only to himself and God, turning over and repeating the supplication of a single thought,’ the most effective of all prayers.

18. When you abandon your evildoing, do not contradict those who despise or reproach you because of it. Join them in condemning yourself for what you are like and, through contrite prayer, take refuge in the forgiveness of God alone, realizing that you are a rescued publican. Many have called themselves sinners, and so do we, but dishonor tests the heart.

18. When you abandon your evildoing, do not contradict those who despise or reproach you because of it. Join them in condemning yourself for what you are like and, through contrite prayer, take refuge in the forgiveness of God alone, realizing that you are a rescued publican. Many have called themselves sinners, and so do we, but dishonor tests the heart.

(Gregory Palamas, Discourse on the Publican and the Pharisee)

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