Yesterday’s Gospel lesson was from Luke 18 – you know the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector who were each in the temple praying. The tax collector was very ashamed of his sins and couldn’t even look to God. But, the Pharisee was praying something like “God I am so thankful that I am not like ‘those’(i.e. the tax collector) other people; I do what I’m supposed to and follow the rules, and I’m just awesome!”
This got me thinking.
Have you ever had one of those moments? You know the moment where you try to justify doing something you know you shouldn’t do or where you compare yourself to other people to build yourself up or where you judge yourself to be better in some way than another … We’ve all done it! I have! Certainly when I was a teenager, this was commonplace in my life. I think that is part of the process of growing up and gaining one’s self identity and self esteem. It’s a natural tendency. But, even as an adult and as much as I don’t want to admit it, I still catch myself in these situations from time to time.
Picture it … I was shopping. After all, I really needed some new pants. I went from store to store. When I finally found some that I liked, I wanted to get one in every color they had and call it a day. But I didn’t. I did, however, make my way to the register with 2 pairs of pants. All the while I was contemplating if I should really even get either one of them. After all, Christmas is only two months away and I could wait for a coupon to come out. But on the other hand, the pants were on sale (10% off is better than nothing, right?) and they had my size in stock.
When I got to the register, the woman in front of me had, I’m guessing, about $300 or so worth of purchases she was making. As she was handing item after item to the clerk, I heard her say something like “Well, I really don’t NEED these but they are just so cute, I HAVE to buy them. I’ll probably never wear them, though.” And, “My husband is going to be so mad at me, I didn’t get him anything … oh … hold on – there’s a nice shirt, I’ll get him that.”
I began to think to myself, how I probably didn’t need to spend my money on these two pairs of pants. But, at least I wasn’t like the woman in front of me, needlessly buying something I would never wear.
And there I was … looking down on someone else and judging myself to be better than her. When I heard this Scripture Sunday, it make me think - I was worse off than the woman needlessly spending money because of my judgment of her.
Jesus' message / lesson through this parable is simply stated. I love The Message version of the Bible and that lesson in verse 14 of this 8th chapter. “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” I also like the Contemporary English Version’s translation: “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”
When I thought about the shopping situation and this verse from Sunday, it was a real slap in the face; a real wake up call that I need to be more humble. It’s a challenge for me. Recently, I took a spiritual gifts inventory that confirmed this. My lowest score was in mercy (and skilled craft). That’s a real growing edge for me!
So, I’m praying for myself. I need to be more like the tax collected and pray for God to give me the know-how and strength to be more merciful, non-judgmental, and compassionate. I mean, after all, I didn’t know the woman in front of me or her life story. Maybe she won the lottery. Maybe her house burned down and she was replacing her clothes. Maybe this was money she had worked really hard to save and was now enjoying spending it on herself and her husband. And, at least she thought to buy her husband something … in the first place!