Human pride -- a somewhat ludicrous overflow from the primordial hubris of Satan -- was at the root of the sin of Adam and Eve. I say a somewhat ludicrous imitation or version of that original catastrophe, because, following its lead, Adam and Eve:
Started to build and could not finish the task!
With an overweening self-esteem and outrageous desire for self-exaltation, they gave credence to the supreme Liar, by trying to grasp for themselves likeness to God, at the instigation of his promise to Eve, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.
Those were indeed devilish words for they evoked in Eve what she could not personally cope with; therefore she spoke with Adam who, like his wife, also found himself unable to appreciate what was happening to them both: they found themselves desiring what they could not believe God would ever give them and mistrusting His will to understand them in their temptation and trial. The beauty of God attracted them but they could not conceive the measure of His goodness, because of the disorder they were already experiencing in their hearts after having listened to Satan’s proposal so very alien to their native being (they knew it, they had sensed it!) and yet so attractive to their pride. And so, yielding to that fatal attraction, they allowed themselves to be seduced by Satan, who thus become their chosen lord and master.
Therefore, the wisdom and majesty of God would once again have to confront fallen Lucifer, hiding now behind a hostage-taken mankind!
And God would also need to find and rescue mankind anew by showing His wondrous beauty and infinite goodness in human form this time: Son of God become Son of Man -- an Infant born of a virgin – where divine Goodness is most attractive to men. And there it was too that He would defeat and destroy Satan, through the virtue of humility and the practice of obedience, where His divine Power would be made unrecognizable for Satan’s hubris.
We can say, therefore, that lack of trust in God is ultimately a manifestation of inordinate ego-centrism: either that which is directed outwards in aggressive self-assertion and which we generally call human pride, or that which is turned inwards in perpetual solicitude for, and anxiety about, self. It highlights a fault-line in human nature as we have received it from Adam and Eve: men and women of all ages and all climes – be they important or non-entities, strong or weak, knowledgeable or ignorant, rich and successful or apparently poor and worthless – are subject to it and can be tempted and even led astray by it to such a degree of pride and self-love which would make them either intolerably superior and disdainful with regard to others, or else cripplingly anxious for themselves, fearful and hesitant in all things: thus alienating them from God and frustrating harmony with their fellow humans.
Our heavenly Father is infinite in holiness, power and goodness, and He wants to give us a share in His own eternal life, joy, and glory. To achieve that He has willed to give His own Son to us, for us, the Son through Whom He also endows us with His Holy Spirit to work within and with us, so that we might indeed come to gradually experience and appreciate a little something of the glorious destiny He has prepared for us. Before such sublime wisdom -- shot through with divine goodness and compassion -- human self-love is clearly shown in the horror of its sinfulness: for our arrogant pride will not readily admit or humbly accept God as supreme Lord, whilst our anxiety and fearfulness cannot believe in, and will not trust, His infinite goodness as our loving Father.
Let us now see how the Pharisee prayed to so wonderful a God and Father:
God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.
Notice that he addresses God first and then puts Him aside as a sort of bystander, whilst he concentrates his whole attention on himself and on his feelings for others, especially for the tax collector nearby. He is not praying to God so much as proudly detailing his own personal performance and public awareness and appreciation. In fact he is not praying to God personally at all, he is speaking to, addressing, Him as an important Pharisee; and the few words he directs to Him are merely rhetorical and conventional, the ‘politically correct’ language of a man of God such as he believes himself to be; and after having fulfilled his religious obligation with those few words ‘God I thank you’, he becomes as all men are, though, indeed, far prouder than most, especially with regard to the humble tax-collector nearby.
Our Pharisee is not even truly thanking God for enabling and guiding him to ‘fast twice a week’ and ‘give tithes of all he possesses’, for that would, indeed, have led him to understand somewhat better, and perhaps even feel a measure of compassion for, the tax-collector and all ‘such people’. As it was, his words to God were nothing more than ritualistic assertion of his professional commitment and success; whereas his personal commitment is shown most clearly in his vehemence against society as a whole, and against the tax-collector individually who happened to be praying so disgustingly close to him in the Temple of God!
