Pride is such a sticky trap that I for one am always struggling with, or rather the pride-humility polarity that is so hard to balance.
We all know that being overly impressed with ourselves like the Pharisee in our story is not the way to go. But a humility that becomes twisted with self-hatred, a self-esteem crushed to the point that we believe we are worthless, does nothing to please God either.
Today we must look at our scriptures and ask the question: what is our true worthiness?
We begin with the two characters in our gospel story, the Pharisee and the tax collector. Their respective worths are even labeled by how they are named—the Pharisee is capitalized in the text and the tax collector is lower case. You can see the capitalized Pharisee and lower-case tax collector in the temple in your mind’s eye: the one standing tall and proud, the other diminished and sinking low in his grief and shame.
But consider on what the Pharisee builds his self-worth. First, it is by comparing himself to others.
The first words out of his mouth are, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
He places himself in a hierarchy against other people and gives thanks that he ranks higher by virtue of not having committed these notorious sins.
And then he values himself for the deeds he has done. He proclaims before God and all the other people in the temple praying, “I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” The Pharisee can point to a list of the sins he is not guilty of and the good works he has accomplished and count himself on solid ground before God.
Except it is not solid ground at all. Continue reading