The Error of the Self-righteous

Luke 18: 9-14
Hos 6: 1-6 / Psa 51

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
(Luke 18:13)

Be merciful to me, a sinner,
Heal me, Lord, of this affliction;
In Your compassion please deliver
This proud soul from its conviction.

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.” (Luke 18: 9-14)

Reflection

There is a world of difference between being righteous and feeling self-righteous. One tries to be righteous because he is aware of his fallen nature, and strives to be obedient to all of God’s laws, knowing that man is constantly prone to sin. King David expressed it in today’s Responsorial Psalm, as he prayed, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psa 51:3-4)

The latter (like the Pharisee), deludes himself into thinking that he is already righteous in the eyes of God because of his many good works and acts of devotion. His sense of self-righteousness makes him compare himself to others, and this leads him to become judgmental. In the case of the self-righteous, pride can easily set in, then he’s in trouble.

Being judgmental of others is not the only problem of the self-righteous. His bigger problem is his presumption that it is his good works and devotion that have made him a “good man” in the eyes of God. He does not give credit to the grace of God that is the real source of our transformation from sin to righteousness. He forgets that it is not our good deeds that justify us, but the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ endured on the cross for our salvation. As St. Paul wrote, “God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Tit 3:5-6).

Jesus taught this parable to enlighten us about the importance of being humble in prayer. Indeed, we have nothing to be proud of when we come before God in prayer. It is only by repentance and submission that our prayers can be effective.

Sometimes, in our obsession to do our best in serving God, Church or our community, we tend to put a premium on what we have accomplished, and our success in our endeavors, (though rendered in the spirit of service), makes us think too highly of ourselves among our peers. Lest we forget, the Scripture reminds us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:8-10). Always, to God be the glory!

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psa 32:5) I thank You, Father God, for the forgiveness of my sins, and the enlightenment and guidance that You provide all the days of my life. Amen.

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