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The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and the Speculators

The Pharisee, the Tax Collector, and the Speculators

Luke 18:9-14


What a difference a week makes! Last week I went to the store and got everything on my list. Not everything I needed, but that was because I forgot to write some of them down, like paper towels. This week I went to the store on Monday to pick up the latest batch of “gotta have” items like cheese and paper towels but RATS! I got to the paper goods aisles, and it looked like a skeleton without anything on the bones!  Thank God last week I’d bought toilet paper, but this Monday I faced devastation. No cleaners, no towels, no TP, no sanitizers, no bleach, no Kleenex to be found. I can’t remember feeling like this since we lived in the Philippines and went to Subic Bay to go to the commissary and exchange only to find that the fleet had come in and bought just about everything in both places. No bras, almost no baby furniture, no stockings, not much of anything else were available. Those of us who lived there would just have to wait until another shipment came in from the States.

I did notice that on Monday, I didn’t see any wailing and gnashing of teeth. In fact, people were exchanging rueful smiles and joking comments about the lack of everything we usually depended on (including Depends). There were some who wandered down the empty aisles as if something would miraculously appear as rewards from God for the person walking by and needing those particular products, but on the whole, I didn’t hear a whole lot of grumbling. It seemed that in the week since my last visit, many of us had faced up to the fact that we were going to have shortages because others had bought and hoarded common household products, and that the rest of us were simply out of luck, whether in that store, any other store in town or surrounding towns, or even from our go-to friend, Amazon.

We heard a lot more this week about quarantines, businesses closed or limiting hours, drive-thru windows at restaurants would be the only access to the food the establishment would provide, concerts and sporting events closed as were schools and even churches. We were urged to self-quarantine ourselves in our homes, find new activities to keep us occupied, work from home if possible, and explore new ways of communicating with groups and friends. 

Churches began to offer services via the internet. Schools and colleges began to offer classes online to offset the brick-and-mortar classrooms that were closed for the duration.  Parents were invited to homeschool their children and include time outside for play as well as nature walks to be part of their new curriculum. All this in one week! 

We have been treated to lists of celebrities and sports figures who have either been tested for the virus or have come down with it. We are told that testing would be available at some point in time for the rest of us to find out if we had been exposed, but enough for all was not yet available, much less a vaccine to prevent or ameliorate the symptoms. Once again, it seemed like the rich and famous were given preferential treatment while the rest were told to not go to work, to stay home, and wash their hands frequently. 

I read the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector and thought immediately of the crisis facing us right now. The Pharisee stood at the front of the synagogue and prayed aloud about his good deeds and righteousness while comparing himself favorably to the humble man who stayed in the shadows and said his prayers quietly. Tax-collectors were considered to be traitors to the Judaism they practiced because they gathered the taxes from the people that were required by the Roman Emperor and also added a bit onto the bills for themselves. The Pharisee reminded God of the sins of those like the man in the corner, but the tax collector prayed quietly, asking God to forgive his own sins.  

I couldn’t help but think of the two men in the synagogue and compare them to people today, namely the rich who have everything they need and can always obtain more, and the poor who have to go without necessities. In addition to the rich and famous, I would add the speculators who bought up all the supplies of particular goods so that they could make money by selling them for a much higher price to those who needed them, thus increasing the gold in the pockets of the gamblers at the cost of impoverishing others. 

While the tax collector did line his pockets with what we consider ill-gotten gains, to many, it was seen as the cost of doing business. Like stewards in wealthy households, padding the bill a bit gave them currency above their bare wages and made them able to improve their lives and those of the members of their families. 

As we sit in our homes this week, perhaps we could think about where we have been speculators and gamblers and where we have been honest, especially in our daily doings. Have we even been truly honest with God? Indeed, God wants honesty from us, but since God already knows our sins and wickednesses, it is for our benefit that we are encouraged to speak of them to God.  It is a way of cleansing our selves and our souls, telling God about all the things we have hidden from everyone else, and knowing that God will forgive us. It is our way of bringing evil into the light and letting it be purged from us. 

Lent is a perfect time to practice this purging. It is tough to do, but the reward is a lightness of spirit and trust in the One who forgives all our sins. And it can be done without going out, searching for things that aren’t on the shelves yet, and coming home empty-handed but with the possibility of having acquired an illness. 

Give it a shot. Also, look to see who is hoarding and speculating, and who is practicing honesty. It’s a fascinating study.

God bless.


Image: The Pharisee and The Publican, by James Tissot. Cropped image, found at Salt and Light Media. Public Domain.


Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.


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Lexi grant

Have you considered that the “rich and famous” examples you note were in arenas where they could expose thousands at one time? So testing them was prudent??

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