I open my eyes as a new day dawns. Sounds from the early morning drift through my window. Children are waking, filled with energy after a night’s rest. The streets are getting busy as the markets are set to open. There are things to do, places to go.
I should go to the temple to pray today. Praying at home is fine, but there’s something comforting about being where God is. If only I were invisible.
It’s not easy to navigate the streets, even with the daytime crowds. Someone always seems to point me out. Or they whisper angrily as we pass each other. Even without making eye contact, I just know they’re talking about me.
They hate me. I’m not a bad person. God is working on me. But my job? People hate what I do. I’m a tax collector. I’m really trying to make the most of a bad situation, but no one cares to listen to that part of my story.
As I approach the temple, my eyes scan the area for a place to pray. Over there! I spy a little corner where hopefully I can pray unnoticed. Maybe I’ll blend in with the crowd. With head bowed, ready to talk to my God, my thoughts are interrupted by a loud, pompous voice.
I hear a Pharisee praying. Aloud. As though these temple steps were his private chamber. I want to ignore him, but I can hear every word he says.
Wait, what? He’s not like me?
He’s right—he’s nothing like me.
I shouldn’t be here. I am nothing. My days aren’t filled with religious duties like his. My speech isn’t as eloquent. I’m not versed in all the scriptures and fancy teachings. People like him.
All I know is what God has done in my life. Is that even enough? If a Pharisee is going to stand on the temple steps, of all places, and declare that I’m horrid before God, is it true?
Well, maybe, just maybe I’ll give this prayer bit one last shot. I don’t even know what to say anymore. I had something in mind, but my head hurts. My heart hurts. I should really go home. I won’t bother coming back to temple anymore. Yet, I feel compelled not to leave before saying something. Maybe God will understand? Maybe He’ll hear me?
“O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”
That’s all I have the strength to pray. I don’t need anything else. I don’t want anything else. Just His mercy.
Ouch! How long have I been beating my chest? I didn’t even realize.
Suddenly I’m feeling better than when I first arrived. God, is that You? Are You here beside me on these steps?
I’m glad I stayed.
I have peace.
(Adapted from Luke 18:9-14)