Reading: Luke 18:9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Psychologist and theologian James Finley once said that humility is the act of telling the truth about yourself. He used this example. Imagine you are sitting in a Bible study at your local church and Pope Francis (or Elizabeth Eaton or the Dalai Lama or whatever religious leader you want) is there as a guest. If the Bible study leader were to ask the most spiritual person in the room to stand up, it is incumbent upon the Pope to rise because, let’s be honest: he’s the Pope. It would be false humility for him to remain seated because he would not bet telling the truth about himself.
If next the Bible study leader said, “would anyone who is a sinner please stand,” it would be incumbent upon the Pope to stand once again because he is human and therefore sinful; to remain seated would be to not tell the truth about himself. Humility is telling the honest truth about yourself, the good and the bad together, no more and no less.
I think that is the Pharisee’s chief problem in today’s reading. He has no humility, meaning he lacks the ability to tell the truth about himself. He makes himself out to be someone he is not. He does not tell the complete truth about himself. He speaks to his religious achievements (fasting twice a week, giving a tenth of his income) and completely denies his own sinful attributes (“I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even tax collectors”). But the truth is that he is like those people. Because he’s a human being. He is both righteous and sinful.
It is the tax collector who tells the truth about himself. He acknowledges his sinful attributes but also claims his faithful ones (he is, after all, praying to God). His humility is not a false humility because he tells the honest truth about himself, no more and no less.
So, in your own humble opinion, who are you? Do not succumb to the pride that would make you look better than you are, and do not succumb to the shame that would make you look worse than you are. Be honest. Be humble. Be truthful. Who are you?
Take some time today to ponder who you are, in your humility. And then give thanks to God for God’s grace and mercy in creating you and loving you exactly how you are.