Lenten Meditation: Saturday, March 18, 2023
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” - Luke 18:11a
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” It’s hard not to let out a guffaw at a line like that. Jesus has his broad brushes out again, creating a caricature of haughtiness and pride. Who talks like that? Who thinks like that?!
Well, all too often… we do! We might not say it quite like the Pharisee does here, but how often are we engaged in the exhausting work of comparison? We measure ourselves against others: how we’re doing at work, our parenting, clothes, health, apparent stress or lack thereof–how many of us note these comparisons, even without meaning to? The world is complicated and challenging, so often we don’t know what we’re meant to aim for, we don’t know how to make sure we’re getting it right. And so we end up comparing ourselves to other people, looking at others, when what we really want is to know and understand ourselves. As a result, we can be so hard on ourselves, and just as hard on each other.
Let’s look again at the Pharisee in this parable. He clearly knows God’s laws, and what he should do–fasting, tithing, praying. But he’s confused what he does with who he is. He does not just do good, but he is good, and he can list out who isn’t. “Thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even this tax collector,” to name just a few… desiring reassurance that he is righteous, the Pharisee has been comparing himself to others, all caught up in appearances, listing his own behaviors to make sure God has taken note of them.
That tax collector, on the other hand, doesn’t seem concerned about outward appearances. He’s simply talking to God. Heart open, cards on the table, acknowledging his shame and his limitations and his need for forgiveness. Even at his most vulnerable, he is demonstrating a strong and profound trust: that God will see him, and that God will understand.
When we pray with that same honesty, when we turn our focus and our hearts to God, even when we’ve done wrong, even when we’re not proud, even when we’re too much like other people—more concerned about status and convenience than mercy and justice, even then… our ability to change comes from God. And in turn, that desire to stay focused on Jesus, to be moving towards Christ—that will take us everywhere we need to go.
Today: One of the wonderful things we do for one another as a church community is to serve as sources of inspiration and knowledge, instead of comparison. Think of someone who has taught you or inspired you in your faith journey. Reach out and thank them.