Two Before the Altar

Luke 18:9-14

“There is a crack in everything;
That’s how the light gets in.”—Leonard Cohen

The upright Pharisee, each hair in place, not a
Fringe on his tasseled loafers askew, stood
Before God’s altar and prayed to himself
Congratulations for his impeccable soul.
He knew what others thought of him.
His righteousness shone from his shoulders
Like epaulets- so certain was he of his goodness.
He checked the lock on the vault of his heart,
And nodded, satisfied. Nothing
In, nothing out, undisturbed. Shrugging deeper
Into the mantle of his own esteem,
Duty satisfied, he knew he was blessed.
Nothing had changed.

On trembling legs the tax-collector climbed the steps, aware
Of the eyes that turned his way, the stink of collusion
That clung to his fine clothes. He could still turn away,
But his heart urged him forward. No one
Expected to see him here in God’s courts,
And some sneered as he passed.
He knew what others thought of him.
Eyes downcast, he made himself small,
And beat his breast,
Pouring out his sins until his soul
Was an empty bowl, so thirsty was he for God’s mercy.
A spark of forgiveness lit the tinder
Of his heart. Cheeks wet, he resolved to turn.
In the new fire of grace and gratitude he was reclaimed.
Everything had changed.

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