Coming Down From The Height Of Pride

Coming Down From The Height Of Pride January 30, 2022

Derek Winterburn: Zacchaeus Called To Come Down / flickr

We often do things to make ourselves stand apart, to give attention to ourselves, hoping that by doing so, we will be able to attain some if not much of what we desire out of life. Moreover, we feel if we don’t do so, others will do so, getting what we want and need instead of us. This suggests to us that if we don’t want to be left wanting, we must put ourselves and our desire above all others, standing up for ourselves, indeed, standing up over the crowd, pushing people down so  that they can’t take us down instead. This mentality, of course, leads to great suffering in the world. Those who act on it take more than they should need, making sure others are left in great need.  If we consider what we have done, and see the people we have hurt, we might realize the error of our ways; if and when we do so, we should do what we can to fix the injustices our actions have caused. We should especially help those we have injured, lifting them up, over and above ourselves, shouldering their burdens, knowing that as we once gained much at their expense, we are dealing with the consequences of our actions. If we accept our responsibility and lower ourselves in this fashion, we will find ourselves joined in with Jesus, and he will add his grace to our efforts, making sure they are that much more effective, not only in helping to heal the damage we have done to others, but the harm which we have  caused to ourselves and our souls. Thus, instead of lifting ourselves up, we must lower ourselves with all due humility, and it is in the midst of that humility we will truly find Jesus at work in our lives, while if we try to rise up with pride, we will find we cannot stay at such a great height and so we will eventually come down, sometimes by choice if and when we see the error of our ways, we will come crashing down due to the imbalance which our prideful activities created for ourselves:

See also that you preserve yourself from the baleful wind of vainglory and from your own self-seeking will, for such desires are deadly to human beings. And do this in genuine humility, for humility always rises upward, since it considers itself the least. But vainglory always falls, since it seeks to exist on itself alone.[1]

This, then, is one of the many things we can learn from the story of Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector who lifted himself up and became rich at the expense of others; later, when he heard Jesus was coming to Jericho, he tried to lift himself up even further, so that he could be above the crowd, allowing him to see Jesus (and for Jesus to see him). Despite what he had done to gain so much for himself, there remained some good in him, and so he could be described as small in stature, a statement which not only represented his physical height but also the good within. It was this goodness which allowed him to accept the call Jesus gave to him, to come down, and in his humility, repent of all that he had done:

He entered Jericho and was passing through.  And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they saw it they all murmured, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:1-10 RSV).

Even when we are sinners, even when we let pride get the best of us, we will always have some good left in us; sin can never take away our innate good nature, it can only wound, taking a part of it away, and covering up that hole in our being with its filth. There will always be some element of good in us, and with it, there will always be hope that we will acknowledge that good, come down from the height of our sin, and engage restorative justice for all the evil which we have done. When we do so, we will find Jesus coming to us, dining with us, praising us as he did with Zacchaeus, and giving us the gift of grace so that all the harm our evil actions have caused can and will be overcome and healed. But, like Zacchaeus, we must truly embrace humility, to make sure that we consider the good of others and promote it instead of insisting on promoting ourselves and lifting ourselves up on the back of others.

God loves all, and seeks for the salvation of all; it is this task which we should join in. One of the first things we need to do is overcome all our pride and all the vain, evil actions which such pride suggests for us to do. It can be tough, but if we believe, we will act on that belief, knowing, as Scripture says, that we do so in and with the hope of salvation: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10 RSV).

[1] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 95” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume II. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998),11.


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