10th Sunday after Pentecost 17.8.14 Fixing faults
Some people avoid church with the excuse that churchgoers are all ‘a bunch of hypocrites’. They make a virtue out of not being as bad as we are. No, we cannot claim virtue because someone else is worse than we are.
Each of us has an obligation to be good, as good as we can be. This means to practise what we preach, to put into practice what is true.
We come to church to remind ourselves what is true, and to derive the grace that will help us to live by that truth.
We admit we have faults, but we are trying to fix them. That is the difference between a hypocrite and a repentant sinner. The hypocrite is content to hide behind a veneer of holiness. The repentant sinner actually wants to be free of his sin.
Those who measure their holiness by looking at others are mistaken. The only way to measure holiness is to look at Christ. He sets the standard.
Are we living like Him? At least as much as we can; and always seeking to do better - which includes that we would not look down on others.
Nor would we use the faults of others to excuse our own. Such as saying:
At least I am not as bad as him over there.
Or, I do not do the things that others do. Therefore what I do is not too bad, considering.
Or what I do is not as bad as what I could do. I actually exercise restraint, so I should get some allowance for that.
If we are to compare ourselves with others, there may be some benefit if we can learn from the good example they give. But when it comes to their faults we cannot use those faults to excuse our own.
What we must focus on is improving our own behaviour, attitude etc. I want to be a better person than I was yesterday. Whether I am better or worse than someone else is not the point.
We do not excuse our sin but confess it. We humbly ask for God’s mercy.
Today there are low expectations of personal holiness. There is a confusion between holiness on the one hand, and self-acceptance on the other.
Talk of sin or guilt is avoided because it might damage someone’s self-image.
It is true that God loves us whether we are good or evil. It is true that each of us is made in His image and therefore of unique importance. It is good to feel good about ourselves, to have a healthy self-image.
But none of these things excuse us from trying to correct faults.
The Pharisee had a good self-image (too good). He thought he was close to perfect.
His fault was that he could not see fault. He could have said, Lord, I thank you for making me in your image (and that is no small thing); but I am sorry for offending you. Then he would have had it right.
Whereas the publican asked for mercy and received it.
One was a hypocrite; the other a genuinely repentant sinner.
The best way to feel good about ourselves is to be right with God, thus to share in His goodness. It feels good to be good, not in a smug way, but simply that everything then fits into place.
We will not become proud and sanctimonious (another excuse to avoid improvement). Part of getting everything right is remaining humble (cf the saints).
As we have just celebrated the Feast of the Assumption let us call on Mary, always holy and always humble, to help us be good, and feel good!