You recall the popular saying that pride goes before fall? This popular saying actually is taken from the book of Proverbs (16:18): “Pride goes before destruction, an arrogant spirit before a fall”. This saying takes our mind back to the pride and fall of Lucifer, the son of the morning (Is. 14:12), referring to Babylon who was blinded by her pride that she later was decimated. It is the same history: pride always blinds and leads to failure in our personal lives and in the lives of communities and nations. The Roman Empire was so proud that it felt invincible; it reveled in its self-adulation, until one day it woke to a surprise attack by the barbarians that changed its history forever.
The real problem of pride – which is why it always leads to failure and destruction – is that it is a mask; a real mask for weakness, a mask for fear of vulnerability. A proud person is so scared of feeling weak or vulnerable. Why do the proud have to put on this mask? Because the mask serves as a barrier that protects them from any possible pain that may come from rejection, from being hurt or humiliated. These are possible in every relationship. It is the reason why proud people hardly can love or enter into true intimate relationships because loving and relating intimately, intrinsically puts us in a vulnerable position: we can be hurt, rejected, or humiliated. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, takes the road of vulnerability in loving, leaving himself completely vulnerable to the people who reject his unconditional love, even today. Loving parents know they are vulnerable before their children, who may hurt, reject, abandon and even humiliate them. It is the price they pay for loving.
Because pride masks vulnerability and weakness, proud people find it extremely difficult to apologize; to apologize is to admit weakness. Such admission can shake their weak sense of self. For this reason, they dwell constantly on their goodness and power; and in doing so, they can harm others and themselves without seeing it. They despise others who they consider less important, less knowledgeable, and unsophisticated in understanding the way life works.
Pharisees are a typically proud set of religious people. Spiritual pride is much more dangerous for it presumes to advance the cause of God with such divine vengeance and judgment that it is hardly able to listen to God. That is why Jesus is constantly in conflict with the Pharisees; their self-righteousness prevents them from looking at God. They are at the center of their religious piety, not God; and they do not see it. That is the real tragedy. They take time to list all the good things they have done – how they keep all the laws and obligations and are faithful to the doctrines of religion. This places them in the position to judge everyone else, including God Himself. Their prayer is self-adulation; they do not lift their eyes onto God, for if God looks on them they would see their weaknesses. Jesus was terribly angry with them and still is with the modern Pharisees. You can read about the seven woes of Jesus against the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23). You can understand why God abhors the powerful, the proud; for they trample on His creatures!
On the other hand, the Publican, the humble, is not afraid of being weak, of being vulnerable, of admitting his failures, of saying “I am sorry”, and of expressing their need for God’s mercy and love. The Publican, the simple human being, is actually the strong person. When they pray, they focus on God; their gaze is upon the Lord and not on themselves. In their weakness, God gives them true strength, true power – the power not to dominate and control others but to love others selflessly.
May the Lord give you the grace to refrain from judging and condemning others; the grace to focus on your relationship with the Lord and with others. It is in loving that we find life.