The Rev. Garfield Wu
Oct. 27th, 2019
Girolamo Savonarola was one of the great preachers of the fifteenth century. He preached in the great cathedral of Florence, Italy, which contained a magnificent marble statue of the blessed virgin Mary. When Savonarola started preaching at this great cathedral, he noticed one day an elderly woman praying before this statue of Mary. He then began to notice that it was her habit to come every day and pray before the statue.
Savonarola remarked one day to an elderly priest who had been serving in the cathedral for many years, “Look how devoted and earnest this woman is. Every day she comes and offers prayers to the blessed Mother of Jesus. What a marvelous act of faith.” But the elderly priest replied, “Do not be deceived by what you see. Many years ago when the sculptor needed a model to pose for this statue of the blessed Mother, he hired a beautiful young woman to sit for him. This devout worshiper you see here everyday is that young woman. She is worshiping who she used to be.”1
The first and perhaps the deadliest of the seven deadly sins is pride. The Oxford Dictionary defines pride as an “unduly high opinion of one’s own qualities, merits, that is, an arrogant bearing.” In other words, pride is self-love that says, “I’m better than you.” You see pride in others when someone makes a boast of his or her accomplishment as though you are expected to pay homage.
Muhammad Ali had just won another boxing title. On the airplane the stewardess politely said to him, “You need to fasten your seat belt.” Ali replied, “Superman doesn’t need a seat belt.” To which the stewardess politely responded, “And Superman doesn’t need an airplane either; please fasten your seat belt.”2
You see pride when a parent or grandparent talks endlessly about what Johnny has done as though he were a wonder child and you should marvel at his presence and activities. We live in an age when parents are attentive to their children, constantly praising them, in part to encourage their self-esteem. In fact, this encouragement can lead children to be overachievers, or cause them to think of themselves as better than anyone else. We may never know how many children have been psychologically and emotionally damaged because their parents pushed them to be outstanding based on pride.
We also see pride in Christians who quote Bible passages, not in an effort to help others gain spiritual wisdom, but to show others how much they know. Quoting the Bible can be a put-down, a display of triumphant pride.
I’m not saying all pride is bad. It’s good to take pride in our churches, our schools, our communities, and even in ourselves. That is, pride is good when we are striving to make life better for everyone. Pride as self-worth is important and necessary because it lets us see ourselves as having gifts that can make life better for everyone around us.
But it is the sin of pride that damages; and pride becomes a sin when we talk and act in a way that says, “I’m better than you.” That kind of pride is a sin. In a manner of speaking, pride is like the tires on our cars. The tires don’t function right if they are underinflated or overinflated. 3 Neither way is good for the tire. Like automobile tires, it is important for us not to be underinflated or overinflated in our opinion about ourselves. But unfortunately, while many people suffer from low self-esteem, most people have the tendency to overinflate themselves.
The voice inside people, It says, “I’m somebody”; it says, “I have more than you, I’m better than you; I deserve special recognition.”
The apostle Paul though said, “Have this mind among yourselves, in humility count others better than yourselves.” It seems that in the church in Philippi there were members who were trying to set themselves up as better than others. Who knows what it was, maybe, “I’m more spiritual than you,” or “I know the Bible better than you do.” Or “I’ve worked and served this church for more than twenty years, don’t I deserve some recognition?”
But Paul reminds them to count others better than themselves because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, even though he was equal with God in his very being, emptied himself for others, so we could have life. That’s the model then — not to be high and mighty, but to be open and receptive, to be empty so as to allow others to come in, rather than so full of yourself that there’s no room for anyone else.
A city boy visited his cousin who lived on a farm in the country for the first time. The city boy had never seen wheat growing in a field. It was an impressive sight for him, the wheat golden brown and ready for harvesting. He noticed that some of the wheat stood tall in the field, whereas some of it was bent low, touching the ground. The city boy said to his cousin, “I bet the ones standing tall are the best ones, aren’t they?” His cousin smiled knowingly and reached over and plucked the head of one of the tall-standing wheat stalks and one that was bent to the ground. He rubbed each of them and the city boy saw that the tall one was almost empty of seeds. But the one bent to the ground was full of the promise of a rich harvest.4
Someone has said we would do well to wear our talents like a pocket watch — to keep them hidden and only pull them out when someone is in need. Jesus tells the story of two men who went to the Temple to worship God, a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee was a model of faith. He worshiped regularly, served as an elder and teacher in the church; he was a devoted husband, he was honest in all his business practices. He tithed his earnings to the church. Here was a man who was everything we want in being a faithful follower of God, a model of faith for our children and even us adults. But his heart was full of pride. He prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”
This Pharisee was so full of himself, so utterly full of himself. But all of us know how easy it is to become full of ourselves, to think that we have done something worthy to be counted better than others.
At work we think we work harder than others, so we deserve a raise or special consideration. In our marriages we believe we give more to the relationship; my wife, my husband, should appreciate me more. The sin of pride is to think we are better than others.
I reflected the arguments between me and my wife…I found mostly we argued who devoted more for kids, for family…we let pride into our family and forget to empty ourselves.
Here is another story, A martial arts student was meeting with his master and teacher at a table, having tea. The student said to his master, “I’ve learned all you have to teach me about defending myself. I want to learn one thing more now. Please teach me about the ways of God.”
The master took the teakettle and starting pouring the student’s cup full of tea. Soon the cup was full and began to spill over onto the saucer. But the master continued to pour the tea until it spilled over the saucer and then onto the floor.
The student finally said, “Stop, stop, the tea is spilling over. The cup can’t take any more.” The master then looked at the student and said, “You are so full of yourself that there is no room in your life for God. It is not possible for you to learn the ways of God until you learn to empty yourself.”5
That’s what the apostle Paul says to us. If you want to learn the ways of God, then listen to this: Jesus Christ had the very nature of God, but he did not count himself too good or as deserving special treatment and recognition. No, he emptied himself and became a servant, serving even the likes of you and me; and even dying for you and me. We call that humility. Jesus Christ humbled himself, gave himself, so we might have life. It wasn’t pride in who he was as the Son of God that had the power of redemption. No, it was his humiliation that had the power to make things new.
A little girl at the circus bought a huge cone of cotton candy. A man passing by said to her, “How can a little girl like you eat so much cotton candy?” She replied, “Well, Mister, I’m really bigger on the inside than on the outside.”
If we want to be bigger on the inside than we are on the outside? If we want to be humble, to give life, to make life fuller? Then have this mind among ourselves: “I have been given much, not so that I might be better than others, but that I might share even that which I have.”