[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.”]. (Lk. 18:9-14)
In our Gospel today, the tax collector is forgiven of his numerous sins because of his humility. He recognized and confessed his own sinfulness and need for salvation. The Pharisee, on the other hand, confessed nothing and only inflated his ego. He wrongly saw no need for forgiveness from God because he was so “good”.
Cultivating the virtue of humility can be very difficult, yet we see its necessity illustrated by the two men in the parable. We recognize clearly enough that humility is not thinking we’re better than everyone else. However we may not recognize that humility is not thinking we’re worthless and “worse” than everyone else either. The virtue of humility is somewhere in between these two extremes—inflated pride and false humility.
The virtue of humility is the habit of recognizing the truth of who we are, not exaggerated or minimized. In her dialogues with Jesus Jesus told St. Catherine of Siena, “You are she who is not. I am He who is”. Divorced from each other, the first statement leads to a false humility and quite possibly depression. However, the true nature of humility is revealed when both statements are united as one.
Are we “nothing” because of our sinfulness and imperfections? Sure, but we are made whole in Christ. He reveals who we truly are. We are neither worthless piles of manure nor the best thing since sliced bread. The virtue of humility is acknowledging the truth of who we are in the light of Christ.
How do I view myself? Do I see myself as better than others and exaggerate my strengths, ignoring my weaknesses? Do I see myself as worse than everyone else and exaggerate my weaknesses, ignoring my strengths? Do I see the truth of who I am?
“Lord, help me to grow in the virtue of humility today.”