“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:14).
From the Christian perspective, humility is not false modesty. Where someone thanks us for doing something and we say something like, “Oh, it was nothing.” This response is often a conditioned response that, consciously or unconsciously, is given to elicit more praise and to keep the focus on ourselves and what we have done. “Sure it was something, you did all that work…” The more appropriate response would be, “You are welcome.” Then the topic of conversation can move on to other matters.
Humility has to do with our primary focus. Are we focused first and foremost on ourselves and placing the focus and energy in boosting our ego, jockeying for a position that is front and center? Or are we focused first and foremost on establishing that God is the core and foundation of our every thought, word, and deed and we are thankful to him for each breath we take?
We are nothing without God. Without him, we would cease to exist. We may bristle at such statements because our cultural influences often promote that what we have and achieved has come because of our own hard work and merit. There is some truth to the effort and energy we may have expended to achieve what we have, but if we think back, many others also had a part to play in where we are today, including God.
From a heightened sense of self-exaltation, we also tend to have less empathy or mercy for those who may have less or are struggling financially, emotionally, psychologically, morally, or spiritually. We might look down our nose at others thinking or saying outright, “What is wrong with them and why don’t they get their act together?”
Where in point of fact, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Situations in life, whether we are up or down, can change quickly. The point Jesus is making clear in today’s Gospel is that we are far from how perfect we may think we are. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Coming to a place of recognition regarding this reality is a good place to be, as Jesus points out.
The contrite tax collector “went home justified” because he came to terms with his sinfulness and confessed it so he could be healed and restored by God. The Pharisee who felt he needed no help because he “was not like the rest of humanity” closed himself off to the healing balm and reconciliation that he truly needed.
We can make the tax collector’s prayer, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner”, our own. We can recite it and ask Jesus to reveal to us what we have done or have failed to do regarding God’s will in our lives. Next, we can be still and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us those areas in our lives where we have fallen short. Then, in confessing those sins, we are forgiven and reconciled with our Father. From experiencing God’s healing forgiveness, we can then go forward into our day thankful for the gift of our life. Instead of judging others, we can instead seek opportunities to share our joy and be ambassadors of God’s mercy.
Photo credit: Mia Bird – Embracing some time to ponder during sunset while visiting Mia in San Francisco a few weeks ago.