When a Sinner Goes to Church
by Sarah Negroni
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Based on Luke 18:9-14
Today, Iím going to the temple to pray. I know there are many other things I could be doing, but itís good to take some time out to be with God. As I approach, I see many people, but one man in particular seems to be hovering around the door. A tax collectorÖ what does HE want. I wish he would just leave; we donít need to have people like that around here scaring away the true worshipers. If heís still here by the time Iím done Iíll tell him something.
Itís a little disappointing that there are so few people praying today. I like for at least someone to be here to be a witness to me praying. I donít want people to think I donít pray; like Iím a hypocrite or something. O well. I guess a little practice never hurt anyone. I stand and begin to pray.
ďGod, I thank you that I am not like other men Ė robbers, evil-doers, and adulterers Ė or even like this tax collectorÖĒ
Whatís he doing? Heís entered the temple. I hope he doesnít expect to get anything from me today. Poor sinner. If only he knew the true God. He would change his ways. But thereís no hope for him now. Godís wrath will burn against him for sure. Iíd sure hate to be in his sandals! Ah well, at least he can be a witness to me praying.
ďI fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I getÖ.Ē
Not many people can say that, can they? Surely not this tax collector. Whatís he doing? Beating his breast? As if that will save him. Youíve got to do a lot more than just come to temple every once in a while and beat on yourself. Look at him! Crying and carrying on. Does he dare to mock God by putting on such a show?! This is a sickening display. I have to leave. This is just too much. Miserable wretch! I march out and give the tax collector an evil glance. He never even looks up! Humph! Well, I hope he is not here tomorrow so I can pray in peace.
Today, Iím going to the temple to pray. I know I havenít lived the most holy life, but my world is crashing down right now. I have so many burdens to bear. I just canít do this! I canít go on any more. My mother would always talk about God. She told me all the stories about Egypt, Joshua, David and the exile. They never meant much to me, but they were everything to her. She cried when I became Caesarís tax collector. But today, Iím going to the temple to pray. Is this where Iíll find that peace Mother spoke of? Can He really help me? Iíve already lost everything; friends, family, self-respect. What do I have to lose? So, Iím going to the temple to pray.
As I approach the temple Iím met with nasty stares, especially from one particular Pharisee. Have I cheated him before? No doubt, there were so many. I canít remember each one. He struts into the temple; into the temple, before God. My heart racesÖ.Mother had told me that one of Davidís men had accidentally touched the sacred Ark of the Covenant and God struck him down. Will this be my fate? Do I dare enter the house of the Lord? Me? A sinner? A tax collector?! I turn to leave, but then I hear Motherís words in my head, ďGod said, ĎIf they would just seek me, they would find me.*íĒ
I enter the temple. The Pharisee is already there, praying. He turns and looks at me. Will he tell me to leave? No, he turns back around and prays even more vigorously. Iím such a fool for coming here. These people hate me. But, Iíve come to the temple to seek God. I bow my head before Him and pray. No words will come. Tears fill up my eyes. All my past sins are before me. The despair and pain from all those years of sin rush at me. The tears are streaming down now. I beat my breast in utter humiliation of my past.
ďGod, have mercy on me, a sinner!Ē
After what seem like hours of crying and praying the same thing over and over, I open my eyes and look up. The Pharisee is gone. I hope he didnít see me cry! I know what I have to do. Itís time to start again. No more cheating. No more lying. Iíll live for God. Iím a miserable wretch, indeed. But God has such great mercy; and for that, Iíll change my ways. I walk out of the temple with a lighter step. God gives me strength. Iíll be back tomorrow to pray.
*Deuteronomy 4:29 and Jeremiah 29:13
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