“A man planted a vineyard.He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Mark 12:1-9
Jerry received a promotion and now he was Vice President of the Internal Division. No one was really sure what this meant and Jerry’s job didn’t change, but he was immensely proud of his position. He told everyone. His wife got tired of his boasting so she decided to deflate him a bit. “Everyone is Vice President of something, now. Heck, at the supermarket they have a VP of peas!” Jerry thought on this for a while and thought she must be wrong. He called the supermarket and asked, “May I speak to the Vice President of peas?” The receptionist asked, “Fresh or frozen?”
Pride is defined as arrogance or a sense of self-importance, especially when it is aggrandized. It is also considered to be a horrible sin. It is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, one of the big seven. It is the sin of Achiles, hubris, which destroyed him and his people. It is singled out as a horrible sin in the Bible:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
God opposes the proud James 4
The pride of your heart has deceived you, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” Obediah 1:3
So, pride is bad, let’s not do it, done, sermon over, we can go home?
The Proudest One
Well, I just have one niggling thought in my head. Was Jesus proud? I mean, a guy who goes around saying, “The Father and I are one.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “No one knows the Son but the Father and no one knows the Father but the Son and those whom the Son chooses to reveal him to.”
If I started saying things like that, “Steve is the way, the only way. No one knows God except Steve. Want to know God? Listen to Steve! No one else understands God! In fact, I AM God and God is me.” You’d have problems with me, and rightly so. And you’d approach me and say, “Steve, we think you have a little problem with pride.”
Well, why not? After all, we call our pastors “Reverend.” If I am a reverend, a “revered one” then perhaps these claims aren’t too crazy.
Some might rightly say that such statements are okay for Jesus, but not for me. After all, I am NOT the way. I don’t have all the signicant truth. But Jesus did. Let’s not argue the claims for a moment but just say that Jesus spoke the truth and he really was equal with God in heaven. But those statements are still arrogant, aren’t they, even if true? Aren’t those remarks supposed to kinda rub it in against his enemies? To put him in a higher place? That’s pretty arrogant, isn’t it? Pretty prideful? So how can we honor our leader, who has committed one of the Seven Deadly sins? On a regular basis?
What is Pride?
Well, here’s the secret. We don’t actually have pride figured out. At least, when the New Testament talks about pride, that’s not the same thing we talk about pride. The funny thing about the Seven Deadly Sins, is that they are actually the sins of Roman culture, the sins of stoicism, rather than the sins of apostolic Christianity. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some overlap, but they don’t represent what we see in Jesus’ teachings.
When Jesus speaks of arrogance or the early teachers speak of pride, they are actually talking about something else. The core idea is still there– thinking more of oneself than one should. But it has to do with one’s social movement.
One of the curious changes that take place between the New Tesament and later developments in Christianity is the transformation of social position to an indivudual, internal issue. “Lust” in Matthew 5 is about a look of covetousness, a staring, longing look, but later interpreters understood it as a thought. “Hatred” has to do with insulting someone, not just thinking awful thoughts about another. Even so, “Pride” isn’t just thinking that one is greater, but acting like it.
A story in the book of 2 Chronicles explains it well. There was a king named Uzziah. He became king at 16 years old, which already calls for trouble. But he wasn’t a bad king. He was a good warrior, he built up his capital, he didn’t build statues to himself or anything. Unfortunatly, when he got to be a certain age, being king wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted more authority. So he walked over to the nearby temple and starting offering sacrifices. The priests stopped him and said, “Whoa, king! You’re a king, not a priest. You can’t just take over our job. God has you in your place and we are in ours.” But he started ranting, because why shouldn’t he do it? I mean, he was king. And he could do anything he wanted in his kingdom, right?
Well, only to a certain degree because just as he was ranting he developed leporsy, which lasted the rest of his life and so he made a pretty poor king at that point as well.
Pride, in the Bible, has less to do with feeling important, but taking on importance. Taking authority that doesn’t belong to one. Taking over situations which really belongs to another. Taking over land and property that really belongs to someone else. Manuvering for a job that someone else already does well at, or was promised to someone else.
Pride is also treating someone as less important than us, when in reality they are equal. Assuming that because of their social station or financial situation or position in society that they can’t do something you can. Or they shouldn’t do something.
On the final day of Jesus’ life, he confronted a group of people about their pride. People who used their authority to crush people under them. He told them about a group of farmers who rented the land, and they owned the owner justice. But every time the owner send someone to check to see if justice is being done, they beat him, they threw them out, they killed them. So the owner sent his son to test them, to see what kind of people they really were. It turns out, they were full of pride. So full of pride, they would rather take away any right to live of the person who confronted them, rather than set aside their own position because they were unworthy of it. Because they displayed their unworthiness through the death of an innocent, God opposed them. Because God opposes the proud.
Recently, there was a panel discussing Race and Homelessness in Portland. There were a variety of people there, but the person who upstaged everyone else was white and had no experience of homelessness. He took that authority, because no one stopped him. He was guilty of the biblical sin of pride– taking on authority that didn’t belong to him, to speak for people of color who were homeless when they were right there on the stage next to him.
I sit in meeting after meeting about homelessness and how to help the homeless and how to organize the millions of dollars given to help the homeless. A variety of people from the community are invited, but the one group that has the most stakes, the most experience are not invited– the homeless. Because who are they to think that they could use money to help homeless people? But anyone who thinks they can help homeless without that perspective being central is prideful.
I went to a meeting of the police comission of Eugene this week. They all spoke of how they should punish people who are sleeping in public space because they have no where else to go. No one said, “Hey, what if we let them be. Their live span is 30 years shorter thanours, perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way.” Because their authority and the biased fear of the community was more important than the right of someone to live. That is pride.
I homeschooled my children and when we felt they were ready, we would put them into public school. My oldest went to public school in 9th grade and my youngest in 7th grade because she asked to go. So we made the arrangements, but I didn’t want her to go to the school my oldest daughter went, because in that school she was bullied and attacked because they assumed she was arrogant– after all it was a mostly black school and she was white and quiet. She wasn’t arrogant, she was autistic, but I didn’t want my younger daughter going there. So I fought with the administration, but they put up a wall. I could not put her in school, but if she goes to public school, she is going to that same school. I was furious.
Why was I furious? Because I was full of pride. The proper response was if a child is bullied, we deal with the teacher and deal with the students doing it. But I was using my authority as a parent and as an important person to do something other people couldn’t do. Frankly, I was pulling my white daughter out of a mostly black school because I was afraid for her. I was a racist parent. I was acting with pride, trying to take authority I didn’t have.
We have enough power it is easy for us to do this. We decide who is worthy and who isn’t, who should be listened to and who shouldn’t, who is worthy and who isn’t. We think we treat everyone the same, but when we live with a certain amount of authority, it is hard to do. We are all little king Uzziah’s taking little pieces of humanity
I highly recommend that we all read this book, White Fragility. It talks about how we can easily participate in dehumanize people of color, without even thinking of it. When a person of color says, “That is racism” and we instantly respond, “No it’s not”, without thinking about it. I’d recommend we listen to this sociologist who carefully explains how we can better listen, and how we can better repent of the small acts of pride.
The funny thing about pride is that unless we are doing some great act of arrogance, like trying to take over the world, we don’t see that we are taking over anyone else’s place, denying their humanity or experience. I didn’t see that I was dehumanizing a school-full of people of color. But it was my responsiblity to wake up to it, to realize how I was treating others.
The first step to overcome pride is to wake up to it. To see what we are doing, how we are stepping on others, especially to prop up ourselves. Because “God opposes the proud.” We cannot display the love of God when we step over others to maintain or increase our importance.