Our gospel passage today is addressed to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. In this way, Jesus establishes two topics for our consideration: How we see ourselves and How we see others.
- We are not our own best judge, because we always find excuses to justify our actions, excuses that would never apply to, or be acceptable for others. However, Jesus addresses those who are convinced of their own righteousness. The perception we have about ourselves can sometimes be deceiving. Our own righteousness could be subjective; it does not necessarily mean that we are indeed righteous. The key to understanding this statement is that the truly righteous person does not consider him/herself as such. The greatest people in the world for us are our heroes: the saints, who were convinced of their own fragility and that everything great or marvelous in them was always the work of God and not their own: “The Lord has done great things for me…”
But if we ask ourselves about what could make a person superior or better than others, we may find the answer very disturbing. We live in a world so confused, in which people might think that they are better than others, because of the professions they have, because of their education, or because of their color of skin, or sexual orientation, or intelligence. The truth is that none of those qualities can make us better. What does make us better is the way we serve the Lord and others; this is what we call holiness. It is precisely those who walk that path who are the last ones to consider themselves better than others. On the contrary, they are the people who really understand that the dignity of human beings is given to the commitment to the things they believed. Because of their righteousness or holiness, none of them will ever look down on others.
- Our perception of others: if our perception of ourselves can be so mistaken, what of the way we look at others? The gospel shows one of the greatest errors we can make, and that is to look only at the exterior and at a person’s past, ignorant of the present and the individual’s internal life. You may have heard the saying of Oscar Wilde, uttered by Lord Illingworth: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” This gives us a truly Christian perspective on forgiveness for actions committed in the past, and the opportunity to change. In the Christian world, we do not compare ourselves with others, whether we are better or worse, because they are not ours to judge. And because we know that every individual is precious in the eyes of God, we cannot despise them and we cannot compare ourselves with them; indeed, our perceptions may be erroneous. Compassion and kindness should be our approach to others, even when we may believe something is missing or wrong in their lives, because that is how Jesus approaches us.
Finally, “If anyone wants to be first, that one must be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35).