And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
Jesus, as God, has a unique insight into the hearts of men and is able to get right to the heart of the issue. And this condition that He identifies was not unique to the Pharisees nor unique to Jesus’ day. We can sometimes tend to think so highly of ourselves. We’ll look around at what other people are doing and conclude that we aren’t so bad after all. We add up all of our good works and yet fail to see our evil ones. We judge others and try to make ourselves seem better than them—and better, truly, than we really are.
These attitudes, however, prideful and self-righteous as they are, produce a hardness in us, a lack of love and compassion for others, a superiority complex that won’t allow us to reach out to someone we deem lowly and unworthy. And those were exactly the attitudes that Jesus was trying to prevent from forming in His disciples. He kept reiterating humility and concern for others, the importance of selflessness. He didn’t want them to miss that vital truth of understanding that all have sinned and therefore all need Him and His righteousness.
If we take an honest look at ourselves, we would not find as much righteousness within ourselves as we sometimes imagine to be there. Often, we give ourselves a break and cut ourselves too much slack. Sometimes we become blind to the truth of our own faults and failures. Sometimes we get too conceited to recognize where we’re going astray even as we stand and condemn others for their sins. And when we constantly focus on ourselves and how great we think we are, we have little room in our lives for others, much less room for God.
We cannot hide from God what is in our hearts, but sometimes it can be hidden to us. So may we come before Him humbly and truly seeking to change what needs to change in our lives. Let us not close our hearts off from love and compassion for others. We do not look at others to judge them and compare ourselves with them to make ourselves feel better, but we should seek instead to strengthen and encourage and love them. And when we take our eyes off of ourselves, we’ll be better able to see the truth about us and them, and we may find we’re really not so different after all.