Sunday, October 23, 2016

How Humility Trumps Pride

Luke 18: 9-14  (NRSV): How Humility Overcomes Pride
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. . .’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In our current culture and political climate, it is easy to spot the trappings of personal pride. It brings out the worst in us. Pride tempts us to exalt ourselves above others, to hate those who oppose our viewpoints, and to denounce the character of others in order to put forth our personal agenda. The world is rife with this false behavior, especially as we move toward Election Day. Are we operatives of humility in this world, or do we live our lives exalting our self-interests while denouncing others? Jesus speaks to this flawed part of human nature in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Jesus addresses his parable to those “who [trust] in themselves that they [are] righteous and [regard] others with contempt” (9). The Pharisee’s prayer, for instance, masks a condemnation of others under the guise of thanksgiving: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector ...” (11). In contrast, the sinful tax collector presents a picture of humility as he recites the prototype of the “Jesus Prayer” known in Eastern Orthodox circles: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus teaches, then, that the attitude of humility and the realization of our sins are necessary steps to God’s forgiveness. The humble tax collector, regarded as the lowest of all sinners in first-century Palestine, humbly admits his faults and is made right with God. The contempt-filled self-righteous, Jesus implies, are not justified.

Humility is a grace God freely gives us. But are we willing to accept it? Pride runs antithetical to humility and often gets in the way of love. Being human, being American, is indicative of being tempted to pride. Every time we chalk-up a sin or mistake to “well that’s just who I am and there is nothing I can do about it,” we let pride overcome humility. In the moments of our personal choices, we should pause and ask ourselves this question: Am I imitating the attitude of the self-righteous Pharisee or the humble tax collector?

Humility often breeds humiliation and embarrassment, but through the realization of our imperfect human nature and dependence on God’s mercy, we learn that following Christ means offering ourselves in love to God and others.

Every time my pride gets in the way, and it often does, I consider the model of humility that God offers: Did God not humble himself by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ, a baby born among animals into a poor, working class, non-traditional, refugee family? And did God not love us so much, even in the ugliness of our sins, that he willingly offered himself as a falsely-accused criminal on the cross? Then as a faithful Christian, I should recall Christ’s example and be humble in life, especially when I am tempted to boast or bag on others. After all, everything in life is God’s gift, not something I create.

Let us all thank our great God by humbly grounding ourselves in his mercy and, in turn, doing the best we can to love our neighbor in Christ’s name.

Please join me in prayer:
Heavenly Father,
I love you above all things. But I am a sinner in desperate need of your mercy.  Please grant me the grace to imitate your loving humility in this world. Help me to always remember that Jesus Christ offered himself willingly on the cross for my faults. And in remembering that act of ultimate love, strengthen me to reciprocate good in this world. Allow me, O’ loving God, to always humble myself in service to you and my neighbor and to avoid the snare of pride. I offer this prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.

Have a blessed week.