Tag Archives: repentance

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Third Week of Lent, Saturday

Luke 18:9-14

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Humble faces shine
In the mirror of mercy.
Proud miens malign.

A Pharisee and a tax collector 
Went up to the temple to pray.
One stood aloof and the other downcast,
A kingpin and a castaway.

With a wooden beam in the oculus,1
Sinners and swindlers were despised.
God’s favored son am I, thought the pietist,
Keeping the laws, he moralized.

Alas for me, beat the sad publican
His breast with supplicating grief.
May the smoke of incense and sacrifice2
Atone for this woebegone thief.

The Pharisee and the tax collector
Came down from the temple that day.
The self-righteous prig left unjustified;
The son had his sins cast away.



1 Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:41-42.

2 The Greek verb in the phrase, “be merciful to me” in Luke 18:13 is hilaskomai, not eleeó (as in Kyrie eleison). New Testament scholar Kenneth Bailey writes: “Verse 13 contains the word hilasthete (make an atonement). The more common word eleeson (have mercy) occurs in 18:39. The appearance of the weighty theological word hilaskomai in 18:13 must be intentional and significant. The most natural explanation appears to be that the two men are watching the atonement sacrifice in the temple. The tax collector longs that it might be for him.” See A Study Guide for Fifteen Lectures on the Parables of Jesus, p. 36.

Scrooge and Dives

Kykkos Monastery mosaic representing the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Second Week of Lent, Thursday

Luke 16:19-31

In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge takes a voyage in time to Christmases past, present and future, and wakes up right after the shock of seeing the headstone of his own grave. Overjoyed and relieved to find himself alive, he immediately seizes the moment to transform his miserly existence to one of magnanimous generosity to the poor and needy. Dickens’ heartwarming classic captures the essence of repentance and personal conversion.

Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (derived from Elazar, “God has helped”) to awaken the living to awareness of the grave in their own hearts. Listeners who travel to Hades with the rich man (Greek plousios, Latin dives) are given the opportunity to experience the mortal anguish of death and burial, and the regret of not having lived generously, detached from riches, for the love of God and neighbor. 

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’

Luke 16:19-28

The fact that the rich man was moved to pity and mercy for his brothers, desiring their repentance and conversion so as avoid the torment of regret in the afterlife, shows that the parable was directed to hearers who still have a chance to change their lives. The watchful “awaken” from the parable like Scrooge, fully alive and able to make an about-face (metanoia).

The rich man’s confidence that a warning from the grave would effect the cure of the complacent was an illusion confirmed by historical events.

But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Luke 16:29-31

Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (not the poor man of the parable), only intensified the desire of the chief priests to return Lazarus to the grave and kill Jesus as well (John 12:9-11). Above all, the Easter event of Christ’s resurrection had little to no effect on those whose wills were bent on eliminating the life and influence of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:11-15).

Conversion is a mystery. May each day be received as a gift of divine mercy in the ongoing journey of metanoia. 

The pity of plousios
Lies buried underground,
But prophetic parables
Turn profiteers around.


Morning Thoughts: The Bad Thief


Rembrandt, “Self Portrait”, c. 1668 (detail)



The Bad Thief

good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
can be all three?
we know of Jesus
as perfect
as perfect can be
speaking faith
breathing forgiveness
the Word
bound up
completely free
we know too
of the good thief
turning toward Goodness
our Goodness
so gracious
hanging there
beside him
beside the good thief
Jesus nailed
one with the tree
we know too
what happened
what happened then
to the prodigal thief
a humble heart
spurned not
true repentance
sorrow for sin
painful sorrow
paid forth
by a sinless man
and God
God the father
accepting the fee
the precious blood
of Jesus Christ
setting him
the good thief free
but what
what of the other one
what of the thief
named bad
what of him
deserving to hang
what of that poor man
that poor
prideful soul
just like you and me
that poor
nameless sinner
just like you and me
also hanging
hanging there
hanging above Mary
and the disciple
Jesus loved
hanging there
upon a third
a third
rarely talked about tree
who is he?
but you and me
i am the bad thief
and so are you
i have stolen
stolen so much
especially time
what have you
in your pocket
that isn’t thine?
Jesus makes it
perfectly clear
what happens
what happens to thieves
thieves like us
who simply say
i’m sorry
yet even His promise
His promise
full of mercy
His promise
of paradise
of paradise in fact
that very day
doesn’t stop
his good thieving legs
from being smashed
his repentant body
completely broken
head to toe
not even Christ’s promise
the promise
from the King Himself
removes the good thief
from the gift
from the gift that is his cross
but what of the other one
what of you and me
what of us
thieves who also lie
who reject justice
Justice hanging
right next-door
what of the bad thief
can be redeemed
what of the bad thief
in you and me
God only knows
upon the dead
both the living
and the deceased
upon us all
upon Your children
Your children turned thieves
whose faith
and sorrow
is known
by You
and You alone
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
and all the rest
of all humanity
can lack
to such a degree
true repentance
true humility
good thief
bad thief
Savior in between
how is it
that you and i
are all three?


—Howard Hain


Ash Wednesday Thoughts

We should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: The wise person must not glory in his wisdom nor the strong one in his strength nor the rich one in his riches. Rather, let him who glories glory in the Lord by seeking him and doing what is right and just. Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. Be merciful, he said, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving.”

St. Clement of Rome

Ash Wednesday: Remembering and Turning

Religious language and customs lose their meaning when we don’t think about them. The ashes used today are from palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Once carried to shouts of glory, they’re reminders now of death. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The biblical word “repent” is translated “turn”–calling us to turn away from sin and turn to God. It’s a certain kind of turning we’re called to make. Not a casual turning from curiosity, quickly returning to what really matters–ourselves.
We’re called to turn to God, our creator and redeemer, keeping  our eyes fixed on the One who is the source of our life.  We turn to God in humble appreciation to receive his promise of forgiveness and love.
“Someone wise must not glory in his wisdom, someone strong must not glory in his strength, someone rich must not glory in his riches.”

We come to God with nothing, so we might be filled.

Turning from sin, from anger, from resentment, we come to a gentle, forgiving  God who blesses us with gifts this holy season, through the intercession of Jesus, his Son. We know we have turned if we are gentle and forgiving of one another.
We are blessed with the sign of his cross today.