Summary: On the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, a clear look at some distorted teachings on Atonement and Salvation are presented, one by one, and a brief look at the therapeutic nature of Atonement.
Some Profound Heresies
Today, I’m going to teach you some profound heresies!
In today’s Gospel, we have two men. This is a short, but important parable. First, the Pharisee.
The Pharisee begins his prayer “O God, I thank you that I am not like other men…” We consider this boasting, of course, but I learned something important in seminary about it.
My Old Testament professor was Dr. Moshe Zorea, an Orthodox Jew who had become an Orthodox Christian. He really knew the Old Testament very well, and he was a gifted teacher. When we were talking, one day, about the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, he took out his Jewish prayerbook, opened it to morning prayers and said to one of us, “Read this aloud.”
Here is what was read: “O God, I thank you that I am not like other men…”
“That I am not an extortioner, unjust, an adulterer...”
“I thank you that I am not a woman.”
Sorry ladies, that’s what it said. I asked Fr. Moshe about that, and he explained that theologically, in the Jewish tradition it is understood that men are made of earth - dirt (!), that’s why little boys always run out to get dirty. They’re digging in to familiar territory!
Women, however, are made of a higher substance. Women are made of ‘man.’
The ‘thanks’ to God for this was the opportunity to strive for holiness, and this was laudable, and something worthy of giving thanks for.
This Pharisee is just saying his morning prayers. In another place, the Gospel says that the Pharisees tithed mint, and dill and cumin from their gardens. They tithed from everything they received!
They said their prayers in the Temple every morning and evening.
They were leading righteous lives!
Us? Not so much.
We all talk about not judging others but we do. We don’t all say our morning and evening prayers. We don’t all tithe (which is an Old Testament prescription anyway – New Testament must cheerfully be more – tithe +1!)
We have an important and humbling lesson from this parable: the Pharisee was better than we are. By his boasting, he did not receive the blessing of God.
But really, he was better that we are.
Now, the Publican was a sinner, like us. He knew he was a sinner. He came to the Temple and did not even lift up his eyes.
And when we come to church, are we repenting? Are we really, humbly asking God to forgive us for our sins?
This man, who knew his true state, came in hope and faith, but without presumption. He truly repented, and he received God’s mercy.
This is why, during the fast of Great Lent, we make sure to take the time for a holy confession. It is the time of repentance. The Publican said nothing to justify himself at all. Not a single word or self-righteousness.
Us? Not so much.
He was set right with God. This is called being justified, because it is necessary to repent in order to receive salvation.
Salvation. To be set right with God.
There are some false understandings about the work of Christ, and theories of Atonement, and this is the core of our lesson today.
First of all, Salvation is not solutions to problems that don’t exist.
Let me say that again.
Salvation is not solutions to problems that don’t exist.
Remember the movie “The Music Man?” We must not allow Christian theology to act like Robert Preston, running around telling people “There’s trouble in River City!” while having the ‘solution’ right here in my suitcase – for a small investment. If you need to sell something, you need a problem it solves first – and if there is no problem, you create one.
There are many false understanding of Atonement, and let’s check them off.
Most of these came about after the advent of Scholastic Theology in the west. They don’t exist in Hebraic thought, and are not at all Apostolic in their understanding of salvation.
The Ransom theory of Atonement
The ransom theory of atonement is based on verses such as Mark 10:45 –
"the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for the many".
In this metaphor Jesus liberates mankind from slavery to Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom.
Not understanding the metaphor, evidently, some Christians have taken this literally – which then begs the question “To whom did He pay it?”
Did He Pay the Devil? NO! A conquerer does not go to the jailhouse and pay for the prisoners. He puts his foot on the throat of his defeated enemy and takes whatever he wants.
The reason we don’t follow this view is because;