At Least I Don’t…
Biblically, the word righteous means approved by God. It’s something God judges as good or right. To be self-righteous, then, simply means we’ve met that standard in our own eyes.
Jesus warns us against our self-righteousness in the most dire terms. He’s quite aware that while we humans have seemingly insatiable, unstoppable lusts for everything – fame, money, sex, power, tickets to Hamilton, pumpkin-spice products – it’s actually our pride that will doom us.
Jesus keeps trying, over and over, to get us past our favorite delusion. In today’s Scripture reading, He put His listeners (and us) on notice: “Good people” often kid themselves.
The hero of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is the man who knows he’s not a good person. He doesn’t equivocate in the least. He offers zero excuses. He compares himself to no one. He doesn’t offer an “At least I don’t…,” as in “At least I don’t murder people,” or “At least I’m not racist,” or “At least I’m not lazy.” He refuses to even try to justify himself.
Jesus promises people like that will be lifted up.
Notice what He promises for the outwardly good guy who offers the prayer with “At least I don’t…” at the heart of it: He’s going to be brought down, hard.
I’ve learned that Jesus is both terribly dangerous and terribly safe. For the proud, He is the biggest threat imaginable. And for the humble, He is the securest refuge.
We trust ourselves too much. Self-righteousness is a dangerous delusion. So we have Jesus, just a few verses later, nailing the point to our front door, in case we missed it: “No one is good – except God alone” (Luke 18:19).
When are you tempted to defend your self-righteousness by saying “At least I don’t…” and then filling in with whatever “big sins” are on your own personal list?