‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ – Matthew 18:11-12 NLT
It is oh, so obvious that the religious expert who prayed that prayer is miles off from understanding himself rightly, isn’t it? I revel in Jesus’ contrast of this man’s prayer with the prayer of the tax collector.
It occurred to me today that this self-classification I’m tempted to do when I read this story puts me in grave risk of the Pharisee’s error. “I am broken, like the second guy,” I tell myself in a somber voice befitting my sense of deep humility. “I’m not like that self-righteous Pharisee”.
And just how do I assess this? Well, I am tempted to run a sort of nutty quiz in my head, like this:
Do I pray like that Pharisee? Yes ___ No___
Do I dress like that Pharisee? Yes___ No___
Do I perform like that Pharisee? Yes___ No___
(Fill in the blank) Who do I know who is like that Pharisee? ________
(Essay question) Why am I a better, truer and more faithful Christian than this person? __________
And that unvoiced, arrogant self-assessment completely erases my awareness of my own brokenness, and renders meaningless the rending of my garments as I sorrow over my sinfulness.
“I thank God that I’m not narrow-minded like ____”
“I thank God that I’m not open-minded like ____”
“I thank God that I don’t do _____ behavior”
“I thank God that I do _______ behavior”
Ugh. This parable today was a magnifying mirror. I engage in these sorts of comparisons, all the while convincing myself that I am not a Pharisee when I do.
God have mercy on me, a sinner.