A young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a besetting sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?”
The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, why that’s just a mistake!”
The stereoscope. I’ve never owned one, but I’ve seen and played with one. You may have also, but just didn’t know its name. The first one was invented in 1838. It looks a bit like a pair of binoculars with a stick running out the front of it and a bracket to place a card that has two images of the same setting side-by-side, but at just slightly different angles. By looking through the eyepieces at the photos, it plays a bit of a trick on the mind, making the image appear three dimensional. That little contraption has made quite a few advancements.
Today, we have virtual reality headsets. These I have not used, but the developers are working to create a device that provides a total immersion into what is being displayed so that you are no longer looking at an image, but you are “in” the image. They look a bit like a helmet with a shield that completely blocks out the world around you. Your head moves, the image moves. Infrared sensors inside track your eye movements so that the image will pan in the direction you look. Plug in your headphones and you are there. No longer are you playing a video game, you are in a video game. The outside world disappears and it is all about the game. I suppose that eventually you’ll be able to dial up a virtual reality preacher and not even have to get dressed up on a Sunday morning.
Technology provides a total immersion into a world of our own creation and we become oblivious to the world around us. Yet, I don’t think we always need technology to accomplish this, because there are times that we can become so immersed in ourselves, that we can’t see the others around us. And when we do eventually look up, it is not to seek to love and serve others, but to see how we compare to them. That is pride, and pride led to the downfall of the devil and it can lead to ours as well. C.S. Lewis was correct when he wrote in Mere Christianity, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
One of those snarky little memes that came across the internet this week, “When scientist discover the center of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to learn they aren’t it.” In pride, we are immersed in ourselves and we see ourselves as being better than others in every aspect, including appearance, position, status, etc. Yet, not only is there pride in temporal things, there is also also spiritual pride, that attitude of holier than thou and I can prove it.
I came across the following in the Catholic Gentleman’s blog: “The truth is, we deep down believe that we are better than other people, and we are constantly on the lookout for proof of this fact. When we see others sin, we gloat or shake our heads in disappointment. ‘What a sad sinner they are, I’m so glad I’m not a sinner like that.’ It is pharisaic pride, plain and simple.”
Jonathan Edwards, one of the great preachers of the 18th century said, “Spiritual pride tends to speak of other persons’ sins with bitterness or with laughter and levity and an air of contempt…. is very apt to suspect others… is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies.” (The complete sermon can be found here.)
Spiritual pride is also one that is easily concealed. It is committed in the recesses of the heart. It is a secret sin. Consider how it was revealed in our Gospel reading today.
Jesus has come to the house of Simon the Pharisee. We would like to think that Simon invited Jesus because he thought Jesus was truly the Messiah, but there are several things that indicate that this was really just another test for Jesus and one, in the eyes of Simon, that Jesus failed.
As they are having supper a woman comes in and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them off with her hair, and then putting ointment on them. Scripture then says, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him– that she is a sinner.’”
In pride, the Pharisee looked at Jesus and decided that he was truly not a prophet as so many had claimed him to be. And, in pride, the Pharisee looked at the woman and decided — No. Not “decided,” but “knew” what kind of woman this was that was anointing Jesus feet. He has looked at the appearance and actions of Jesus and this woman and has decided what he believes to be true about them both entirely. But note also what the scripture said, “when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself…” He said it in his heart. So there was pride in how he judged their appearance and there was spiritual pride in how he judged their souls. Yet, we cannot know a person simply by their appearance and we certainly cannot know their souls.
To enter into seminary, you have to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which basically will test english and math skills. Had my entrance into seminary been based on how I did on the math section, I would still be working for some marketing company, so I had to Google this. Consider an iceberg: the density of ice is approximately 90% the density of water, which means that 90% of any iceberg is underwater. We see the visible 10%, but we know nothing of the invisible 90%. The same is true of individuals.
The famous conqueror of the ancient world, Alexander the Great came across the Greek philosopher Diogenes. Diogenes was staring attentively at two piles of bones. “What are you looking for?” asked Alexander. “Something that I cannot find,” replied Diogenes. “And what might that be?” Diogenes answered, “The difference between your Father’s bones and those of his slave.”
The Pharisee looked at both Jesus and the woman, he saw a very small part of who they were, but he judged them completely. He was wrong on all counts. He saw a sinner, but she was forgiven. He saw someone unworthy, she was loved. He saw the actions as disgraceful, but they were loving. He saw Jesus as a fraud, but he was God. We can make the same mistake by spiritually judging others, corporately or individually. We can say that we are spiritually better, more mature than the Methodist or the Presbyterians or the Romans—maybe that’s a poor example, since we are—No! We can spiritually judge others based on what we perceive as their sins, but like the Pharisee, we will be proven wrong. Not only that, but we are in no place to be judging.
A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
We can become prideful when we judge others appearance, status, etc. We can become spiritually proud when we judge their souls. A line attributed to Mother Teresa: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Set aside the pride. Set aside the drive to see yourself as better. Set aside the need to be right. Set aside the judging that comes with it all. Set aside the complete immersion in self. By doing so, we will never be as holy as Jesus, but maybe, just maybe, we will be like the woman who anointed his feet. We will be those who show great love.
Let us pray:
God, our Father,
You redeemed us
and made us Your children in Christ.
Through Him You have saved us from death
and given us Your Divine life of grace.
By becoming more like Jesus on earth,
may I come to share His glory in Heaven.
Give me the peace of Your kingdom,
which this world does not give.
By Your loving care protect the good You have given me.
Open my eyes to the wonders of Your Love
that I may serve You with a willing heart.