“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:14b (NRSV)
The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows a big contrast between arrogance and humility when praying. While the Pharisee seems to actually be praying to himself as he proudly makes his list of accomplishments and pats himself on the back, the Tax Collector cries for mercy, recognizing that he is a sinner in need for forgiveness.
I suspect most of us might align ourselves with the tax collector in the sense that we probably think we don’t pray like the Pharisee did in this story. Yet, Jesus’ point here is, I think, more about God than about us. It’s more about the grace of God than it is about our own arrogance in praying for ourselves or giving thanks for all the good we do or the blessings we receive. We often count our blessings in material goods: a home, a car, a job, a good salary, health insurance, food on the table, and, oh yes – our families and friends.
Someone once sent an e-mail to me talking about thankfulness. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was something like this: When I see someone who is homeless, I’m thankful I have a home. When I see someone who is hungry, I’m thankful I have food on the table. When I see someone who is collecting unemployment, I’m thankful I have a job. When I see someone who is crippled, I’m thankful that I’m healthy. And so forth. It struck me then, as it does now, that there is a certain arrogance about this.
It’s not that being thankful is wrong because I think we SHOULD give thanks every day of our lives – and often throughout the day. What I find arrogant about it is the feeling that I get that the person is superior to others – is privileged – is better off than others and happy about it, but does nothing about it. Of course, I know the person who sent it to me very well, and I have that impression of this person, so that probably doesn’t help my attitude about it!
However, even in the last statement I just wrote, there is an arrogance as I judge someone else’s mind-set and interpretation of being thankful. It’s hard not to pass judgment and compare others to ourselves and our circumstances in life. Maybe the point here is that human beings pass judgment all the time – maybe it’s necessary to our understanding of ourselves. So the real question may be: “Will we recognize that the grace of God is for ALL people, and that is the same grace we are asked to offer to others.”
German concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel wrote: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” (http://en.thinkexist.com/quotes/elie_wiesel/)
I would guess the result of arrogance, judgmental attitudes, and self-aggrandizement is also indifference. We can put our best foot forward as followers of Jesus when we see others through his eyes and then act on it, when we offer care and compassion to those who are hungry, thirsty, poor, in need, sick, in prison, and hurting. By actively living out our faith in the world, we put aside indifference and glorify God. Maybe it be so.