Standing Naked Before God

Today’s gospel, Luke 18. 9–14, has always appealed. I’d like to be the publican but know I am the pharisee, or rather, I’m a bit of both. I’ve never liked simplistic readings which make the pharisee all bad and the publican all good. The fact is, the pharisee and the publican were both being honest about themselves before God. The prayer that each uttered was a truthful prayer: the pharisee did do all the right things, the publican was a sinner through and through. So why is the publican’s prayer held up to us as a model to follow, and the pharisee’s condemned as self-righteous boasting? It’s not necessarily because the pharisee is, in effect, praying to himself rather than God (we all do that at times); surely it is because the pharisee compares himself with someone else, to the other’s disadvantage, while the publican compares himself with no one, just asks for mercy. The humility of the publican consists in his being aware that he stands naked and alone before God; the pharisee wants to dress up his prayer with comparisons, a fig-leaf of propriety to cover his essential nakedness. He’s trying to hide behind others rather than face God as he is, not as he wants to be. Do we do the same?

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9 thoughts on “Standing Naked Before God”

  1. To stand naked before God with no pretence, no excuses in other words being totally honest is something terrible but ultimately essential. I know/hope one day I will do this and be transformed, until that day I will, no doubt, hover between the pharisee and the publican. Thanks for illuminating this passage as I always felt a bit confused by what this says about the nature of prayer/humility. Easy to tut at the pharisee and miss the irony of that stance…

  2. the pharisee wants to dress up his prayer with comparisons, a fig-leaf of propriety to cover his essential nakedness.

    Standing naked in front of Godde is really the only time I don’t mind standing naked… Maybe because my heart then feels like it does connect with Hers 🙂

    Thank you for this post.
    Congratulations for being Blogger of the Year. Very well deserved!

  3. I interpreted the actions of the Pharisee as putting himself in place of God, because his self righteous attitude was judging others against himself, which is God’s remit, not mans.

    The humility of the tax collector (in the version read in our parish this morning) is the exemplar in that his awareness of his weakness and mistakes, demonstrated a clarity of vision which we all possess, but allow to be masked or clouded to allow us to ignore our failings.

    Free will is a wonderful gift, as is the conscience which we are given along with it. We know abut purity of heart soul, but besmirch it deliberately by our ignoring God’s commandments.

    It seems to me that humility in this parable is connected with simplicity and being as a child, where we still have the innocence and lack of guile which we seem to take on like a new skin as we grow older.

  4. Sister Catherine Thank you for this.

    Although I currently hold a leadership position in the parish where I attend church I have often said that my belief and my relationship with God is the most personal and private thing that I have. And, rightly or wrongly I was for many years loath to share that with others. I tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to live my faith and when I faltered to go off alone to ask God’s forgiveness, which I believe He freely gives.

    Just because I hold a pharisee- like position doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of publican in me and pray the publican’s prayer.

    ps I would love to hear you preach.

  5. Depending on our religious upbringing, being a ‘Pharisee’ may just be a step along the way. What Jesus gives us is always a challenge to leave our personal comfort zones.
    A thought provoking prompt, thank you, Sr. Catherine.

  6. On a more basic level, is a “publican” the same as a tax collector, which is what my bible says and was the term used in church yesterday.

    P.s. The way the Pharisee was described in yesterday’s sermon’ made me think of the Thought Police, in George Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps not so far from the truth in some ways.

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