"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" Each day the queen would stand before her magical reflecting glass and pose this question. And each day without fail the mirror would reply, "You are the fairest in the land." Then the queen would happily go about her business. But there came the day when the queen, once again, stood before her mirror and queried, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" And the magical mirror, which could only reflect the truth, answered, "Snow White. Snow White is the fairest of them all." The queen flew into a rage, unable to bear this truth and...well, you know the rest of the story.
"The Pharisee went up to the Temple to pray. He stood by himself, and praying before the mirror of the Eternal he informed the mirror of his exceeding righteousness. I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector standing nearby. I fast twice a week: I give a tenth of all my income." The mirror of the Eternal, like the Queen's magical mirror, can only reveal the truth - but unlike the fairy tale Queen, the Pharisee never asked the mirror of the Eternal to verify his righteousness. To the Pharisee, it was self-evident and not even to be questioned.
"But the tax collector, standing at some distance, would not even look into the mirror of the Eternal, but instead beat his breast as a sign of contrition, and prayed, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" If the tax collector had dared to gazed into the mirror of the Eternal, he would have been astonished to see the loving face of God gazing back at him. "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
What do you see when you look into your bathroom mirror each morning? Do you see the image you expect or want to see? Do you perhaps see a younger self, free of cares and wrinkles and puffy eyes? Do you gaze into the mirror carefully looking only at the individual details until the shaving and hair combing and make-up application is complete? Would you honestly want to have a magical mirror which would always tell you the truth? Would you dare to look into such a mirror?
Jeremiah functioned as such a mirror for the people of Israel. As a prophet Jeremiah was called to look without blinking into the mirror of the Eternal and, then, to faithfully hold up that reflection to the children of God. Jeremiah was not popular. And if we today would clearly hear his voice we, too, would not be pleased with his words. For Jeremiah's message from God was more than a warning to "shape up and fly right." Jeremiah saw quite clearly that trusting in our dogma, our image of God, our theology, our history, our ritual, our ancestry, is all idolatry; that, whenever we are willing to put our trust in any of these rather than in the image revealed in the mirror of Eternity, we are idolaters and full of self-righteousness.
Robert Carroll says of Jeremiah in his commentary, From Chaos to Covenant, "Jeremiah attempted to deprive the rich of their certainties and rob the poor of their hopes."(p.279) Not a way to become popular! The Queen's mirror also lost favor by proclaiming the truth. And Jesus, God incarnate, was crucified for his failure to live up to the false image of the Messiah desired by the people and the rulers.
To gaze into the mirror of the Eternal requires courage, but most of all the grace of repentance and humility. How much of the truth are we willing to hear? How much of God's truth are we willing to see? Our answer is directly proportional to our willingness to gaze at our own sinfulness. To gaze into the mirror of the Eternal means looking into God's eyes and seeing the truth of who we really are reflected there. To see that reflection. To know it is the truth. To be willing to ask God's forgiveness. To be prepared to let God change our image so that it conforms more closely to the image God intended.
We cannot do any of this ourselves. Tithing, like the Pharisee (although helpful to our faith community), or fasting twice a week, or any of the other pious works we may practice cannot, by themselves, bring about conversion. Conversion begins within as God's love and mercy and grace transform our hearts. Until, as we gaze upon the mirror of the Eternal, we see our sinfulness, to paraphrase Evelyn Underhill.
It is only when we become willing to go "through the desolate valley" of our own sinfulness, that we "will find it a place of springs." That we will know that "you, O Lord, are in the midst of us and we are called by your name." That, to complete Evelyn Underhill's phrase, "as we gaze upon our sinfulness, we see God." This is the truth of repentance and humility. This is the blessing of repentance and humility. That we can stand before the mirror of the Eternal and know the Truth - the truth that sets us free.
Then we will have a need, as the Pharisee, to stand apart from the tax collector and the sinners. We will know that we, too, are sinners and will no longer need to take comfort in presumptuous prayer. We will no longer need to set up barriers between "us and them." We will be able to stand among our neighbors, no longer able to despise them, because we now see ourselves in them. Like them, we are totally dependent upon God's mercy and forgiveness and love. Each thankful for God's mercy and forgiveness and love. Always ready to give whatever small measure of that mercy and forgiveness and love which we possess to others. In the beginning of repentance, conversion and humility we will at last