Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Pharisee and The Tax Collector -- A One-Act Play

The scene: The Temple at Jerusalem
The players: A Pharisee, A Tax Collector, A Person not yet named

The Pharisee, dressed in fine and highly decorated robes, enters the scene, strides boldly to the front of the Temple, and stands before the Holy of Holies.

The Tax Collector, dressed in a simple robe of fine silk, enters the scene with his head bowed, and moves quietly to a position at the back of the temple, near the far corner.

The Pharisee: Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—greedy, dishonest, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all I earn to the support of this Temple.

The Tax Collector: Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sinful man.

The stage lights lower, the curtain closes, and the Person not yet named enters, stands in front of the curtain, and addresses the audience:

Jesus Christ: Which of these two left the Temple justified? Not the Pharisee, but the Tax Collector. Why? Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Why does Jesus condemn the attitude of the Pharisee? Because the Pharisee is full of himself, unaware of the tension between what he is, and what he ought to be. The tax collector, on the other hand, is aware that his position – collecting money for the Romans, the army of occupation – is compromised, even if, unlike some of his ilk, he is not greedy or dishonest.

One of the most moving commentaries on this aspect of the life of the Christian in the world, regardless of one’s state of life, is the prayer which is offered by the celebrant at Mass, after the worshippers have prayed together the prayer which Jesus taught:

“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

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