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Objection: I am not a sinner

Context: While we find it easier to agree that we are not perfect, we have tough time thinking that we are ‘sinners.’ We generally respond by saying, “I am not a sinner” or “I am not as bad as others.” We often think that we are better than most around us. So, the ‘sinner’ usually refers to someone else, not me.

Interestingly, the subjective self-assessment of our righteousness and our thinking that we rate better than others, is a symptom of our self-righteousness. Having come to follow Jesus from a Brahmin background, it has taken me many years to allow God to begin his work in correcting me in this area of Self-righteousness. If you for a moment think of my plight and say ‘poor guy, finally he gets it,’ my friend, perhaps you have just indulged in this sin of self-righteousness by this very thought. Self righteousness is tricky and deceptive. So, Jesus besides teaching about other things exposes this attitude in this parable. 

The paraphrase of the parable:
This is a desi version (my paraphrase) of one of the parables that Jesus taught. It highlights the sin of self-righteousness (This is taken from Luke 18:9-14)

Two men went up to a crowded temple on Diwali (festival of lights) to receive blessings. One was known for his contributions for the temple construction project and even donated the huge diamond studs for the murthy (idol), and the other was a recently convicted corrupt politician. When the generous contributor went to the temple for darshan (view of the murthi), the temple officials made way for him and the temple priest joyously performed an aarthi (moving the lamp in circular motion) for him. When he reached very close to the mandap (alter), he noticed that the politician was entering the temple. 

The generous contributor stood at the mandap and closed his eyes. Before he began praying silently, he heard a poojari whisper, “What a special day, the biggest donor is here.” The generous contributor silently prayed, “God I thank you that I am not like the other people – extortionists and full of greed. I fast on Fridays. I give generously for your temple. I begin my work every day by first praying to you. I treat my employees fairly and there is so much more I do. I don’t have time to mention it all; you know all of them. I am very happy to contribute to your cause, especially as you have blessed me. I am especially glad that I am not like this corrupt politician, who has somehow moved up in the society, but really, he is a hooligan inside. I am glad to see that his corruption was exposed recently. And how dare he even shows up at your temple. Any way, I am sure you will punish him. Thank you for all your blessings.” 

When he finished praying, he opened his eyes and he graciously received respect from bystanders. He left a few hundred rupee notes (currency bills) at the aarti plate (offering). Then he walked out of the mandap towards the temple gate. The poojari came running to him with the Prasad (food offered to the murthi). He received it, and got into his car, and took off. 

When the corrupt politician stepped up to the mandap, out of disgust, the people made way. Even the poojari pretended to be busy and was trying to avoid him. But the politician did not even look like he was expecting to be served. He was filled with shame and looked towards heaven and muttered, “God have mercy on me. Is there even redemption possible for me in this Jenma (this life)? I hate how I have become, please rescue me from myself?” He quickly walked away from the temple making no eye contact. 

According to the teachings of Jesus, the corrupt politician went home more justified than the generous contributor. In reality, who can stand in front of God and make a statement saying, “I am better than the other?” God Judges each individually, and this sort of comparison blinds us from looking at our own imperfections. Besides, is God granting moksha (salvation) based on a relative scale? We somehow miss this point when we compare ourselves with others. 

Jesus goes on to say, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

Well friend, if you have never gone into God’s presence and acknowledged that you are not perfect (sinful), then there is a high chance that you are self-righteous. Perhaps, its time to begin asking the question, “Am I comparing my self to others instead of the absolute standards of God?” or “Am I looking down on others?” 

If your conscience convicts you of this pattern, it is never too late to recognize this subtle form of deception and humble yourself in front of God and ask for God’s forgiveness offered through Jesus (our prayaschit). In fact, God is willing to forgive us and give us a fresh start. We should not leave without the Gift of the pavitra-atma (internal Guru), who is able to begin the new life and keep our hearts cleansed. 

Only when we acknowledge that we are ‘sinners’ in God’s presence, we are able to begin our true spiritual journey. 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector 
Luke 18: 9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 
10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 
11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' 
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."