Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Today’s reading is a sober and much-needed reminder of the difference between being righteous and being self-righteous.
Here are the definitions from Oxford Dictionaries:
- righteous: A person who is “morally right or justifiable”; “morally good; virtuous”.
- self-righteous: “Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.“
Jesus’ admonition in Luke 18 is about being self-righteous.
It’s an admonition that I especially must take to heart because I have this daily soap-box of Fellowship of the Minds.
Yes, we are to fight for what is right. But when you and I get all puffed out with righteous moral indignation, be sure that we’re not being self-righteous, for our Lord is “a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” (Sirach 35:12)
So what’s the antidote to self-righteousness?
- Be sure that when we are on that moral high horse, our cause and our justice are God’s cause and justice.
- Humility: Don’t imagine that being righteous makes us morally superior or better than others.
- Love: The right kind of love. Not love of self — getting all puffy and grandiose that we are morally better than others — but love of God.
It’s always narcissism: our stumbling block is always narcissism.
Remember that the Greatest Commandment of all is to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and with all our strength.
He is our lodestar. Always.
Fix our eyes not on ourselves, but on Him — while we battle for what is good, and right, and true, and just.
And then perhaps someday, when it’s time for us to go, we too can say what St. Paul said:
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have competed well;
I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.
May the peace and love and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you,