Others Devotional, volume 19

Others Before Self by Michael Kornelis

Scripture: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I receive.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Luke 18:10-13

My professor, the eminent John Bolt, once argued that this is Jesus’ most brilliant parable, and I think he is right. It’s a trap, the lure is subtle but sure, and I, at least, bite and get hooked every time. Let me explain. The moral of the story, Jesus explains, is this: the tax collector, ironically, is more righteous than the Pharisee because whereas the Pharisee exultantly thinks himself better than others, the tax collector ‘in humility thought of others better than himself.’ There’s the lure. And here’s the hook and catch. My tendency at least is to read this story and think to myself, ‘that Pharisee is so self-righteous, God, I thank you that I am not like that man.’ And there it is, I am hooked and caught. Thanking God that I am not self-righteous like the Pharisee, who do I become? THE SELF RIGHTEOUS PHARISEE! There is no way out of the trap except to pray with the tax collector “God, be merciful to me a sinner” and, if you think at all about the other, the Pharisee, ‘in humility think him better than yourself.’

I love the presence, the role, the place of the Pharisees in the gospels because on nearly every page, they unmask our own pharisaical hypocrisies when on nearly every page we arrogantly look down them as we pray their own Pharisaical prayer, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men; I thank you that I am not like the Pharisees.”

As I think about it, as I live and move in this world, it seems impossible to get around this problem, to overcome this self-righteousness, because it is a problem that plagues all Christian no matter their stripe, creed, or persuasion of thought. There is no tradition or church to which this disease has not spread. We are Pharisees, everyone one of us, praying “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, not like the drunk or not like the teetotaler, not like the greedy rich or not like the slothful poor, not like the slut or not like the prude, not like the liberal or not like the conservative, not like the homosexual or not like heterosexual, whoever it be, God, I thank you that I am not like the other.”

How shall we overcome our self-righteousness, our arrogance? I think we cannot overcome it but through humility. And what is humility? C.S. Lewis, as he so often does, explains it best. He says that “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” To put it even more plainly, humility is self-forgetfulness, thinking of yourself less and less until you forget yourself entirely. And what better way to forget yourself than to think of others instead. So today and every other day may we obey the Apostles command: think of others but not only this, think of others and think them better than yourself.

Prayer: May we see you, O God, and at the sight of you, may we forget ourselves. But until then, Lord, have mercy on us sinners. Amen.

About the Author: Mr. Kornelis has the privilege of bestowing the wisdom of God’s word upon the freshmen and juniors of CVCHS on a daily basis. He is the second oldest and certainly most handsome son of Timothy Kornelis. He is married to Mrs. Kornelis, who he cannot outrun, but could outswim or outbike any day. He really likes hummus.

Originally published on February 10, 2017.

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