Every era has errors. One of the great ones of our time is the notion that we should teach children to "believe in themselves."We come into this world turned in on ourselves. Think about the fetal position. Where are you looking? And even once we are born all five of our senses are not functioning fully. It is only slowly over time that our senses come online and we are able to engage the world. And an even longer time before we are able to turn away from ourselves and focus on the needs of others.
In the Gospel today Jesus addresses this parable to those who trust in themselves for righteousness. There really two ways in which we can all fall into self-righteousness.
The first is to believe that I can somehow earn my way into heaven. While it is true that we must cooperate with God's grace, it is the grace that saves us.
The more insidious form of self-righteousness is our tendency to see ourselves as better than someone else. We would never want to acknowledge it but it is true.
There are some people who are in supervisory positions in life. Parents for example have not only right but a duty to supervise their children. At work we may have people for whom we must serve as supervisors and are expected to provide guidance. Even there, the guidance must be done with love, acknowledging the good at least as often as you point out the bad. We are to critique, not criticize.
In the rest of life, every time we critique someone else, hidden inside that critique is a drop of self-righteousness. On some level we are saying I could do it better, I would do it better, I am better.
Hidden inside the center of every criticism of someone else is a bit of a superiority complex. We hate to admit this.
Instead of teaching our children to believe in themselves we Christians reserve the phrase "believe in" for God. If we are truly Christian we cannot be self-righteous because we know that our very existence from moment to moment is a gift from God. Every capacity that I have comes from God. And if I my life correctly everything that I do is a collaboration with God.
Tomorrow we begin the fourth week of Lent (the pink Sunday). Yes I know it's officially called Rose; it's still pink. It is the reminder that we are more than halfway through the season of Lent. This fourth week of Lent let us pay attention and catch ourselves in those moments when we are even thinking a criticism of someone else and acknowledge those as the self-righteous moments that they are, and shut them down.
This may leave some of us with nothing to say, but silence is golden.
Believe only in God. Know that every breath is a gift. And do not waste a single one on petty self-righteousness.