Stop Comparing Yourself to Others!
Hi, I'm Matthew Kelly, and welcome to Feed Your Soul. This Sunday's reading is a short reading. So I thought we'd read it together and then take it apart line by line and have a look at some of the people, some of the concepts, some of the ideas that Jesus is sharing with us. Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others. Two men went up to the temple to pray. One a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men. Extortion is unjust, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. But beat his breath saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." And Jesus said, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. But he who humbles himself will be exalted." Once again, there's just so much in each and every single one of these readings. The first thing we see is that there are two men. One is the Pharisee. One is the tax collector, and there's this comparison that plays out. We use comparisons in our own lives powerfully. Psychological reasons, spiritual reasons, emotional reasons, very often to manipulate ourselves and to manipulate others. Very easily we see here the Pharisee looking at the tax collector and basically saying, "God, thank you for not making me like him." And of course, this is a manipulation of self. The Pharisee is manipulating himself. He's deceiving himself. He's literally blinding himself to reality. I sometimes look at some of the absolute trash that is on television today. And I asked a friend of mine recently. I'm like, "Why? Why are we attracted to this stuff? Why do people watch this stuff?" And then we started talking about the news. And we had a conversation about even the news, right? Why is this so much negativity in the news? And why are we attracted to the bad news? One of the things my friends said was that it makes people feel good about themselves and good about their lives. When we see these TV shows, and these people's lives are just astoundingly dysfunctional. And their character is just tragically distorted in some sick, twisted, psychological, emotional, spiritual way that makes us feel better about ourselves. And so it goes on today. It was going on at the time of Jesus, and Jesus pointed out in today's reading, and it continues to go on today. But I think it's a powerful invitation for us to think about, "Okay. How do we use comparisons to deceive ourselves? How do we use comparisons to manipulate ourselves, to deceive ourselves, to make us feel better about ourselves, and what is the ultimate impact of that on our lives and our relationships and on our soul? Reading goes on the pharisee's got a whole list of people that he is better than and then, of course, we come to the tax collector who will not even raise his gaze to look toward God. He just sort of bows his head and says, "God, have mercy on me." The tax collector is not confused about who he is. The tax collector is much more connected to reality than the pharisee is and it's that clear insight about who we are, who we're not, who God is, that the gospel is constantly calling us to. And the good news can be challenging. The good news can be hard to take. That's why we are so often attracted to all the bad news in the world.
And then, of course, Jesus closes with the powerful line where he says, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted." How have you exalted yourself this week? How have you exalted yourself this week? We all do it, right? We all do it in ways, some we're aware of, some we're unaware of. We do it in ways, subtle and not so subtle. When we do it, why do we do it? Why do we exalt ourself? Why do we feel the need and what is at play there? And in what ways have you humbled yourself this week? And certainly if in no other way than in prayer, like the tax collector, to come before God and say, "Lord, have mercy on me. You created me. I'm capable of so much more. Pour your mercy into me and let that mercy give me the grace and the courage, the strength and the wisdom to go forth and become a better version of myself this week."
And ultimately, it's a story about humility. It's a story about virtue. And as we have discussed many times before, our lives only genuinely improve when we grow in virtue. A relationship can't get better unless you add virtue. It is the ingredient that makes all things better in this world. A relationship cannot get better unless you add virtue. It may look better. You may do more exciting things. It may feel fun. It may feel adventurous. But unless you add virtue, a relationship is not improving. Unless you add virtue, you are not improving as a human being. We look at progress in our society and say, "Oh, this is great. This is great. And this has happened. And this is new. And this is better." Well, hold on a minute. If there isn't more virtue today than there was a year ago, society has not improved. If there isn't more virtue today than there was a decade ago or a hundred years ago, society has not improved. It doesn't matter how many iPhones we have. Our lives, our relationships, society, culture, humanity only genuinely improves when we grow in virtue. So the question is, are we growing in virtue? And the virtue today is humility. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted. God bless you. Have a great day. And remember, be bold, be Catholic.