I was listening to the radio the other day, and the radio presenter asked the question, “Have you ever lied or exaggerated on a job application to improve your chances?” While they were talking about this, the presenter of the next program chimed in with the question, “Have you ever lied or pretended to be interested in something to win a heart?” In a competitive world, we feel as though we all need to improve our chances by talking ourselves up. We can constantly feel that life is a game that we cannot win because we are just not up to the mark so, whether for a job or for love or just for the sake of our self-esteem, we resort to a little creative licence.
The problem is that we don’t only talk ourselves up; we also talk others down. With the keen eye of hawk, we notice the deficiencies in others and exploit them to our own advantage. With a nod and wink we say, “See that person there, he always makes promises but never delivers” or “This woman here, she is nice to your face but nasty behind your back” or “Our priest is just full of words which he doesn’t live up to”. Those statements may be true about the other person, but they are also usually true about the person who is speaking. If we are willing to point out the weak spots in others, then we must also be prepared to do some serious self-reflection. The safest strategy is to leave other people’s relationship with God between them and their Creator, and to concentrate on our relationship. The best place to start is exactly where the tax collector begins, with the words: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The prayerful posture of a saint is the posture of one who knows that we are all sinners and we all share a common human shame. It is because of God’s mercy, not ourselves, that we hope and trust in divine redemption.