Jesus’ parables can sometimes be obscure, but the one in Luke 18:9-14 is an exception. It is entirely straightforward. Suspiciously straightforward. Two men go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prays aloud: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The tax collector, by contrast, beats his chest and cries out for mercy.
Clearly, we need to be like the tax collector. God, we thank you that we are not like that legalistic Pharisee! Easy peasy.
And just like that, we’ve sprung the trap.
Pride is like a rat in the basement of our hearts. It feeds in the darkness of our self-ignorance, spreading sin, evil, and discontentment wherever it goes. And like rats, pride is notoriously difficult to exterminate. We cannot just walk down there with a broom and sweep it out the door. It has to be baited, coaxed out of hiding, and trapped. Jesus’ parable is like a rat trap for spiritual pride.
But even after we’ve trapped it, our work is not done. If we just throw it out, it will only sneak back in when we’re focused elsewhere. Social media is full of pride-rats scurrying from house to house, heart to heart:
“God, I thank you that I am not like those Trump supporters, who are ignorant racists … that I am not like those Hilary supporters, who want to murder the unborn … that I am not like those men who abuse their power and exploit the vulnerable … that I have not been emasculated by those shrill feminists … that I have checked my privilege and am now proudly woke … that I can face the harsh realities of life, unlike those liberal snowflakes … that I actually care about the poor, unlike those greedy capitalists … that I understand the power of a free market, unlike those misguided socialists … that I am not like those stay at home moms with no life, and I have a career … that I am not like those career-driven moms, and I love my kids … that I believe in love, tolerance, and inclusivity, unlike those close-minded bigots … that I believe in traditional family values, unlike those progressive deviants … that I am not like those heartless nationalists, and I care for all people … that I am not just looking for a free pass, and that I am a hard-working citizen …”
Pride cannot be driven out. It has to be killed.
Lent is the season to clear out the basement and kill the rats. We wear ashes, because ashes kill pride. We fast, because pride hides in our comforts. We deny ourselves, because pride feeds on the self. And we cling our savior, Jesus Christ, whose death humbles the proud, whose resurrection exalts the humble.
Thomas Hinson has served as Advent's Rector since 2007. He and his wife Laura have two sons, Riley and Maddox, a daughter, Emmeline, and a dog named Jasper.