Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I struggle with self-worth.
I don’t know if it’s healthy or not. Some say it is. Some say it’s not. I don’t know where it comes from, either (although I can pinpoint a time when it really struck me that I wasn’t “good enough,” but that’s a whole other story). When I look at my life, all I see are my shortcomings—the “almost but not quite” moments. Sure, there might be some grand moments when I get things right, but those are very few and far between. And, certainly, like St. Paul wrote, all of us fall short (Romans 3.23) but that’s all I seem to do. I have a list as long as my arm of things that I always seem to “fall short” with; it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at home, or if it’s with my spouse or daughter, or if it’s with ministry. I just can’t seem to measure up with what I think I should do or how I think I should be. I live in this constant state of “almost but not quite.”
So, the quote from C.S. Lewis is very helpful. When I look at that quote and measure it against my life, then perhaps I’m more humble than I realize. For at the same time that I think of myself less, I tend to think of others more. I strive to put their needs above my own. I prefer taking a back seat in almost every situation because I’d rather others succeed. I’d rather disappear in the shadows of others’ greatness than have the spotlight turned on me. At the same time, however, I always feel like I could’ve done more for others. That I didn’t help them enough or with my very best.
I see myself as being the Pharisee in Jesus’ story. There are too many times where I’ll think to myself, “Wow…that person over there is so misinformed. If he only knew the truth.” And in this political climate, it’s pretty easy to be the Pharisee. It doesn’t matter which side we’re on, we tend to see “those people” on the other side as being simple or easily manipulated or just plain stupid.
Well…maybe that’s just me.
While we may not look at “everyone else with disgust,” how can we get past looking down on them? How can we see that, through all of our differences, we’re all the same? We’re all people whom God loves. We’re all people from whom Jesus died. We’re people who yearn for the same things—health, happiness, companionship, maybe even a little bit of money left over after paying our bills. And of course, love. We’re all the same when it comes right down to it. Like so many people have said, there are more things that unite us than separate us. Why can’t we see that?
And why can’t I see that all of those people who seem to have it altogether struggle with all the same things I do. I don’t know their story. I don’t know what they’re going through. Maybe their “tax collectors” because that’s the only job they could find. Maybe they’d rather be doing something else. Do I ever think of that?
And what if I see “tax collector” as a metaphor for anything that I see as degrading or different or “icky”? What happens then? What happens when I start seeing others as people who, like myself, struggle with self-worth? Maybe they think I have it all together. What happens when I gave them the benefit of doubt? What happens when I side with mercy instead of judgment? What would my life look like if I did that? How would that impact their lives?
How would the world change if I started showing more kindness to others? If I didn’t expect anything in return? When I just decided to give to them all that I can?
Well, let’s go back to the first part of this post. I never give enough. I always fall short. Maybe that’s the point in Jesus’ story. Maybe he’s trying to tell us that we’re both Pharisee and tax collector. Maybe we’re both justified and unjustified at the same time.
You know, St. Paul wrote that we should renew our minds (Romans 12.2). I think he might be talking about what Jesus was talking about above. What Lewis was talking about. The old ways—the un-natural human nature—has been the dominant nature for so long we forget that deep within us is the Light of creation, the Light behind all light, the Light of God (John 1.4-5). We must constantly be aware of this, to strengthen the Light, to feed the light. I’ll sign off with an old story that captures what I’m seeing in today’s Gospel reading; one that speaks to me quite a lot:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC