Sunday, August 16, 2015

On the wrong side of humility

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

We hear the pharisee say, "I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." We hear the publican say, "God be merciful to me a sinner." We hear our Lord say, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." What we haven't heard is what the third man says at the temple and what Our Lord has to say about him. Well, which third man is this?


The third man comes into the temple and says, "I am sorry that I am worse than all other men. I am worse than the extortioners, unjust, adulterers and even this publican. I don't fast twice in the week, I don't give tithes of all that I possess." What do you have to say to this man? What do you think God has to say to this man?


We know that St Paul often seems to think of himself like this. He does actually say that he is the least of the apostles because he persecuted the Church. Notice, however, that St Paul recognises why he might be thought of as the least of the apostles. He even regards himself as the worst sinner ever. Yet, isn’t there something a little bit askew with people who always see themselves as the worst possible human being?

There are psychological conditions out there in which people really do think of themselves as inferior to everyone. So we can recognise that there is something unhealthy about feeling the lowest of the low.

There are other folk who like to make a show of their unworthiness, just as the Pharisee made a show of his worthiness. Our Lord would have the same thing to say about these folk as He does about the Pharisee. Sometimes the people who protest their unworthiness protest too much.

St Paul does indeed call himself the worst sinner,  but let's put his remarks in context. He says to St Timothy, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy , that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting."

He recognises his sin but he puts his faith not in his own judgement, but in the mercy of God, just like the Publican.


St Paul says very clearly, besides being the least of the apostles, "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."

It is by God's grace that St Paul is who he is. It is by God's grace that you are who you are. Each one of us, in our very selves is an instance of God's grace. There is no way possible that we can be all bad, otherwise Christ would never have wanted to save us. Yet if we do think ourselves as being all bad, then we are in danger of setting ourselves up above God Himself and that is the sin of pride, and it is a sin that will indeed lead a person into Hell as assuredly it led the Devil himself into Hell.

There are times that we feel low. So many people have clinical depression and it's horrible. Yet, if there is anything worth clinging to it's the fact that, as St Paul says, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

If we feel like a sinner, then we probably are a sinner. What do we need to do? We need to repent and believe in the grace of God Who is Who He is!

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