Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Mirror, Mirror On The Wall"

Luke 18: 9-14

Psalm 25: 6-12

      “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”  How could we forget these words

refrained over and again by the queen of vanity in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves?

On one level, these words remind us of this parable of Jesus about a righteous Pharisee and an unrighteous tax collector………

or is it perhaps the other way around?

      As the story goes, a Pharisee had gone up to the temple to pray.  He was the righteous one; the

self-professed good guy.  He even stood alone in order that his piety might be better displayed; the

ultimate photo op long before there was such a thing as a photoWe imagine his face and hands

uplifted to heaven, basking in the light of God’s favor.  But when it came time in his prayers to confess his sin,

he had a dilemma.  In his mind’s eye, he could see nothing in his life he needed to

confess.  He had convinced himself, and now wanted to convince God and all other onlookers, that

he was the fairest of them all; no flaws; no blemishes.  So he gazed into the mirror of his own

choosing; a mirror that would reflect back to him exactly what he wanted to see. 

      Against that mirror, he was indeed the fairest of them all.  He had no prayer of confession.  He

didn’t need one as in his view, there was nothing he needed to be forgiven for.  But he did have a

prayer of thanksgiving:  “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”  He was far better than

all the rest -- purer; cleaner; fairer.  Presbyterian minister Patricia Ramsden points out the irony of

the Pharisee’s posture and prayer:  “He counted himself among the most righteous.  In the upshot,

he had unwittingly placed himself outside the pale of God’s salvation, not because he was beyond

redemption, but because he had no need of it.  After all, who needs salvation as long as they are

perfect.”  Jesus confirmed as much when He suggested that the Pharisee went to his home not

justified; that is to say, not found acceptable before Almighty God.  He really didn’t want or need

God’s admiration and acceptance.  He had his own, and that was enough.

      In order to protect and preserve his image as the fairest of them all – in order to safeguard this

grand illusion of perfection – the Pharisee like the wicked queen in Snow White needed to tear

down everyone else.  This was reflected in his thanksgiving prayer:  “God, I thank you that I am not

like others – gypsies, tramps, and thieves -- or even this tax collector.”  For him to remain firmly

situated upon his pedestal of perfect piety and righteousness, all others had to be diminished; even

the tax collector who had also gone up to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee needed not only to brag

of his perfection, but he needed to announce how far away from perfection all others were.

      Have you ever met one of those pious religious folk who relish tearing down others whom they

believe to be outside the pale of God’s justification because of who they are and/or the positions

they hold?  They thank God they’re not like one of those progressive Christians, or one of those

Christians who accept and embrace gay and lesbian people, or one of those Christians who hold

liberal political views, or one of those Christians who stand against social injustice, or one of those

Christians who don’t believe in a pre-millennial rapture, or who promote infant baptism.  They may

not say it, but it’s clear in their posture or demeanor:  I thank God I’m not like you!

      The tax collector, on the other hand, saw his mirrored reflection differently. Unlike the Pharisee,

the tax collector was honest in his self-assessment as he came before God in prayer.  He had likely

grown wealthy through his vocation.  He could have prayed: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the

richest of them all?”  Instead, he chose to see his reflection in the light of God’s expectations, and in

that light, he saw the truth.  Yeah, he was wealthy, but recognized himself as poor in spirit.  He was a

sinner.  Acknowledging this – unable to even look up into the heavens – he beat his chest and threw

 himself upon the mercy of God.  He recognized his essential poverty and confessed it.  In that, Christ

tells us that unlike the Pharisee, this tax collector was justified; found acceptable to Almighty God.

He was in fact a living demonstration of the first of Jesus’ beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  He was accepted and embraced before God, and a beneficiary of

God’s Kingdom, not because he was so darn good, but because he was so honest about the fact that

he wasn’t so darn good, and was willing to lay that at the foot of the throne of God’s grace.  In this,

he opened himself wide to the life-transforming power of the Lord. 

      So what does any of this mean for us, especially when we come before the Lord with our prayers

of confession; both in community and in our personal devotional time?  We must choose.  We can

choose to see ourselves in whatever way will put us in the most favorable light, finding nothing to

confess to God; no reason to say we’re sorry; no flaw to ask for divine help in mending.  We can

choose to tear others down -- if even only in our thoughts and attitudes – in an effort to shore up

some illusion of our own piety; praising God that we’re not like them.

     The alternate choice is to see ourselves in the light of Christ and Christ’s teaching; to assess ourselves

honestly and realistically.  It’s a choice based on the truth about ourselves which John brings to light in his first

letter when he writes:  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…..

If we say that we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.” 

      It sounds like an easy choice to make, but it isn’t.  In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things for

any Christian, or for any person, to do:  to look into a mirror which may reflect back what we don’t

care to see.  Who doesn’t want to be the fairest of them all?  Who doesn’t want to hear words of

praise?  No one welcomes a word or reflection which reveals faults and flaws.  Yet that is precisely

what life in Christ requires: that we have the courage of self-honesty in order that we can become

our best. As we see ourselves unvarnished by our pride, we can then lay the fact of our imperfection

at the foot of the throne of God’s grace; indeed, at the very foot of the cross of Jesus.  In that comes

our justification; our salvation; our transformation. 

      Perhaps an every-Sunday discipline would be to spend time looking back over the past week, recapping in our

minds the hurts we may have caused; the times we failed to love; the moments we

remained silent instead of speaking out for what was right and just.  We can look at ourselves in the

light of Christ and His teaching to love God with all we’ve got, and to love others as we love ourselves.

  Then as we examine ourselves honestly in the mirror, our self-perception and our confession will be true

and full as we ask God’s forgiveness and favor.

      Do you remember the fate of the queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves?  In her vanity, in

her unwillingness to look honestly into her mirror, in her destroying others for her own benefit; in

all this, she ultimately destroyed herself.  So too may have been the fate for the Pharisee.  Jesus’

parable at once warns us, challenges us, and encourages us to pray like the tax collector.  Because

when it’s all said and done, Jesus assures us that “……all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but

all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Mirror, mirror on the wall……

 Gracious God, as we look into the mirror, may we be honest about what we see.  We have fallen

short, yet You pick us up and dust us off.  We have taken wrong paths, yet You redirect us onto right ones.

  We have been less than You’ve created or called us to be, yet You name us Your beloved children. 

May we come before You honestly, knowing that in Your love, you justify,

forgive, and restore.  In Jesus’ name, we are eternally thankful.  Amen.