In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls out the pretentiousness and pride of the religious leaders of his day. Before I chime in with a hearty “amen,” or a “you tell ’em, Jesus!”, I need to listen to his warning more deeply. I don’t want to be like “those people,” the scribes and Pharisees. Yet, I have wanted to be like them, to benefit from the perks that come with positions of honor and influence. And while I pat myself on the back for recognizing an air of moral superiority in some of today’s influential religious leaders, I fail to apply the same standard of measurement to myself or others who share my beliefs, politics, and prejudices.
So, this may be an occasion to “back the truck up” and unload some extraneous baggage. After creating some space to learn, I hear Jesus warning me not just to beware of the pharisaical pride of those who occupy high places in the religious sphere, but to also guard against this sin in my own life. Spiritual pride can conceal itself in the assumptions I make about my place in the stories told by and about Jesus. I readily assume that I’m among the favored ones: those God surely values for their devotion; the ones who are certain to hear the divine affirmation of “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).
Truth be told, it feels good this side of heaven to be liked, especially to be liked, respected, and recognized as a religious leader, a person of influence in writing and speaking, someone who prays well in public. So, before I cast my figurative stone at others, may I be open to the ways Jesus’ warning applies to me. That stone, then, probably won’t feel so good in my hand.
Richard Rohr notes our tendency to make ourselves “separate and superior,” dividing the world into good and bad, righteous and sinner, while assuming we are on the “righteous” side. How might you resist that temptation?
Teacher, help me hear and heed your warnings about how pride can creep into my life, even in my religious devotion and spiritual commitment. Amen.