We have been told by our Lord in Matthew 20:16 that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” This seems backwards according to the ways of the world, but it makes perfect sense in the parable of the publican and pharisee. If I raise myself up, then God will lower me down to Hades. If I lower myself before God and his creation, then God will raise me up to his kingdom.
Maybe another way to look at this scenario could involve diamonds and charcoal. The pharisee was calling himself a diamond. Diamonds are beautiful, often flawless to the naked eye, and last forever. If we call ourselves diamonds now, then we become charcoal after death because we are lying about who we really are in this fallen world. Charcoals burn without giving off light. Imagine burning forever with no light.
The publican called himself charcoal. He said he was dirty, unclean. If you handle charcoal your hands get dirty. We all know that charcoals become diamonds when stressed over a long period of time. If we admit to being charcoal now, which we all are, then we will be born again as diamonds and reflect forever the glory of God. We will not be that which shines, but that which reflects He who shines, and it will be forever.
When we have our daily conversations, interactions, and thoughts about the world, do we look at others and say, “at least I am not charcoal like that person!” Do we say, “at least I am clean and shine brilliantly while that person gets everyone dirty!” Maybe we should be saying, “I see my filth, my dirt, and I know that only God can redeem it.” Maybe if we admit to the ugliness inside of us, the God of irony will transform it to beauty.