Where has all the humility gone?

15 Aug

I live in a very small town with a typical very small town newspaper.  While reading it, I came across an unusual article about a small town wedding.  Now how it made the news section and wasn’t classified as an op-ed, I will never know.  Still, the point of the article struck me, and not in a good way.  The woman was writing about her plan to go to a wedding in another small town but her fear of upsetting the social norms.  So she studied to make sure she would mind the rules of decorum.  She took great pride in her dress she picked out and in how she conducted herself at the wedding.  The bulk of the article though was focused on insulting the lack of decorum of basically everyone else at the wedding, because they didn’t live up to her expectations.  She then thanked her mom that she wasn’t like any of those savages attending the wedding, but was instead cultured.  That afternoon, I got home and while planning my lesson for the kids at church was overjoyed to discover my lesson was on Jesus’s parable of the two men who went to the temple to pray. 

For those who don’t know, Jesus was really good at telling stories that related to everyday life for just about everyone.  This particular parable probably wouldn’t make many people’s top ten favorite stories, but I have always loved it.  In the story, we have two guys who go to pray one day at the local temple (I would call them gentlemen, but the entire point of the story was that one of the two guys wasn’t exactly genteel).

Fellow A was a Pharisee, a priest of a specific sect of classical Judaism.  What we today would call a “preacher dude” (or I would, but then, I am not “couth” either).  The other fellow was a tax collector, and yes, even back then no one liked the tax collector.  You see way back then, the Romans allowed the tax fellow to take whatever amount of money they wanted from yon-unsuspecting tax payer.  The government got what it desired, and then the collector collected everything else he took. 

The nice religious chap went into the center of the temple and began praying as loudly as possible about how blessed he was that he was a nice guy.  A clean cut guy.  The honest person that everyone is blessed simply by knowing.  He thanked God for making him such a saint and not a low down, dirty sinner like that tax collector praying in the corner of the room. 

Meanwhile, our lowly sinner was praying quietly asking God for forgiveness for taking advantage of people.  He asked that God would forgive him for lying and stealing.  Jesus said he couldn’t even look up to heaven, but bowed his head in shame (true shame mind you, not the type I put on when I am caught doing something I am not supposed to but enjoy anyway). 

And then, Jesus asked the kicker question.  Which guy went home happy and justified?  Now, even the really wise and “oh so godly” Pharisees picked up on the point of this story.  The humble sinner was forgiven by God, while the self-righteous missed the entire point of prayer in the first place. 

My question becomes, how do I miss this so often?  As I read the lesson, I quickly thought of Miss Prim and Proper and how special she (thought she) was, while looking down at the uncouth revelers at the wedding.  Then it hit me that I was looking down my rather large and oafish nose at her, from my place of spiritual one-up-manship.  I must confess, I really enjoyed teaching the lesson on humility to the children, youth, and anyone else who would listen at church.  All the while, I learned (I hope) the lesson myself also.

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