Reading: Luke 18: 9-14
How would you finish this line: “Thank God I a not like __”? For the Pharisee in today’s story, the tax collector is nearby and is an easy target to compare himself with. Everybody looks down on the tax collectors! But on another day it could be a struggling widow or the town beggar. When one steps outside the temple the possibilities of how one could finish that line grows quickly: Gentile, Samaritan, prostitute, slave, foreigner, Roman…
For the Pharisee, he finds great comfort in who he is, or at least in how he appears to others. He is, of course, playing a game that we are quite good at too. By comparing himself to another who is an ‘obvious’ target in society, he is elevating himself. But it is shallow and self-centered. It is also far from pleasing to and honoring of God.
So, how would we finish that line? Who in our communities would go on that line? Our answers could be political, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, emotional, moral, or simply learned. Our answers could be intimate friends, family members, co-workers, fellow pew mates, neighbors, and strangers. We find no shortage of others we could compare ourselves to. We are also quick to look away from those to whom we do not compare to favorably. The game can cut both ways.
For the Pharisee, and all too often for most of us, the focus is not on God and the many things we should be grateful for. Our focus is too easily inward and not upward. May we be grateful for who we each are in God and for the unique gifts and talents we all possess. May we offer praise and thanksgiving for the many blessings we have. May empathy and compassion be what fills our eyes, minds, and hearts. May generosity and humility guide our response to those God places in our lives. May our gaze be ever upward.