... than 50% of the people out there. Then again, I suppose that would make God a respecter of persons. O:-)
And here was another parable that he told. It was aimed at those who were sure of their goodness and looked down on everyone else. 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood up and prayed thus: "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like the rest of men, greedy, dishonest, adulterous: or, for that matter, like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all that I get." But the other kept his distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, "O God, have mercy on me, sinner that I am." It was this man, I tell you, and not the other, who went home acquitted of his sins. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18: 9-14.
I've been ruminating upon this passage, in connection with my opening sentence. So far in my life, there are instances where I'm thankful that I'm not like other people. That I'm not as arrogant, or that I'm more compassionate, or that I don't judge the way someone else does.
I do think that there are people I'm "better" than, in terms of good behavior. I don't think this in regards to every single good behavior out there. There are some behaviors that I'm horrible at, that other people are better at that I am. That's true of everything. I'm good at math: not everyone is. Other people are good at astrophysics. I can pretty much point out Orion's belt, the Dippers and possibly Cassiopeia.
But I'm not sure I can say the behavior goes against this parable, for a couple reasons. I think the crux of this is a matter of pride: it was aimed at those whose surety in their goodness caused them to look down on everyone else. It was as though they were saying, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as that person," and then went on with their lives, still self-focused.
We can see that in the parable itself. Three qualities are listed: greed, dishonesty and adultery. He doesn't thank God that he gives thousands of dollars to the poor, or feed the poor, or that he pursues justice. He is honest, he doesn't hoard things (whatever that means) and he doesn't cheat in marriage. But he doesn't go out of his way to love his neighbor as himself. Although he may have the "love self" very much under control.
He also points out two good things he does -- fasts, and tithes on whatever he receives. Those actions seem rather easy, as well. He fasts, which is self-focused. He denies himself food, but he doesn't say why. Is it for appearance, or does he honestly feel that it brings him closer to God? He also tithes. However, I'm not sure how tithing works back then. Does that just mean it was money paid to the temple, and the temple decided where the money went? Because that seems like an easy way to donate.
I just have an image of a very satisfied person, patting himself on the back. He found sins that would make him bad, but conveniently looks on the very sins that are easy for him to avoid. He then thanks God that he's not like those people, but he doesn't even thank God for creating him to not be attracted to those sins, or thank God for helping to avoid them. It's almost like the thanking God portion is perfunctory.
Then we have the closing words: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The Pharisee was exalting himself at the expense of others. He was prideful in his accomplishments, and bragging about them. Had he been humble, he would've thanked God for his strengths, while still being aware of what needs work, and being aware that it can be too easy to become prideful.
The thing about humility is that it's the opposite of pride. It should make one reflective. But if you know that you are a compassionate person, and go around saying how you aren't compassionate, then that's almost false humility. It looks like you just want people to praise how compassionate you are, that you're trying to get people to feed your ego. Which can be another aspect of pride.
Can you find yourself better at something, and not exalt yourself? Yes. Now, are there times I'm prideful that I'm better than everyone else? Oh, I'm sure. However, I, and I know others, who use those opportunity to say, "Okay, I find that behavior arrogant. Are there times when I'm arrogant like that? Or arrogant in other ways?" They use the situation as a training example, to be on watch for their own behavior. If I'm standing somewhere and thanking God that I'm not like so-and-so, and then I skip home, satisfied with myself, then I'm just bragging. The Pharisee was bragging, and using the sins of others to exalt himself. If I use the behavior of another, and say that I'm a compassionate person so long as I'm %0.0001 more compassionate than he is, then I'm not looking to better myself, I'm looking to justify my current behavior. I'm looking to an excuse to stay the way I am.
Or there are times when I'm just really grateful that I'm not like that. I think we've all had moments like those.