A psychiatrist was telling his friends about his toughest case. He said, “I had this patient who lived in a world of total fantasy. He was absolutely convinced that somewhere in South America he had a fabulously rich uncle who would someday leave him a fortune. All day, every day, he did as little as possible. He was just waiting and waiting for the letter inviting him to come down and claim his fortune. He just sat around doing nothing but waiting. It was pathetic! The psychiatrist's friend was intrigued and asked., “Were you able to help him?” “Well,” replied the psychiatrist, “It was an eight-year struggle – we met once a week, sometimes twice. But with perseverance and skill, we were making amazing progress until...” “Until...what?” the friend inquired. “Until the stupid letter from Brazil arrived!”
Illusions! Illusions are beliefs we entertain that contradict the facts of the situation. We all have illusions to some degree. In most cases there is no letter from Brazil! The Pharisee in Luke's Gospel gives us a good look at how powerful and dangerous illusions can be. There was a good deal of truth woven into his illusion. It was true that the Pharisee was not greedy, crooked or adulterous. Also true that he fasted twice weekly and tithed his income, giving 10% to the Jerusalem Temple. All good, to be sure. But in the mix was a bit of sheer fantasy: “I am not like these others here.” That was sheer fantasy, but to him it appeared believable because it was mixed in with a lot of truth. This made it doubly dangerous: not only was his illusion harder to detect; it was therefore harder to escape.
The consequences of his illusion were enormous. First of all, how could he ever grow and mature if he saw himself as an already finished product? Secondly, how could he ever be forgiven if he was blind to his faults? Thirdly, how could he forgive others if he himself had never experienced a need to be forgiven? Then too, how could he ever have a deep friendship with anyone since he was superior to everyone? And finally, how could the Living God ever help him when he lived in a fantasy world where God wasn't welcome?
Dear people, in our lives are we often more like this Pharisee than the tax collector? We all have illusions. They may differ in each of us, but they remain dangerous combinations of fact and fiction locked in our heads, preventing us from healing and maturing. Behind each illusion stands a fear – a fear that something may be too big for us to handle. And it often would be too big to handle if we stood alone. But we don't stand alone! Jesus always stands with us. The last words he spoke on earth should be echo in our minds” Behold, “I am with you all days till the end of time!” So with Jesus, we can face anything. We can overcome our fears and we can surely eliminate our illusions. AMEN!