One of my Professors at Princeton Seminary was Dr. Howard Lindquist who at one time was Pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. At one point in his ministry he visited the home of one of his parishioners. The older woman asked him, “Has anyone ever told you how wonderful you are?” Dr. Lindquist smiled and answered, “Why no!” “Where then did you ever get that idea,” said the woman.
During the time I knew Dr. Lindquist, he was continually processing that comment.
From time to time, people debate which sin is the worst. For British theologian C.S. Lewis there is no question. “The essential vice, the utmost evil is pride. Pride is the devil becomes the devil. Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
It can safely be said that pride is the cause of division and disruption of our relationships with God and other people. It’s fun to spot this character flaw in others until the disturbing realization dawns on us that pride is a flaw for us as well.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector becomes center stage for how Jesus teaches the disciples about the sin of Pride. Pharisees saw themselves as superior to other people because they fasted and fulfilled all the finer points of the Jewish law. They saw the tax collector as sinful but the tax collector saw himself as in need of God’s mercy and humbled himself before God. There was no humility for the Pharisee. (Luke 18: 9-14)
It’s worth noting that in this parable, Jesus flips the script. No longer is the tax collector the bad guy. The Pharisees become the bad guys because of their pride. Historians estimate that there are about 6,000 Pharisees at any given moment. They were not clergy. Pharisees means “The Separate Ones”. They took upon themselves to be the model citizens for the whole nation of Israel. They saw their religious accomplishments as what was required for their righteousness before God. They saw themselves as winners and people like the tax collector as losers, sinners and below them.
What is the first of Jesus’ Beatitudes-“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” That must have seemed a strange message to the disciples and certainly a contrast to the lifestyle of the Pharisees.
We come to God not by our goodness and pride but by our humility-leaning on the mercy of God who loves us with an unconditional love that we see on the cross Good Friday and on Easter celebrates the new life, eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain