From time to time we need to look at the difference between pride and humility. Webster's dictionary defines humility as "freedom from pride or arrogance, the absence of self assertion." So what is pride? Pride seems to be placing ourselves above all else in our world to the point that even God is put aside as not needed in our life. With the advent of such technology as we have available to us today it seems possible that some may ask the question, Who is God and why do I need God in my life? A sense of pride and personal autonomy can creep in to our lives.
Pride was present in the Garden of Eden causing our first parents to focus on themselves rather than on God. Pride entered into the hearts of Joseph's brothers, resulting in Joseph being sold for twenty pieces of silver. Pride is the blind fold over our eyes and hearts that does not let us see our true selves. Pride is that quality that convinces us that we are totally self-sufficient. This sense of pride can affect individuals, communities, and entire nations. The Israelite people wandered in the desert for 40 years. At times they lost sight of Yahweh-their God who had freed them from slavery. They ended up melting down gold and making a golden calf which they worshipped. Are there things in your life that seem to become a "god" to you that you spend time "worshipping" so to speak; "worshipping" to the point that this thing takes a predominant place in your life?
The Pharisee and the tax collector once again are the focal point in the story we here this morning in Luke's Gospel. The Pharisees were viewed in the time of Jesus as the leaders of the community. They were those people who followed the letter of the Mosaic Law. They fasted more than the requirement; they prayed more often during the day than was prescribed; they tithed more than was required; they did everything a little more than the Mosaic Law demanded of a good Jew. They could do no wrong. They were viewed as the pillars of the community. Thus in prayer the Pharisee was telling God how good he is and he was thankful that he was not like "this tax collector". He certainly viewed himself as a step above; he was better than; he did not relate to "those people".
The tax collector was despised by the community as he not only gathered the appropriate tax to be paid to the Roman Rulers but he also added much more than was due for "his profit". It sort of reminds me of what happens in our society when shop owners were required to pay "juice money" in order for their business to stay open and not be burned to the ground in a "mysterious fire" or family members harmed in some unfortunate "accident". This is not unlike the extortion common in areas of crime. However in this example the tax collector : in the depths of his heart knows he is wrong. He presents himself: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner".
The prayer of the Pharisee reminds me of a statement made by the Spiritual Director in the seminary. He would remark: "You can be completely right and yet totally wrong". The Pharisee seemed on the surface to be doing everything completely right as he went about ensuring he followed the Letter of the Mosaic law. However he was going about it totally wrong. He was filled with false pride-he was totally self centered. He did not seem to care about others but only himself. God did not seem to have any role to play in his life.
The tax collector knew he was wrong and was coming to God asking for mercy and forgiveness-asking for direction to change his life. He humbled himself before God as he knew he was wrong. One can ask, "If he knew he was wrong extorting people why didn't he get a different job?" That is a good question. Perhaps the tax collector is similar to us at times. When we see that we need to make a change in our life why do we not make that change? Do we have vices that are destructive to our health; our family; our very life? Do we humbly come to God asking forgiveness asking for mercy as did the tax collector?
Take some time in the quiet of your inner self and ask yourself the question, "Am I doing everything completely right but am totally wrong?