October 27, 2019

Talkin’ to Myself
Pentecost 20, Proper 25, Year C

Becky Robbins-Penniman

I’ve discovered something about myself that I probably shouldn’t admit: When I’m alone, I talk to myself. Out loud. I googled what this means. One impeccably researched article said it was a sign of dementia. Another impeccably researched article said it was a sign of genius. Guess which one I’m going with.

The truth is, many of us have a running commentary going on in our heads. This self-talk is just a part of being the verbal animals we are. We all do it; some of us do it out loud. The issue isn’t whether we do it silently or aloud; the issue is: WHAT we’re saying to ourselves.

In the gospel lesson, Jesus contrasts two men in the Temple praying. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector both are talking to God, but they are very much talking to themselves at the same time. The Pharisee, thanks God – that’s good! He also talks about what he’s doing right – nothing wrong with that! But he doesn’t talk about the joy, peace and purpose he finds in his faith, in following the laws God gave him to love God and neighbor, to use God’s blessing to be a blessing to others. That’s’ not what he talks about at all. No, he misuses the Law to lift himself up, to compare himself to others. He judgmentally tears down his neighbors.

In the Pharisee’s misuse of God’s Law there was no room for honest insight as to his own selfishness, nor compassion for others as they struggle to find their way. Jesus says that the Pharisee went home UNjustified, Unrighteous. Why? The Pharisee was not being the person whom God created him to be.

In contrast, the Tax Collector talks only about himself. He doesn’t compare himself to anyone else; he doesn’t give a catalog of his sins; But he does do honest self-assessment: he acknowledges that he is a sinner: selfish, self-absorbed. The Tax Collector then simply asks for God’s mercy. No excuses. He just asks for God’s mercy.

The Greek word translated here as “mercy” has a beautiful definition. The word means “gentle reconciliation into a state of peace.” It doesn’t mean, “You’re not guilty.” It’s reconciliation in spite of guilt. The Tax Collector asks God to forgive him and reconcile their relationship. He was trusting in God’s promise to welcome all sinful flesh, to gently bring all humanity into God’s peace, joy and gladness. In this trust, Jesus says, the sinful Tax Collector went home justified: Why? this self-aware, trusting man was being the person God created him to be.

Read the full sermon text HERE.