I just can’t wait for the week of the Pharisee and the Publican. Or is it the Publican and Pharisee? I can’t remember, but it doesn’t matter since ‘many who are last will be first, and the first last.’ Today, Friday and the last day of my work week, I always go to a Thai restaurant with my best friend at work. He is a Roman Catholic, and I am, well, you know already, a Greek Orthodox. He orders whatever he likes, meat included, but me? I can’t help myself. Meat on a Friday tastes like carrion, so I always order a curry with my other favorite food, tofu (bean curd chunks), deep fried the way I like them. The waitress knows us well and can usually predict our selections. But not next week! I’ll be able to order Ginger Beef, and on a Friday. For once I can be what I am, publicly, and feel good about it—a publican (and a sinner)!
Of course, I’m joking. Not about being a sinner, though I am not a publican (tax collector), only a Re-publican. That has earned me almost as much disrespect and contempt in this office (where I work, for twenty more days after today) as I have earned by being a Christian. It’s funny how you don’t have to open your mouth much, about being a partisan of Ben Carson, or Jesus Christ. Word just gets around. People are really quite happy that I am so silent when I’m in this office. Not so silent, though, when I am out on the factory floor making machinery parts on a milling machine. There, I usually sing while I work. Today it was mostly Greek. Anticipating Pascha (Easter) because I can’t help myself, I sang a few rounds of Christos Anesti, and then to keep it in my active memory, I tenderly chanted O Angelos Evoa to the accompaniment of an unusual ison (background hum) of end mills carving out pockets of aluminum in a machine carriage.
But next week, yes, the ‘eat all you can’ week. Time to get rid of all those steaks in the fridge, the corn dogs, and the spam in the cupboard—Not! Actually, I think all I have is a few pieces of luncheon meat in the fridge, and about six weight-watchers meals in the freezer. The latter will get used up next week for sure, and then the week after I can declare my house ‘meat-free.’ Pre-Lent, yes, a good time to ‘spring clean’ the refrigerator.
Publican and Pharisee Week, yes, always a good way to get ready for Great and Holy Lent. I just love the way Holy Orthodoxy gets us ready ahead of time, anticipating both the hardships and the blessings that lie ahead. We don’t find ourselves suddenly confronted with either the bad news of our sinfulness or the good news of our salvation. Holy Church has imitated her Lord in His gentleness, because He is with us, and she can’t help it!
Now is the time not of judgment, but of grace. We almost can forget about judgment, because we know we’re not really that bad. It’s those other folks who hem us in on every side. They’re the bad ones. They will have to face up to their sins on Judgment Day, not us. Finally, my Republican self, my Orthodox self, will be vindicated, and all offenders against me justly punished. I say this tongue-in-cheek with a little remorse, because I know God is good. He will let them off the hook, just as I hope He will let me off, as long as we can accept that. Inwardly, I hope my enemies will stay His enemies, and join the crowd that will fuel the lake of fire.
Lord, have mercy! I, as well as my enemies, don’t know our right hand from our left, don’t know if we have been good or bad—no, I remember now! I’m bad, because ‘no one is good but God.’ Jesus tells us that in the Gospel. Lord, have mercy! ‘I remember, and my soul melts within me. I am on my way to the wonderful Tent, to the House of God, amid shouts of joy and praise, and an exultant throng!’ the psalmist hidden in my heart chants, coming to the rescue. The cycle is beginning again.
That machinery of salvation, that mill with which the Lord carves out pockets in our soul, fashioning not machinery like the angels to do His bidding automatically and will-lessly, but real human beings, who will do what He wants because they want it too. And though I’ve never done anything good to deserve it, He has raised me in His own hands and begun shaping me into the image He intended before any of my clay even appeared.
And it is His life-giving Breath that will fill my mouth, more than any food eaten or foregone on feast or fast. And reoriented to the Son, not I alone, but all of you, my brethren, will find ourselves at the Holy Tree, where the Only food worth eating, the Bread of Life, hangs waiting for our touch.