An antonym… a word that has the exact opposite meaning of another word.
Today as a result of my Bible reading two such words that might qualify as antonyms came to mind: “gloat” and “grovel.” The problem is both of those words are viewed as negative human behaviors. So are they the best examples of antonyms? The first word is an ugly human behavior driven by arrogance and pride. The second is equally distasteful, and is viewed as the result of a distorted self-image.
Perhaps a more accurate antonym set would be “righteous” and “unrighteous.” One is truly a positive moral virtue (especially when it is God’s assessment of an individual and not “self-righteousness”) and the other word is expressive of a life void of righteousness (i.e. wickedness.)
The passage I read this morning that provoked these comparisons? Luke 18:9-14! Here it is…
“Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: ‘Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ [By definition a textbook case of self-righteous “gloating”!] But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner!’ [There might be some who would label that “groveling” – I think God would call it humble, authentic “repentance” and “confession of sin”]
And what did Jesus say? He declared, “I tell you, this sinner [the tax collector], not the Pharisee, returned home justified [made righteous] before God.”
Just a few additional comments on this subject… Self-righteous gloating is particularly a problem for “religious folk!” In fact, a friend of mine this week put it this way: “If you think you have it all together, and are righteous and holy, and will never fail or sin… I can hear a rooster crowing!” (And on that issue read about Peter’s experience in Mark 14:29-31 and 66-72)
In another place Jesus gave this assessment of some self-righteous “church people”…
“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked!” (The church in Laodecia Revelation 3:17 NLT)
Oh, and how did Jesus end the story of the self-righteous religious person and the despised, sinful tax-collector? He said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted!” Gotta tell you, I want to be on the right side of that issue!