Self-Righteousness

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

“Whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be raised.”
(Luke 18: 14)

Be merciful to me, a sinner,
Heal me, Jesus, of pride’s affliction;
From my self-righteousness deliver
This wounded soul to Your salvation.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone 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 by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—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 all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Reflection

In those days when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, the Jews regarded the tax collectors, the “scum of the earth” who worked for the Roman conquerors, in the category of lepers. This was perhaps the reason why His picking the tax collector Levi to be one of His apostles only made the Pharisees more antagonistic towards Jesus. And now here was our Lord comparing a Pharisee and a tax collector in their style of worship in one of His parables.

It was clear to all His listeners that our Lord favored the hated tax collector who was humble and penitent over the self-righteous (albeit straightforward) Pharisee who stood in the middle of the temple proud and unrepentant. How the Pharisees must have seethed with righteous anger at having been put in a bad light, and compared to a mere tax collector at that! But what really hurt was the truth. Our Lord had hit a sensitive nerve — their pride and hypocrisy, their attitude that as the authorities on matters of religious laws they were above the ordinary Jews, and expected to be accorded the kind of respect and awe that this man from Nazareth was stripping them of. If only they were bold enough to look at themselves and accept the naked truth . But it was not to be so. They were convinced of their own self-righteousness, and so had no need of genuine repentance.

In today’s Gospel, our Lord is reminding us that as leaders of our Brotherhood we must always try to be humble in our dealings with others. Especially those who do not yet share the values and convictions that many of us have taken upon ourselves as renewed Christians. “But it’s hard to be humble when you’re great!” said one jokingly. One’s downfall begins once he starts feeling “great”. Sure it feels great to be in the renewal; it feels great to be gifted; it feels great to give a beautiful sharing or Spirit-filled talk; or to be serving well and being loved in the Brotherhood. But we must remember that all of these are for God’s glory, and we are only serving at the Lord’s pleasure. Our Lord Jesus said, “Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your heavenly Father” (Matthew 6:1).

Lord God, help me not to be judgemental in my attitude towards others, especially those who do not share the same fervor in the faith. Let not my thoughts dwell on my own good fortune as Your follower, but in praying for those who have not yet found the way to You. Let me not forget that my own salvation is not through any merit of mine, but through Your own humility of dying on the cross for me. Amen.

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