(Or: The Holy Spirit’s Great Sense of Humor!)
Do you remember the story of the rich man and the tax collector?
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
So, since the first time I heard this story, I thought it was a great example of how Jesus often used hyperbole to make his point. “Surely nobody,” I often thought, “could ever be so prideful as to actually pray that way!” Even if they thought themselves better than other people, surely, they would still want to think of themselves as humble, right?
Well, a couple of years ago, our church did a video Bible study series – Bishop Robert Barron’s Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Prideful Virtues. It was a great study, and I learned a lot from it – chiefly having to do with how many of the seven deadly sins I really struggle with. But the way God revealed my pride to me was certainly the funniest.
So pride was the first sin covered in the study, and we read the above story as part of it. So that thought was fresh in my mind as I was driving home – “No one could be so prideful as to actually pray, ‘Thank God that I’m not a sinner like that person over there!'”
Well, halfway home, I see the car ahead of me swerve from the middle into the left lane, then swoop back over, cut across two lanes and take the exit. And before I could help myself, out came the prayer I thought no one (let alone myself) would ever be prideful enough to pray! “Thank God I’m not a bad driver like that person!”
Being able to recognize irony is grace too, right?