“Thank you God, that I am not like all those other sinners in the Church today!” These words echo the voice of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel lesson. If we are honest with ourselves, each of us has at one time or another said something just like this to God. Oh sure, we may use words more like, “I haven’t had and really big sins, not like others I know,” but truthfully we are always comparing our sin against the sins of others in order to comfort ourselves into thinking we don’t have anything to worry about when Judgment Day comes.
Today is the first day of the Triodion, or PreLenten, Period during which we are invited by the Church to take a serious look at our lives and prepare for the spiritual trek that we call Great Lent. The idea that our sins are “not so bad” or “not like others” is a common discussion that I often hear during Holy Confession. It is a theme that each of us, whether we realize it or not, has allowed to become part of our spiritual thinking.
Then there is the Publican, the known sinner, who simply bows his head and cries, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” He didn’t bother comparing his sins against the sins of others, because he knew well his sins. He wasn’t interested in whether he was better or worse than the Pharisee, just whether or not God would forgive him. Christ declared, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18.14)
Humility is a great gift, and when used properly, can lead toward salvation. Proper christian humility is the ability to look inside our hearts and admit our sins and weaknesses to God. Proper christian humility doesn’t reject the love and forgiveness of others, but allows us to accept their love, and to love in return. Pride, on the other hands, blinds us to our own sins, by focusing on the sins of others. Both the Pharisee and the Publican were sinners, but only the humble publican was able to admit his sins to God, and therefore accept God’s forgiveness.
We all sin, whether we like to admit it or not. It is the one thing we all have in common as human beings struggling to live according to God’s will. Pride, the mother of all sins, drives us deeper into sin, blinded by what we perceive to be our own shining halo. If we are going to benefit from the coming trek of Great Lent, we must first bow our heads in humility, like the publican, and admit our sins, no matter how great or how small, to God. Lord have mercy on us, sinners.