Saturday, September 03, 2011

More on the Parable

of the Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14)

The sermon below does not afford the space to look at the full extent of what happened to the Publican. Jesus said, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other." "I tell you" is a phrase that is loaded with meaning, by which Jesus declares that the word He proclaims is His own, standing in the place of the ancient prophetic address, "thus saith the LORD." It is spoken as boldly as "verily, verily (amen, amen) I say into you." What He tells us is astonishing, giving assurance that everyone needs to have, that God forgives sins.  

"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other." The word for "justified" is δικαιόω (dikaioō) from δίκαιος (dikaios), which means "just." Equally, it means "righteous." This is a very important concept in Judaism, to be a צָדַק (tsä·dak' ), a just or righteous person. The Sadducees, as our English Bible calls them, built their name on this word, calling themselves, in their group delusion, "the righteous ones."

What matters for us, in this parable, is that the man Jesus Christ so identifies (calling him a tsadok or righteous man) is identified first of all as a man whose sin is so terrible that his very entrance into the temple required stealth. A publican, that is a tax collector, would have been forbidden to enter even a synagogue, let alone the holy temple itself. Therefore, the very sincerity of his repentance, which Jesus makes abundantly clear in this story, implies that he has decided to repent of his notorious occupation; how else could he stand there? 

That the man goes home justified is no small matter. The whole theological meaning of justification is of major importance in the New Testament, and the theme receives its greatest development by St. Paul. It is obvious that Paul builds his meaning on the same understanding of justification that is very clear in Christ's parable. The publican has had, as of yet, no opportunity to make restoration (though we may take a clue from the story of Zacchaeus in the very next chapter, v.8, that Christ requires no less). And, he has had as of yet no time for a process of sanctification to have produced the virtues. All we can see in him is faith, and that faith is expressed in sincerity when he prays, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

This parable is about the place where it must begin for each person. The life of faith must have a beginning, even if that beginning is a return rather than an absolute genesis. After all, those of us who were baptized in infancy were, at that moment, "made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." But, the life of faith must begin in order to be lived; in fact it must have such a beginning every day: "It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness (Lam. 3:23,24)." The assurance we are given by the Biblical doctrine, so clearly set forth, is that we can begin with the full assurance of justification.

On the cross, as He died, Jesus uttered the word τελέω (teleō), which takes three English words to say: "It is finished (John 19:30)." In those days, when Greek was the international tongue, the word τελέω was written on a final receipt of payment; so we may conclude that the usage of the word was meant to convey not only the completion or perfection of a thing, but full payment. Christ has paid in full for it all, for "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2)." 

Many voices would "teach" you that this is not so. They would insist that no one can have faith in God's justification. As we have seen, their main error is a poor Christology, by which they treat Jesus Christ as less than fully Divine. They imply that we cannot have faith in God's justification of sinners based merely on this one man's death, even though the Bible clearly says we can (Isaiah 53, Romans 5). They teach that sins can be worked off in a long punitive Purgatory, and that we may have in addition the merits of saints applied to us, or we can perform works of the Law that justify (Rom. 3:28). They teach that justification requires the process of sanctification, making the justification of the publican in the parable completely meaningless, and always leaving room to question if we have been "justified" enough. 

This leads me to a painful thought. I fear that even in this present day we have people who would be stumped by the problem that was actually faced in the year 1517 in the German town of Wittenburg. Yes, Anglicans are not Lutherans; we have a few differences of course. But, on the great problem raised by the sale of indulgences by Johan Tetzel, who worked directly on behalf of Pope Leo X (formerly Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici), there should be no problem agreeing entirely with Luther and his Ninety-five Theses.

If, for some reason, you find the need to think it over, perhaps based on some notion of papal claims as they are generally diluted through the process of identifying Rome as "first in honor," I must stand in doubt of you. I must wonder how three vague references to Rome as "first in honor," made at Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon during the time when the Roman Empire was a political reality, have become so meaningful as to acquire equal weight to the word of God set forth in absolute authority with powerful clarity, from the mouth of Christ and by the pen of St. Paul. How did these obscure and unclear statements of mere imperial etiquette become loaded with dogmatic implications? The issue in 1517 was simple: Does anyone, pope included, possess the power to sell salvation for money? Are repentance and faith necessary unless and until an alleged, and self-proclaimed, "successor of Peter" invents a new gospel (Gal. 1:8,89)? An Anglican has no need to waste time deciding who was right and who was wrong in 1517. The truth is obvious (enough for me to say "here I stand").

Frankly, the voices that would rob you of the meaning of Christ's words in this parable, "this man went down to his house justified," are too numerous to mention. The theological confusion of the Church of Rome in 1517 is but one example. Other examples include those who make light of the publican's contrition, and who would "teach" him that he need not repent; that God "understands." They would replace justification with acceptance, a God Who accepts sin, rather than forgiving repentant sinners. For what God approves, He would not forgive; and what a convicted penitent publican needs is forgiveness, not "understanding." 

The truth that you must grasp is something you really know deep down inside. Though each of us remains a sinner, in that we are weak through the Fall and unable to get through an hour without sin by thought, word or deed, we can be sure nonetheless of God's mercy. We have the assurance by Christ's cross, even in this fallen condition, that we have been justified if we believe His Gospel. He has given this assurance by His word and sacraments. We may be sure that we are liable to fall again and again even if involuntarily, but also that absolution is absolute.


Roger du Barry said...

Revernd Hart, please email me at if it is convenient for you.

Al W. said...

Indulgences are still being practiced in the Roman Catholic Church...just not sold outright.

This Summer, indulgences were granted to those who prayed for the Pope's intentions for and during the World Youth Day in Spain.

My thought as I read that was - is the Pope/Roman Church in effect giving their people permission to sin? It seems like a 'Get out of jail free card' or a way for people to endanger their souls by indulging a new or old bad habit.

How would this arrangement work? Would this 'indulgence' be effective for engaging in this act one time, two or ongoing? Would it cover a sexual act, or an abortion or adultery? Just how powerful is the mojo of this indulgence. Do you have to turn it in at Confession?

The whole idea is abhorrent and juvenile.

It reeks of the antics of the Episcopal church which has taken a different tactic regarding sin and declared outright (despite Scripture and CDC reports on sexual diseases and the mental health issues that follow sexual sin) that homosexuality or any kind of sexual 'indulgence' is adiaphora or has no sin quotient, but is up to the discretion and desires of the person/s of any 'gender' (gender being a sense of self, identity, orientation, based on feelings, that is changeable and reversible as desired).

Wonder if an indulgence would cover a 'sex change' or a trip to Vegas...or Bali?

Maybe that's why Rome has so many deviants in the priesthood and bishopric...

RSC+ said...

Al W.,

You have largely misunderstood how an indulgence works. It is not a get out of jail free card, as you say, but remission of temporal punishment for sins that have already received the sacrament of absolution.

In other words, suppose a sinner has gone to confession and received a particular penance (that is, his temporal punishment). He then, under the particular rules for indulgences, receives a plenary (full) indulgence.

They explicitly require contrition. So, attempting to game the system would disqualify a sinner from receiving any benefit whatsoever from an indulgence.

You don't turn in an indulgence, because it is in response to a sin you've already committed and confessed, and for which you've received absolution.

In light of these facts about how indulgences actually work, I don't really see the point of your critique -- unless it's to dispute whether The Church has the authority to waive temporal punishment (which it imposed in the first place) for a sin as part of the process of Repentance.

Fr. Wells said...

Al W & Shaughn: Before you try to discuss this topic, it might be good to read CCC paragraphs 1472--1479. I am not sure it is correct to equate "temporal punishments" with penances imposed by a Confessor.

My impression is that unconfessed venial sins carry their own "temporal penalties" which must be endured in purgatory.

At any rate, the distinction between eternal and temporal penalties is baseless ad misleading.

Do not forget that the the whole notion of Indulgences hangs on the notion of merit and a treasury of merit. This is utterly inimical to the Gospel in its essence. Although Al W. writes in a heavy-handed style, in refuting him Shaughn comes close to defending the indefensible.

Al W: Your question "is the Pope/Church in effect giving people permission to sin?" That is a double bladed axe, as the Romans have used it to criticize the Gospel of Justification. Have we already been forgiven for sins not yet committed? So the Reformers seemed to teach.

Yes, Indulgences were bought and sold. Yes, Indulgences are still a source f revenue. The commercialization of RC shrines is a scandal which troubles the RC's themselves. As a RC seminarian once said to me, "Go to Rome and lose your faith."

RSC+ said...

Fr. Wells,

Debating the Roman Catholic understanding of Indulgences (or any issue held by anyone) is absolutely worth doing; however, in order to engage in that task, one must first accurately describe what that teaching is, rather than what it is reputed or thought to be. To do otherwise is to burn a straw man, and I would happily defend even what the "Pelagians do vainly speak" if the person criticizing them is criticizing something no Pelagian ever actually believed or taught.

And you're right, of course, that I sloppily conflated temporal punishment with penances imposed by a confessor. Do forgive my haste. I see now that temporal punishment is whatever punishment is due to venial sins, and that (according to RC teaching) that "debt" must be paid somehow in the space after death they call Purgatory; otherwise God can't be said to be fully Just.

