Combating Pride and Cultivating Humility

User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 23

Jean-François Millet, ‘The Angelus,’ 1730
Jean-François Millet, ‘The Angelus,’ 1730 (photo: Public Domain)

Sunday, Oct. 23, is the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Faults in others I can see, but praise the Lord, there’s none in me.” But one is snared in sin by the very act of claiming to have no sin! In fact, it’s the biggest sin of all: pride.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord illustrates this point in speaking to us of two men who go to the temple to pray. Let’s look at what the Lord teaches us.

Prideful Premise

Jesus is addressing this parable to those who are convinced of their own righteousness. They are under the illusion that they are capable of justifying and saving themselves.

But, “One cannot redeem himself; pay to God a ransom. Too high the price to redeem a life; he would never have enough” (Psalm 49:8-9). The Pharisee in today’s parable has a prideful premise: He is convinced of his own righteousness. In his brief prayer, notice that he uses the word “I” four times. It is also interesting that the Lord indicates that the Pharisee “spoke this prayer to himself.” The Pharisee’s prayer is so self-centered it cannot even get out of himself.

Problematic Perspective

To despise others means to look down on them with contempt, to perceive them as beneath us. Notice that the Pharisee is glad to report that he is not like the rest of humanity. Not only is his remark foolish, it is also impertinent.

One will not get to heaven merely by being a little better than someone else. No, indeed; being better than a tax collector, prostitute, drug dealer or dishonest businessman is not the standard we must meet.

The standard we must meet is Jesus.

He is the standard. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Prescribed Practice

“But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”

Given everything we have reflected on, we can only bow our head and cry from the heart, “Lord have mercy!”

Deep humility coupled with lively hope are the only answers. Being humble isn’t something we can do on our own. We have to ask God for a humble and contrite heart.

Notice that the tax collector in today’s parable did three things; we should do these things, as well:

1. Realize your distance: He realizes that he is a long way from the goal. He knows how holy God is and how distant he himself is.

2. Recognize your disability: Scripture says, “No one can see on God and live” (Exodus 33:20). We are not ready to look on the face of God in all its glory. In humility, the tax collector looks down.

3. Request your deliverance: Notice that the tax collector’s humility is steeped in hope. He cannot save himself, but God can. By this humility, he invokes Jesus Christ, who alone can make him righteous and save him. Scripture says, “The humble, contrite heart the Lord will not spurn” (Psalm 51:17).