The power of stories

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Tortoise and HAae

Readings: Hosea 5:15 — 6:6; Luke 18:9-14

"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)

In Aesop's fable, the hare boasts that he is certain to win the race and we are delighted when he is proved wrong by the steady tortoise. In another fable, two cockerels fight to rule the farmyard; the victor is so busy crowing over his success that he fails to notice the eagle flying overhead — until he is carried away in its talons. There is little better, we may think, than seeing the self-important have their bubble burst and, in many stories, we derive pleasure from watching them receive their comeuppance.
Today Jesus' parable paints a vivid picture. The Pharisee's arrogance in boasting about his own righteousness is contrasted with the humility of the tax collector, uttering his simple but heartfelt prayer for forgiveness. The Pharisee is so busy looking at the perceived shortcomings of the tax collector that he has lost sight, not only of his own failings, but also of God as the focus of his prayer. The listeners may not have the satisfaction of seeing the Pharisee punished for his pride, but they see his arrogance exposed.
The power of stories is that they allow us to step back and see behaviour that we can become blind to in real life, not only in others but also in ourselves. Like the Pharisee, we find it easy to ignore our own failings and to focus on those of others. We need to be careful not to be so busy condemning the Pharisee that we fail to recognise ourselves in him.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, help us to examine our own conscience. Help not to be so busy looking at the ways in which we believe others have failed that we neglect to focus on pleasing you by becoming better and more loving disciples. Amen.

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