I confess that I don't really understand that mercantile notion of debts and credits. The due penalties for sin are death and eternal condemnation because we cannot be just on our own. God is just; we do die. We have, however, hope of resurrection and trust that Christ through His sacrifice will impute justification on us.

The chief failing of this budget-like notion of Purgatory, it seems to me, mostly lies in its inability to trust adequately in the Gospel.

Fr. Wells said...

Shaughn+, all very, very well stated. I don't understand this mercantile notion of merits and demerits either. Neither did the universal Church prior to th fabrication of the "treasury of merits" fable. I doubt God understands it either.

Your final sentence is superb, and that "inability to trust adequately in the Gospel" has ominous implications.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I see now that temporal punishment is whatever punishment is due to venial sins, and that (according to RC teaching) that "debt" must be paid somehow in the space after death they call Purgatory; otherwise God can't be said to be fully Just.

This describes a very real RC problem. They don't seem to know that the cross makes God just in justifying fully every repentant sinner ("...that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Rom. 3:26). Justice demands no more than the debt paid in full by no less than God the Son Himself. How can it?

This makes me once again repeat that their Christology is weak. His death is not enough; there must be further payment. Very serious error that.

Sean W. Reed said...


Rev. Mr. Wells wrote:

"... Yes, Indulgences are still a source f revenue..."

Sorry, not since before the Council of Trent has any indulgence had anything to do with money.


Fr. Wells said...

Ever heard of John Tetzel?

Although you are quite wrong, you are only pursuing a side issue. Indugences would be a false doctrine even if they were given away.

Sean W. Reed said...


Please re-read my comment. Tetzel was BEFORE theCouncil of Trent and one of the cheif reasons for the change.

Tetzel was corrupt, did not mention that the same indulgence could be had withoout the financal contribution, but he was recalled to Rome, his actions repudiated and the money topic dealt with by the Holy Council of Trent.

Just one more factual error on your part.


Fr. Wells said...

SWR: Your comment has been thoroughly read on my part. It reminds me of the John Kerry defense that "I voted vfor the bill before I voted against it." To make a more jocular observation, you argument reminds me of the prostitute who repented for selling her body and then decided just to give it away freely. The indulgences system was and is evil, whether you charge money or not.

As for Rome's somewhat belated repudiation of Tetzel and all his smarmy ilk, I wonder if the token reforms of your "Holy" Council of Trent would have occurred without Luther's protest bringing the matter to their attention.

To update your argument, you might try saying that we used to have a pederasty problem, but we don't have that any more. One version is as convincing as the other.

Sean W. Reed said...


Rev. Mr. Wells -

You made the present tense statement "Yes, Indulgences are still a source f revenue."

That is incorrect. Just admit you made a mistake and go on.


Fr. Wells said...

Is the Indulgence System still a source of revenue? Well, I believe Indulgences are attached to the great shrines and pilgrimage sites, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorie, etc. Very lucrative places I understand. Anything else I can help you with?

Sean W. Reed said...


Rev. Mr. Wells wrote:

"...Well, I believe Indulgences are attached to the great shrines and pilgrimage sites, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorie, etc. Very lucrative places I understand..."

First Medjugorie is not approved by The Church.

Secondly, the draw to Lourdes etc are for spiritual benefits of the pilgrimage and the healing.

Why would one travel to these locations and spend money if they were only seeking an indulgence?

One can sit at home, read Sacred Scripture for a half hour, and under the usual conditions obtain a plenary indulgence - all without any money being spent.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Indulgences show everything wrong with "doctrinal development" at its worst. The real meaning of an indulgence is the same as what today we call a dispensation. An example of a dispensation, or the original meaning of an indulgence, is demonstrated in 17th century English Law. The Church of England working with Parliament enforced a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and holy day "fast" (minus feast days) with fines imposed by law. No one could eat flesh meat, by law in England on those days. But, for those whose physicians gave them leave from this practice, the law was waived and the fines were not imposed. That was a very official form of dispensation.

Today a diabetic might have a dispensation, or in ancient terminology an indulgence, to eat breakfast before receiving Communion, for example. That is how bishops were seen as having the power to grant indulgences. Rome corrupted this into strictly a papal power, and then corrupted the idea of indulgences even further, eventually losing the idea of a dispensation altogether.

The application of this to a punitive purgatory is an easily traced corruption, with glaring historical evidence. It is a confusing and confused mess through and through.

Sean, please stop buying it. Rome is not the magic kingdom you think; you are planning an very disastrous trip.

Jackie said...


Sean, please refer to Fr. Wells as such. The Reverend *Father* Wells. Much as I disagree with points of Roman Doctrine, I do respect their clergy at all levels, just as I do those from the Orthodox church. If the Pope were to walk into my church, I would give him all honor due the Bishop of Rome. Please do the same.