From the Journals of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
By Debbonnaire Kovacs, posted 10-20-16
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” — Luke 18:9-14
From the journal of the Pharisee:
- Did all my ritual washings exactly correctly. (Thoroughly punished the slave who did not have the ewer and basin by my bed before dawn!)
- Said all the proper prayers at all the proper times.
- Ate only pure, kosher food. Threw away a large piece of meat that a fly landed on and punished the slaves who tried to salvage it for themselves. Selfish swine! In my house, only pure kosher food is served!
- Counted out the tithings of the herbs that my slaves harvested.
- Prepared for tomorrow’s fast.
- Sent slaves to put my possessions down on the road for Shabbat; I have to visit Jericho that day. Of course, it’s business, but I’ll wait until sundown before any money actually changes hands.
- Successfully avoided some filthy Samaritan lepers who had the gall to beg in the streets.
- Changed my clothing and bathed after coming in contact with a woman in the marketplace. Chastised her, too, even though it did necessitate speaking to a female in public. Sometimes such a thing can be necessary. She shouldn’t have been out in such a public place if she was so ridiculously weak she couldn’t even walk straight. I still say she was drunk, though she denied it. Said the proper prayers of purification.
Yes. A good day. Time for public prayers at the temple.
From the journal of the tax collector:
Blessed art Thou, Lord G-d, creator of heaven and earth…I feel so miserable! I tried to tell myself that I only took extra from those who could well afford it. “I need to live, too,” I told myself. I even justified myself because I only took the base fee from poor widows. Isn’t this worth something? I insisted. The prophets say to treat widows and orphans with kindness.
But…I can no longer justify myself just because I don’t take from the poor. I don’t give, either.
I heard that Galilean again today. He was talking about the Great Day of the Lord. He said the day would come when people would say “Here is the Messiah,” or “There he is!” But we wouldn’t really see him. He said the coming would be completely unexpected. Like the people before the Great Flood, we would be just eating and drinking and going about our normal business.
It gave me chills. I realized I was afraid. Should a good Jew be afraid of the coming of the Lord?
Then he said something that stopped me cold. He said two people would be together, just doing their normal daily work, and one would be taken! His disciples asked, “Where?” and he said—I can remember every word—“Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
A shot of terror ran through me. I didn’t want to be one of those taken, and lying dead for the vultures!
Then he told a story of a widow importuning an unjust judge, and the faces of all the widows I haven’t helped rose up before my eyes. I realized it’s not about making a living, no matter what I tell myself. We are allowed to take a reasonable percentage for our pay. But it doesn’t have to be so high! My family has enough. We have plenty! I could be more merciful.
I feel completely wretched. I am going to the temple.
Merciful. I could be merciful. I will be merciful!
Adonai Eloheinu, You are merciful, too. I know You are. I will go and I will cast myself on Your mercy…
Debbonnaire Kovacs is a speaker and the author of 28 books and over 600 stories and articles for adults and children. To learn more about her work or ask her to speak at your organization, visit www.debbonnaire.com.