Notice how Jesus describes such prayer when He says:
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.
On the other hand, however, Jesus contrasts the tax-collector’s prayer with that of the Pharisee by not only mentioning, but even gently emphasizing, his humility before God:
The tax-collector would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed…
before finally, and most approvingly, revealing his words of self-accusation:
God, be merciful to me a sinner!
There God is supremely important, being recognized as all-holy and most merciful; as for the tax-collector himself, he is just a sinner, humbly acknowledging the fact. Only two persons are pictured there and the prayer is a truly personal bond of union between them.
Centuries earlier, the Psalmist (Ps. 91:14) had written words perfectly applicable to the tax-collector’s prayer:
I will set him on high, because he has known my Name (known Who I am -- the all-holy God – and what I am -- infinitely merciful).
That was lovingly confirmed by Jesus, Who alone knew His Father in the true splendour of His glory and fullness of His goodness, when He went on to say:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
As for the Pharisee whose pride allowed him little more than notional appreciation of God, Jesus could add:
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
People of God, whoever sets out for a distant destination must always keep their eyes fixed on some object that establishes the right direction: if one were to walk looking at one’s feet, it would be impossible to arrive at the desired destination. So too in our spiritual life, we need always to have our mind and heart, our intention and our desire, fixed on Jesus in the Church. Of course, it might be objected that he who does not look where he is putting his feet is asking for trouble; and there are some who allow themselves to be convinced by such an argument and feel encouraged to continue either worrying about themselves or else congratulating themselves for their imagined prudence. However, the great falsehood hidden in such behaviour is, of course, that it is not we who are going heavenward of ourselves, but rather it is God Who is calling us and seeking to guide us: we attain the destination He plans for us only if we trust His goodness and follow His guidance. As St. Paul said in our second reading:
The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!
Jesus wished to impress this upon His disciples when He warned them of pressures to come that would, if they did not take care, lead them to worry overmuch about themselves:
You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak, for it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:18-21)
We all know that the apostle Paul suffered more than any of the apostles for Jesus, and the hearing of only a few of his sufferings and trials fills us with admiration for his steadfast proclamation of the Good News (2 Cor. 11:24s.):
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.
How could he endure such punishments and survive such sufferings? And where did he find the courage and strength to continue his witnessing to Christ? Listen to him again:
By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant. (2 Corinthians. 3:5-6)
My dear people, it is not only necessary for our eternal salvation, but it is also a much happier and more fulfilling experience for us here on earth to delight in God, and to be able and willing to trust and thank Him at all times and under all circumstances. No one is happier than one who is grateful, none stronger than he who trusts in God.
Trust in God is absolutely essential, being the very hallmark of true love. Trust in God is not, indeed, an integral part of our human nature, it is a gift from God; but like the talents in Jesus’ parable, it is a gift entrusted to us that we can and should develop, an endowment we are exhorted to use, work with, and profit from. We need to pray constantly for greater trust in God, for a more instinctive and childlike reliance on Him, and we should also seek to support such prayers by resolute endeavours to turn aside from our over-elaborate selves more promptly, through simple and ever more whole-hearted commitment to Him and His purposes; loving Him and doing His will, after the example of Jesus.
As trust grows it brings with it such a deep peace and quiet joy that one wonders how one could have been so foolish as to have relied on, or worried about, self so much before. Moreover, with a deepening awareness of and trust in the goodness of God to ourselves, we can all the more sincerely sympathize with others in their faults and failings, as we come to recognize ever more clearly where we ourselves would be, were it not for God’s bountiful blessings filling up our emptiness and satisfying our needs.
Dear friends in Christ, unshakeable trust in, and heart-felt gratitude to, God the Father -- for the love and commitment embodied in Jesus crucified and gloriously Risen, and abiding ever with us in the grace and power of His Spirit in the Church – such love and trust, I say, bring us and offer all believers, a fulfilment and peace beyond anything else this side of heaven. Taste and see that the Lord is GOOD!