“Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, ‘I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on all I get.’ The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ This man I tell you went home justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.” [Lk 18:9-14
Sound familiar? I bet we all remember the “teacher’s pet” in grade school, the child who sat proudly in her seat when the teacher left the room, refusing to engage in the shenanigans that all children do when they are unsupervised. Everyone else gets in trouble, but not the “good” kid. She is so proud of herself, of being “better” than the rest.
Or recall the last time you had a “discussion” with a fundamentalist. After arguing for some minutes about something in the bible, both of you realize there is no persuading the other. Almost always the literalist will end the conversation with a well put: “I’ll pray for you.”
Pray for me indeed. We all know what is truly meant, “you’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways. I’ve done my best, and as a good Christian I’ve attempted to save you, but you are unrepentant.” I pretty much suspect that they don’t pray for me at all, but if they do, I’m sure it’s pretty much along the lines of the Pharisee, thanking God that they are one of the saved and not an awful sinner like that tax collector in the Temple today.
These are extreme examples, but we are all guilty I suspect of doing a lot of this in more subtle ways. We thank God for things we think we are: witty, smart, open-minded, loyal, whatever the case may be. And there is always an unspoken caveat which is, I’m this, and not that. And it’s usually when we see a that that we give thanks for being a this.
And that my friends is pride plain and simple. Pride that we think we are things that we may in reality only wish we were, or are in small measure at best.
It is not wrong to thank God for the blessings of a good life of course, but let us be mindful that we think a bit too much of ourselves. When you are tempted to thank God for some attribute you believe you possess, ask yourself if you are in the Temple. Turn around and see if you see the tax collector, eyes cast down, behind you.