Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hypocrisy & Humility

In churches using the Lectionary, this passage from Luke (18:9-14) was read across much of Christendom today. Jesus’ parable is only six verses, but it seized my attention.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Merciful Lord,

It dawned on me during today’s sermon that I’m the Pharisee – trusting in my own righteousness and regarding others with contempt.

Maybe I’m an even bigger hypocrite. At least the Pharisee prayed aloud. There’s something to be said for his transparency. My prayer is quiet, under my breath:

God, I thank you that I’m not like those other people: insensitive, impatient, prideful, aggressive, manipulative, or even like (insert the name of my most recent adversary.)

Let the tax collector be my model. As the Old Testament puts it, I should smote upon my breast:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

The ground is level beneath your cross, Lord Christ. There’s no pecking order. We are all broken, all flawed…yet so self-righteous. One more time:

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Holy Spirit, transform this self-righteous sinner into a righteous follower of Jesus. Amen.