A Humbling Experience

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

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 18:14)

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

To those 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)


Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of a very humbling experience that my wife and I had early one morning many years ago. We used to go every Friday to the Shrine of the Infant Jesus, situated on a hill overlooking Davao City. As we walked briskly from the shrine’s parking lot, we noticed a group of ten women and two men clad in white robes praying the rosary. We were shocked to see that they were all on their knees, painfully inching their way towards the main chapel, a good two hundred meters of rough road from where they had started. “Must be a bunch of fanatics, if not a cult of some kind,” I told my wife, as we imagined bleeding knees negotiating the cracked asphalt and loose stones of the shrine’s pathway. After our 45-minute walk around the shrine, we entered the chapel, in time to see the group praying before the image of the Infant Jesus. The lower portions of their white robes were soiled, and they were all crying as they prayed. One of them was even pregnant! We asked one of the regular joggers there who these people were, and he said, “They are devotees of the Nazarene. They do this every Lent to atone for sins.”

How much have we sacrificed this Lent to show how sorry we are for our sins? How like that Pharisee in our Lord’s parable I later felt for mocking this group of humble folks who were pleading for God’s mercy for our collective sins. Their humility and great sacrifice must be what Jesus meant in His first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:3). God abhors the haughty and welcomes the humble. That scene at the Shrine of the Infant Jesus taught me that I must always guard against the sin of pride, and never again look down on others, especially the religious practices of the poor and humble.

Father God, thank You for showing me how easily we can fall to the sin of pride in our sense of superiority over others. Remind us always about the importance of being ‘poor in spirit’, in faith and humility to follow Jesus, Your Son. Let me not forget that my own salvation is not through any merit of mine, but through His own humility of dying on the cross for me. Amen.

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