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Summary: Who is the object of your prayers? Remember, things aren’t always what they seem.

Do You Need an “I” Exam?

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 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


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."


As the parable opens we view the Pharisee as the good guy, at least compared to the

tax collector, the perennial “bad guy”. I think that’s about the only way a Pharisee

could be considered a “good guy”. There were many differences between these two.

But the biggest difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector was the object

of their prayer. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself, while the tax

collector sought God. The Pharisee addressed God, but talked about himself. He

loved himself, thought about himself, served himself and even prayed about himself.

How about with us? Is our agenda the most important thing? Do we get bent out of

shape when we don’t get our way? Do we think the world revolves around us?

Maybe the Pharisee was negotiating with God. "’God, I thank you that I am not like

other people - thieves, rogues, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice

a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’" He recounted his good deeds "I fast

twice a week" - the Law required only an annual fast - Lev 16:29 "I give a tenth

of all that I possess." - The Law required a tithe only on certain items; this man

gave a tenth on ALL he possessed - Deu 14:22-23 Why did he pray this way?

Maybe he was setting God up. Maybe by reminding God how morally upstanding

he was, the Pharisee could then ask God for something.

We can imagine the Pharisee praying with eloquent words; anyone who heard him

pray would say that he was a spiritual man. The tax collector might pray with

halting phrases; but his prayer was the one pleasing to God

I think what this attitude boils down to is pride. PRIDE. This word has almost

completely lost its sinful meaning in our culture. Pride today in America is looked at

as a virtue. We have slogans like, "Proud to be an American" & “American Made”.

We have parades celebrating Black Pride, Yankee Pride, Gay Pride and you name

it. If we see someone who’s cleanliness or neatness of home isn’t quite up to par we

say, "They need to take a little more pride in themselves." But there can be too

much of a good thing.

Verse 9 says …and looked down on everybody else … This is the natural outcome

of an inflated ego or pride. We spend too much time looking down on others. We

look down on certain groups of people. The criteria could be economic or social. It

could be race or religion. We go to church on Sunday so God surely loves us more.

We live more upright lives than other people. Surely God has taken note of that.

Pride disrupts and destroys relationships. In all of our relationships we will all fail

each other at some point in time. If pride dominates our thinking we won’t admit we

were wrong or attempt to resolve the issue.

Pride makes us spiritually blind to our own sin. Our egos are so inflated that we will

not see our own shortcomings and sin. It’s not that we can’t see them, we won’t. If

we convince ourselves we have no sin we’ll never seek God for forgiveness.

Pride leads to down-nose looking. When pride infects our vision, we start to look to

look down our nose at other people. We ignore their needs, their struggles, mock

their requests; at the same time believing that we’re better than they are. Can’t you

hear the pride in the Pharisee’s prayer: “Thank you that I’m not like…”

Pride leads to empty-word praying. The prayer offered by the Pharisee accomplishes

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David E. Bowyer Jr.

commented on Nov 18, 2006


Fr Mund Cargill Thompson

commented on Oct 21, 2010

I love the Savonarola story

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