In Luke 19:10-14, Jesus told this parable of the healthcare insurance representative, I mean tax collector and the Pharisee, who we already know is going to be the bad guy based on all of Jesus’ other stories:
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 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
God, I find your parable simultaneously upsetting and consoling, if that’s at all possible, and you know it is in the mind of a manic-depressive. Because my head houses both the healthcare insurance representative, I mean tax collector, and the Pharisee. It just depends on my mood: hypomanic, or depressed.
When I was ten, and my twin sister and I would stay up talking all night, until our mom heard us, she would often say to me, “I’m scared that I’m going to go to hell.”
To which I would respond, “You’ve made an intelligent observation.”
I know, I know, I know, that was totally cruel and judgmental. But come on, you know the kind of crap she pulled. ALL the time. And I was sick of always bailing her out. It got old, being an enabler, even at 10.
“You’re going to heaven,” she’d say.
“Yep,” I replied. “Beatific vision, here I come!”
Now every once in awhile, when I’m on the phone with someone at PayFirst CareLast (the health insurance company), I devolve into that arrogant and self-righteous Pharisee. “Well, you’re obviously going to hell,” I’ll say to myself (about the representative, NOT ME), “because you are stealing money from people too sick to fight back.”
In reality I don’t anything about the woman on the other end of the phone, except that her boss and the company shareholders are Satan’s best friends. She may be a single mom whose husband just ran out on her after sleeping with her best friend, and left behind the disabled teenager she has to feed with absolutely no money in the banking account.
Is that my codependency talking or an attempt at compassion? I think I’ve been hanging out, drinking double espressos, in the self-help aisle of Hard Bean and Books for too long, because it’s hard for me to tell anymore.
At any rate, it’s wrong to judge people. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And I do it all the time. Sorry.
BUT more times than not, I’m the depressive, i.e. the tax collector, who feels unworthy to call out to you because I’m not grateful enough, I don’t give enough time and money to charities, and, in general, I tend to get things wrong more often than right.
Is that low self-esteem or humility? Again, my head is buried in too many my-six-steps-will-transform-your pathetic-world-into-my beautiful-one books written by, of course, a team of Pharisees and their editors.
My patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, wrote often of humility. She wanted nothing more than to become little and ordinary in order to love you fully. By little sacrifices—unnoticed actions and words—she intended in her short life to “scatter flowers, perfuming the divine throne with their fragrance.”
In The Story of a Soul, she writes:
I am too little to have any vanity, I am also too little to know how to turn beautiful phrases so as to make it appear that I have a great deal of humility. I prefer to acknowledge simply that “He that is might has done great things to me” (Luke 1:49), and the greatest is His having shown me my littleness, my powerlessness for all good.
And in a letter to her sister, Pauline, she associates holiness with humility:
Holiness does not consist in this or that practice. It consists in a disposition of the heart, which makes us always humble and little in the arms of God, well aware of our feebleness, but boldly confident in the Father’s goodness.
If the Little Flower is right then true humility goes back to what you told the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, when he was whining about that bothersome thorn in his flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
It doesn’t matter if I’m feeling manic, superior, and grandiose while I’m yelling at Tina from PayFirst CareLast about the $25,000 her boss in the red suit with thorns stole from us, or if I’m standing at the back of St. Mary’s church because I’m quite positive you don’t want to see my face so early on your day off (Sunday), feeling horribly inferior, depressed, and bereft of self-confidence. Or even on those days that I’m renting noggin space to BOTH the Pharisee and the healthcare insurance representative, I mean tax collector. I’m going to cover all my bases and ask you to help me to remember the following on ALL days and in ALL moods: I am little, and you are big. But that I am made bigger and stronger with your grace: in and for and because of you.