In Luke 18, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. While traveling, he tells a story to the disciples. Luke, the narrator, says the story is about “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” The story begins with a Pharisee praying in a self-righteous manner. He thanks God that he is not like “robbers, tax collectors and other ‘sinners’” because of his religious activities. A tax collector, conversely, humbly casts himself upon the mercy of God.
The Pharisee in this story was practicing what I call self-righteous confidence. Self-righteous confidence says “I am better than you because of my own good deeds or good heart.” As illustrated in this story, it is a dangerous spiritual sin. It is dangerous for two reasons. First, it undermines God. It undermines God because it devalues our need for Him. Self-righteous confidence focuses on our works rather than on God’s love and mercy. Second, it undermines our neighbor. It undermines our neighbor because it places ourselves above those who may not “measure up” to our own (self-defined) righteousness.
This Sunday we hope to delve into the details of this parable. For now, we can ask ourselves, “How have I practiced self-righteous confidence in my life?” Have I looked down upon others because of their status in society?” “Have I convinced myself that I don’t need God in most instances?”