Today we begin our annual great journey to Pascha. To send us off on the correct path for our salvation, the Church recalls the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. If we are able to hear this parable with humility and an open mind, only then will the journey before us be of any value.
The story should be familiar to us. One sinner and one supposedly religious man both go to Church. Both pray, but only one returns home justified. As the story reveals to us, it is only when we accept our own sinfulness, that we can be justified. If, on the other hand, we exalt ourselves as better than any other person on the journey to heaven, we will find ourselves sorely mistaken. It won’t matter how much good we have done, nor will it matter what rules we have followed. If we exalt ourselves, we will lose.
In ten weeks, we will gather in the Cathedral to celebrate the Great Feast of Feasts. It will thankfully be a different celebration than last year. It won’t only be the pandemic that has changed Pascha, but if we are willing to hear today’s Gospel, it will be a celebration of joy and justification. If we are willing to evaluate ourselves, and accept our own sinfulness, the next ten weeks will be a journey of discovery and repentance.
We will discover, as the Gospel today attempts to teach us, that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. We will discover that justice from God is not different from mercy, because God is love. It was the sinner who returned home justified when he wept over his sins. Mercy isn’t as simple as not being punished. Mercy includes God’s loving embrace and comfort that His love is never ending. Nothing we can do will ever take that love away.
Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to look into your heart. Evaluate your life. Acknowledge that you, like me, are a sinner in need of God’s loving mercy. Forget about the sins in others. Forget about whether you follow more rules than the others. It won’t matter unless you can accept your sinfulness and repent. The next ten weeks are for your repentance. Join the Church on this great journey, and you will return home to heaven justified.