These days, most cars can diagnose themselves and give us signals if there are any issues. You probably have seen these common symbols at least once on your dashboard. The first one from the left tells you, check the tire pressure; it might be too low. The second one says, check the level of engine oil and fill it. And the third one is scary. It tells you that there’s something wrong with your car’s engine. Because this warning sign is about nothing else but the engine, we better pay careful attention. And I’m sure everyone knows the last one. What does it mean? Yes, your gas is running out… basically. But we take this symbol in different ways. For example, my wife takes it so seriously like God commands her, “Thou shall not pass the next gas station. Go now and fill up thy gas tank.” To me? Well… it says, “You can still drive 30 miles more, so take your time.” Anyway, these dashboard symbols are very helpful for us to keep our cars in good condition and fix issues without any delay.
Reflecting on today’s Gospel reading last week, I thought, it would be great if we have an ability to diagnose ourselves and get some dashboard symbols whenever we have some issues in our spiritual life. It must be convenient for us to maintain our healthy relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. Just imagine. A traction warning light comes on, when we lose our faith and wander away; a brake warning light comes on, when we can’t stop chasing our desires and ignoring God’s call; a low fuel indicator comes on, when there’s no love, no hope left in us. How about that? I believe, it must be very helpful. But the question here is, how can we clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual status quo? True, it’s hard to tell what’s going on when it comes to our spiritual matters. Do you have any good ideas?
Today, Jesus tells us a simple yet clear way to diagnose our spiritual condition and have our issues indicated and fixed. Let’s look into the Gospel reading. Here, Jesus tells us a parable. Two men go up to the temple to pray. The first is a Pharisee, a religious insider who serves a vital role in the spiritual life of the Jews. Like other Pharisees, he meticulously keeps the law to set him apart and be upright religious leader. So, standing by himself, he prays in self-righteousness, “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” (Luke 18:11-12). In contrast, the second one is a tax collector, a collaborator with the Roman Empire; a traitor to his own people. He works for the Roman oppressors and sometimes has to extort revenue for them. So, standing far off, he “would not even look up to heaven, but just beat his chest in self-denial and pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
While the Pharisee is in self-righteousness, the tax collector is in self-denial. While the Pharisee makes a personal progress report to God, the tax collector just repents before God asking God’s mercy and forgiveness. While the Pharisee puffs out his chest in pride, the tax collector beats his chest in sorrow. And here is Jesus’s conclusion: it is the tax collector, not the Pharisee, who goes home justified. How come? It’s because the Pharisee fails to diagnose himself clearly. His self-righteousness blinds him. He’s so sure about his spiritual condition that he doesn’t even glimpse any warning signs. So there is no chance that his issues get fixed. But the tax collector is different. He knows that he can’t avoid all the troubles and struggles as a humble human being. So he pleas, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This honest self-denial opens his eyes to see himself before God. From there, he can get to see which dashboard lights are on; he can bring himself to God in his repentance and get himself fixed, forgiven, renewed, and justified.
What is the way to clearly diagnose ourselves, our spiritual condition before God? As an answer, Jesus teaches us the way of self-denial, the way that begins with accepting the unchanging truth of ourselves: we are sinners, and we have issues to be indicated and fixed. Faithful Christians in history practiced this self-denial every day to check themselves and to become more mature Christ-like Christians. Today, I would like to share one of the examples. It’s a time-tested way of daily spiritual checkup. Please look at the hand-out inserted in your bulletin. This is called, the Examen, created by St. Ignatius and used by many Christians even today. Why don’t we read it together?
1. Ask God for light.
I want to look at my day with God’s eyes, not merely my own.
2. Give thanks.
The day I have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it.
3. Review the day.
I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
4. Face your shortcomings.
I face up to what is wrong—in my life and in me.
5. Look toward the day to come.
I ask where I need God in the day to come.
I personally use this Examen when I conclude my day. And I can certainly tell you, this short 15 to 20-minute self-denial and self-checkup will lift you up and deepen your relationship with God.
Faithful friends in Christ, let us try it from today and check our dashboard symbols. In our self-denial, let us diagnose our spiritual condition every day. We all are in need of God’s graceful repair every day. So let us bring ourselves to God in our prayer of confession, and leave our sins unto the Lord in our honest repentance. Then, our Creator God, who built us and continuously fixes us, will make ourselves anew. Please remember, there’s no expiration date on God’s warrantee, God’ promise. Whether it is a major repair or a daily maintenance thing, we can get all of them for free. God’s grace covers them all. This is indeed the good news. So from today, as we keep our faith and trust in our God, let us take the way of self-denial and experience God’s justifying grace in abundance each and every day. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim