This past week the province of Alberta tabled its much-anticipated budget. Everyone was wondering what would be the areas of maintained or increased investment of government dollars and where there would be cutbacks in spending. The budget will now have a significant impact on the lives of the citizens of this province. Some people will interpret that impact positively, while others will view it in negative terms.
This is a helpful metaphor for understanding the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel passage proclaimed on Sunday (Luke 18: 9-14). One could say that Jesus is “tabling a budget”, one that, if followed, will have only positive consequences for the lives of his followers. Through a parable, the Lord speaks of where new investment is required, and where cutbacks are an absolute necessity.
The parable is the familiar one of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Through this story Jesus is teaching that we must invest heavily in humility and divest ourselves entirely of pride.
To live humbly is to live truthfully. Pride belongs to the world of illusion. Humility is the full and peaceful acceptance of the truth of my life before God. As the tax collector understood well, we are sinners, in need of the mercy of God. Humility acknowledges the sovereignty of God and relies upon divine providence for all things. Pride is simply foolish. As the Pharisee demonstrates, pride manifests itself in the attitude of self-reliance, and equates one’s identity and dignity with personal accomplishments. When Jesus teaches us to invest in humility and cut out any splurging on pride, he is directing us to face squarely the truth of our existence – our need for God and reliance upon his gifts – and to live accordingly.
Of great significance is the fact that the parable places both the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple, the place of worship. Thus we appreciate that pride is essentially worship of the self, whereas humility directs the heart to the worship of God. Here we can see that the teaching of our Lord in this parable is radically counter-cultural in our day. The Western world exalts the Self to a seemingly endless degree. I define truth. I determine what is right or wrong. My thought patterns shape the whole of reality.
The prevalence of this prideful, self-centered approach to life is due in no small measure to the vast array of messaging that reaches us via modern means of social communication. Who we listen to shapes our mindset. Clearly, we are listening more to social messaging than we are to the Word of God. If we place our situation within the budget metaphor, we can say that we need to invest more time – far more – in listening to and contemplating God’s Word, and cutting back radically on allowing other competing voices to exercise influence on our lives.
We like balanced budgets. Far more important are balanced lives. This results from investment in humble acceptance of the truth and divestment from that dangerous falsehood we call pride.