The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Luke 18:11-14
Sometimes our good qualities have a dark side to them. For me, one of these qualities would be my overly analytical and critical eye.
In some ways, it’s a good thing. I like to pick things apart, fully understand them. I really appreciate things that are done well and to excellence. I often notice when there’s something wrong and it needs to be fixed. You can probably imagine how this quality might be a problem, though. I sometimes expect too much. I have a hard time understanding people’s decisions when I disagree with them. This has been pretty obvious during this political season, for real. Also: you definitely do not want to watch a guilty-pleasure type movie or TV show with me.
And this quality about myself makes it easy for me to be like the Pharisee Jesus brings up in this parable. But notice something about the Pharisee: he begins by comparing himself to someone else. And he sounds like an idiot because of it. (Forgive my harshness; I did warn you, didn’t I?)
He’s setting himself up on a pedestal at the expense of another person, and turning a blind eye to another pedestal he will never measure up to: God’s. What if he had begun by comparing himself to the highest standard of all: God’s standard?
The parable would look more like this: “I thank you God, that I am not like You… Hmm, that doesn’t sound right… Okay, I am not like you because I am human and weak and mortal and I make mistakes…? Oh, never mind... I’ll just go and sit next to this tax collector over here…”
As you can see, if he had begun by comparing himself to God, it would have been a completely different story.
And imagine if instead of comparison with this other person, he showed mercy because he had been merciful: “Thank you, God, for showing mercy to me and to all who come to you for forgiveness, and I pray that I might also show mercy to this tax collector.”
My prayer for myself is that I would begin with mercy rather than comparison. It can be easy to start with comparison, and never make it to mercy; but when we begin with mercy, we may find comparison completely disappears.