Humility before God
March 13, 2021 (readings)
- Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
- Carey Boyzuck
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 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.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Opening Prayer: Jesus, thank you for your word. You help me place you in your rightful place as my Lord and Savior. Help me to know that I am your beloved child and to live from that truth.
Righteousness: Each and every one of us needs a savior. The only truly righteous one is Jesus. Any righteousness we have is not from ourselves, but a share in the righteousness of Christ. St. Paul speaks to this: “...that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his Resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11). Simply put, we cannot save ourselves. Only God can save us. True, we are called to cooperate with the grace with which he blesses us. But without Christ, none of us are righteous, cleansed from sin, or justified. These are God’s works, not our own. According to the Catechism, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism” (CCC 1987).
Faith and Works: The Pharisee thought that his righteousness was “based on the law.” He was more concerned with tithing from his “whole income” than sharing his whole heart. He was doing what was required of the law, not loving and serving God from the heart. Jesus is showing us through this parable that the way to righteousness is not only by following the commandments but by coming to him. He alone is the source of our salvation. Our faith is demonstrated by our works (James 2:17), but no amount of works, rule-following, prayer, tithing, or any other human action can save us without Christ. The Catechism teaches: “It is the divine name that alone brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his incarnation, so that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (CCC 432). We need both faith in Christ and works to be justified.
In God’s Place: The Pharisee exalted himself to Christ’s judgment seat, making himself the judge of what is righteous. Notice that he “spoke this prayer to himself.” He offered the prayer to himself and addressed himself as God: “O God…” (Luke 18:11). He was not offering prayers of thanksgiving to God; he was praising himself. Conversely, the tax collector knew his place before God. He humbly recognized his own faults and sins and asked for God’s mercy. Each of us struggles with pride in some way. It is the result of the fall of man, the original grasping at pride, sometimes called the pusilla anima, or the “small soul.” The Pharisee was in the grasp of his own small soul. He was the center of his universe and prayer, not God. We can ask ourselves: When have we placed ourselves in God’s role, closing our world in on ourselves rather than allowing God to be the Lord of our lives (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)? When we place God in his rightful place, we automatically inhabit our rightful place: as his beloved children who trust in his mercy, like the tax collector. In our smallness, God will exalt us. As Dr. Edward Sri says, “God can do great things with the humble soul.”
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, help me to always be dependent on you. Help me to remember that I am not God and that I cannot save myself. I cannot put aside my pride without you, Lord. Grant me a heart that is meek and humble, like yours.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will practice the virtue of humility in some small way.
For Further Reflection: Watch this video from Dr. Edward Sri: “The Virtue of Humility.”
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