Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
A Spirituality of Imperfection
A Spirituality of Imperfection

A Gospel of Humility

Monday, September 26, 2022

In this talk, Richard unpacks the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14), showing how Jesus affirmed a spirituality of imperfection:

With this parable, Jesus invites us to struggle with the contrast between a spirituality of perfection and what I’m calling a spirituality of imperfection. Notice the beginning lines: “Then he spoke this parable, to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and therefore despised others. ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector’” (Luke 18:9–10). Jesus, a consummate Jew, uses examples from his own culture and time. According to common definitions of the day, the Pharisees are the good guys and tax collectors are the bad guys. The tax collectors are those who have totally aligned with the Roman Empire, charging money to their own Jewish people, and giving it to the Empire. No one likes the tax collectors, and everyone looks up to the Pharisees. The Pharisees are simply religious people trying to obey the law, just like faithful Catholics or Bible-reading Protestants today. And as always, Jesus, with his nondual way of thinking, turns it all on its head.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people. Extortioners, adulterers, or even this poor tax collector here. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I possess’” (18:11–12). None of us would be so foolish as to state our spiritual credit so forthrightly, but we do feel it inside. We think: “I’m a good person. I don’t steal; I don’t cheat.” We’ve all fashioned our positive, superior self-images on why we’re right and why we’re good. In contrast, “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast, saying ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’” Jesus said, “This man went down to his house justified—rather than the other” (18:13–14).

This repositions the whole role of religion. Didn’t most of us think that it’s all a meritocracy? I certainly did! Many religious people think that it’s all a merit badge system—all achievement, accomplishment, performance, and perfection. The good people win and the bad people lose. Of course, once we cast anything as a win-lose scenario, the irony is that everybody loses. Why can’t people see that competitive games are not the way to go?

I’m convinced that Jesus’ good news is that God’s choice is always for the excluded one. Jesus learned this from his Jewish tradition: God always chooses the rejected son, the barren woman, the people enslaved in Egypt or exiled in Babylon. It’s not a winner’s script in the Bible—it’s a loser’s script. It’s a loser’s script where, ironically, everybody wins.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as MP3 audio download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

In a way, we are perfect if we allow ourselves to accept that we are not perfect. Perfect in the eyes of God with great potential, but imperfect in that we are not going to get it right all the time. We will make mistakes. —J.E.B. K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.