The parable we just heard is deceptively simple. It seems like an easy parable about the virtue of humility. It is not. Luke prepares us for it by saying
Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile.
Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave.
Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.
[The church] is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for [us].”
This is the point at which most of you say, “Wait just a minute. Does that mean I don’t have to ‘be good?’ Can I literally ‘get away with murder?’ And, come to think of it, does this mean I don’t have to go to church?”
Yes. But (you knew there was a but, right?) who would do injustice to someone they know God loves? And, if the news really is that good, that in spite of everything I have done in my life, despite the mess that I am, God loves me as much as the day I was born, don’t I feel compelled to say “thank you?”
And that is why we call this “Eucharist,” from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” We do not come here week by week to make ourselves right with God. We come to say thank you that God has already chosen to be right with us.
And that is the heart of the Gospel. As Robert Capon says in many of his books: Jesus did not come to improve the improvable or reform the reformable. He came to raise the dead. And that is precisely what he has done, is doing, and will do for ever.
A little coda: we are coming up on stewardship time and there will be more to say about that in the coming weeks. But the application from today is simply this: stewardship, like everything else in Christian life, is about gratitude. It is about saying thank you. We don’t make pledges or give to the church so that God will love us. We give because we are grateful for all we have been given. Our giving is a sacramental sign of our thanksgiving to God. If we choose to make our giving part of our spiritual discipline and to give proportionally and sacrificially, those are good things. But we do them because we are grateful.
The good news, you see, is not a bait and switch. It is really good news. For us. For the Pharisee and the tax collector.