He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
Conventional wisdom agrees with Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Consider a few familiar phrases: “Pride goes before the fall,” “Walk a mile in my shoes,” “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Then of course, there’s always, “Lord, it’s hard to be humble!”
I propose another well-known phrase that should more often be associated with humility: “Know Thyself.” Self-knowledge, and the humility that comes with it, is one of the great graces of the Spiritual Exercises. Let us pray for that grace to know ourselves as the tax collector knew himself, as sinners, yet called. Let us turn from the lack of self-knowledge of the Pharisee who thinks that salvation can be earned by fasting and tithing alone.
We cannot earn salvation, buy salvation, or merit salvation. We can only revel in the miracle of salvation that the Lord pours into our hearts freely and without reservation. “Be merciful to me a sinner” becomes a humble, joyful expression of self-knowledge: “Only in God will my soul be at rest, from the Lord comes my help, my salvation!”
—Ted Munz, S.J., Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits
Lord, the depth of your sacrifice is incomprehensible. It is mind-boggling that you accepted the scourge and the thorns, the cross and the nails, and allowed the suffering inflicted by loneliness and abandonment to pierce your heart. Lord, if we cling to anything that mocks at your sacrifice, help us to admit our wrongdoing and to change our thoughts and actions. Lord, should we falter toward arrogance, help us to realize the truth about our motives. And guide us toward a spirit motivated by service and cautious of service motivated by ego and recognition.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team