The other day I was online and saw a picture of a group of people posted by one of my
Facebook friends. I didn’t recognize the name of the person or anyone else in the picture and when I looked at the people’s faces I thought, “Who are these older people and how do I know them?” Turned out they were all people I graduated college with who are basically my same age. How did these classmates of mine age so much, while I have stayed the same?
Comparing ourselves to others is dangerous and not in a good way. When we use comparing ourselves to others to build ourselves up or comfort ourselves, we can actually become addicted to the practice. Needless to say, when we compare ourselves to others with more or better or prettier or funner, it’s hard to feel good, to be grateful for our life. Sometimes we compare ourselves to how we used to be, and we can take pride in that, but it can also lull us into a false sense of accomplishment or perfection.
In the gospel this weekend, Jesus tells a parable of two different people who went to the temple to pray. The pharisee extols his good deeds and thanks God that he isn’t like the sinners of the world. Meanwhile, the tax collector bows his head as he humbly asks for mercy. One man spends his prayer comparing himself to others, while the other focused solely on his own need for God.
Here’s the funny twist – the pharisee is doing all the right things. He is exceptional at following the law. He gives alms, prays well, and even fasts more than the law requires. Compared to others he is “better” at following the law. The twist in this parable is that our relationship with God isn’t dependent on how good we are at pulling it off; it is dependent upon how much we are willing to rely on God.
The pharisee is comparing himself to other sinners and consequently felt pretty good about himself. However, if we compare ourselves to perfection, we all fall short. Both the pharisee and the tax collector aren’t good enough to be justified with God. Neither are perfect. As good as the tax collector is; he isn’t perfect. Thus both are in need of mercy. If our measuring stick isn’t other broken people, but in fact perfect holiness; we all need mercy.
Are you perfect? No? Then our prayer is this, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Take 1 day to try and stop comparing. Here is a method: Whenever you find yourself comparing to another (good or bad), thank God for this person. Instead of comparing ourselves to them, thank God for them. When in doubt, start and end your day with the prayer, “Oh God, be merciful to me a sinner.”