By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The 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. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But 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!’ 14I 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.”
There is a phrase you may be familiar with: “That’s so high school.” While not everyone’s experience, popular culture portrays high school as four years of a vindictive social environment dominated by immature teenagers attempting to solidify rigid power structures through gossiping and backbiting. In today’s reading, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The tax collector is aggrieved by his sins and confesses them with great remorse, begging God for mercy. The Pharisee is smug and throws shade, gossiping as he sucks up to the teacher: “God, thank you for making me awesome and not like that loser tax collector over there.” That’s so high school.
Why does the Pharisee assume that God is a fool? For that matter, why do we? It would be nice to think that this parable does not apply to us. But sadly, just as Jesus needed to remind the people — including his own apostles — of what sinful pride and true humility look like, we need to hear the same reminder today. It can be so easy to pass a snide judgment here, or pass along a tiny rumor there, in order to curry a little bit of favor with our peers and perhaps suck up to the “teacher.” We even pretend we’re not engaging in such low tactics, using phrases like, “I am not one to usually say such things, but,” or “not to be mean, but,” as if that absolves us. If the temptation to let such phrases pass our lips becomes too great, we should remember the tax collector and remove ourselves to repent, begging for mercy. In high school, teenagers at least have the excuse of puberty and a diminished capacity for self-control to explain their behavior towards one another. What is the excuse for the rest of us?
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of San Joaquin, the Rt. Rev. David Rice
Diocese of Dutse (Nigeria), the Rt. Rev. Markus Yohanna Danbinta
Diocese of Kyoto (Japan), the Rt. Rev. Stephen Takashi Kochi
Diocese of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld