Naked Sinners Clothed by a Gracious God (Luke 18:9-17)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost + October 23, 2016
Text: Luke 18:9-17
In the age of social media, exhibitionism is at an all-time high.  People are sharing everything from their child’s first steps to what they had for dinner.  This has invited friends and acquaintances to “like” and comment their way into previously private moments.
Even though he didn’t have a Facebook page, the Pharisee in today’s parable wanted to be seen, like a child who hungers for attention.  He wanted God to “like” what he had done and give His divine approval: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men…”
On the other hand, with social media and the ability to spread information, there are things that you would rather not have shared.  What destruction has been wreaked in people’s lives by private comments and pictures being opened to the wrong parties or for the sake of revenge.  It has even driven some to the point of suicide.
The tax collector is not at all interested in sharing what he has done, especially what he has done against God.  He sneaks in the back of the temple, too ashamed to come any closer into the Divine Presence.  But if you think about it, who wants an audience when you sin?   Who would want their uncensored thoughts and intents to be broadcast to others?  Who would want their indiscretions and foolishness to be known?
But that’s what God’s Word does. It exposes us before Him.  It strips us naked of even those things we manage to hide from other people.  As the Apostle says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”[1] God’s Law leaves sinners so vulnerable that it’s unthinkable that they would point out another person’s faults while all theirs are clear in God’s sight: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Rom. 2:1)
Sin is something to be ashamed of, which is fully what God intends when His Law is preached.  If we are not ashamed (or worse even proud of our actions), then a grave spiritual hardness has taken root.  “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)
But God in His mercy doesn’t broadcast our shame abroad, like bullies and jilted ex-lovers so often do.  When Adam and Eve had sinned and their nakedness became a shame and reminder of broken relationship with God, God provided covering for their shame: “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”[2]
That’s because God has a loving way of dealing with each of our shames—public and private.  His way was to make a public spectacle of them.  His Son, Jesus was made a public display of human sin on the cross.  We know that “God made Him to be sin for us,”[3] but realize that He did this openly.  Jesus was stripped naked before God and man, and they cast lots for His clothing.  He was nailed to a cross and lifted up like a banner for all to see.  Though Rome meant this to be a spectacle for any would-be insurgents, God used the cross to testify that He was reconciling the world to Himself and making peace.  Now this open display of God’s justice and love is preached the world over.
Through Christ, just as He foreshadowed with Adam and Eve, He makes clothes for us—clothes wrought by the death of His Son—and He covers our nakedness.  He answers our cry for Him to have mercy upon us: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.”[4]  Your sin and nakedness has been covered completely by the perfect righteousness of Your Savior.  God has had mercy on you and you go down to your house justified.
The Pharisee stood boldly before God and waved all his supposed goodness in God’s face, wearing it proudly: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  Yet those who exalt themselves and hold their best work up before God will be humbled.
Those who have been humbled by God’s Law despair even of their proudest achievements, and say, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”[5]  This turns our thinking upside down because it means that even humanity’s finest achievements are nothing to brag about before God.  They are unclean in His sight.
The humble realize that the only thing you can wear proudly in God’s sight are the clothes which He Himself gives in Jesus Christ.  Paul, a former Pharisee, was stripped of every reason to boast before God and he confessed, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[6]
So may God’s Law expose all of our nakedness and shame, so that we would have nothing left except to be graciously clothed by Him.  In the words of the hymn, Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness/My beauty art, my glorious dress/Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed/With joy shall I lift up my head.[7]  Amen.
[1] Hebrew 4:12
[2] Genesis 3:21
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[4] Galatians 3:27: ἐνδύω (enduo) means to cloth oneself
[5] Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV)
[6] Galatians 6:14
[7] LSB 563:1