Ophel is a barrio right at the heart of Jerusalem where many people dwell and the houses pile over one another. Like it or not, one gets to know the entire life of his neighbor with this kind of set up…. That Monday, as we passed through the front house of Ezekiel, the pious man…..
Ezekiel: But of course, Rebecca, we left the temple covered with a cloud of incense. Master Josaphat was ahead, leading the procession, holding high the book of the Law with his hands.
Ezekiel: Now, what’s that noise, little boy?
Rebecca: It must be the chair’s leg, Ezekiel. C’mon, continue with your story about the procession…
Ezekiel: Well, as I was saying, we left the temple with great fervor and recollection….
Ezekiel: Hey, what’s the matter with this boy?
Rebecca: Indigestion, perhaps…
Ezekiel: Or ill-breeding. My son, “A rude man is a disgrace to his family.” You won’t do that again, son, will you?
Son: Yes, Papa.
Ezekiel: Yes what?
Son: No, Papa.
Ezekiel: Yes or no? Answer me clearly.
Son: Yes and no, Papa.
Rebecca: Why don’t you leave him alone, Ezekiel. He’s just a kid. Stop pestering him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Ezekiel: “It is one’s misdemeanor that disturbs the spirit. Good breeding on the contrary, is like a balm that soothes it.” Say, Rebecca, why don’t you bring in some olives for us to munch?
Rebecca: Right away, Ezekiel….
Ezekiel: I know you love to eat black olives don’t you, son?
Son: I don’t like them, Papa.
Ezekiel: And why not, son?
Son: Because they taste like shit to me.
Ezekiel: Hey, what are you saying? Rebecca! What manners have you been teaching our son?
Rebecca: He’s learned that from his playmates….
Ezekiel: Hey son, did you know that what you said is sinful?
Son: But what did I say, Papa?
Ezekiel: What you said a while ago….
Son: Which one, Papa?
Ezekiel: You know what I mean. Anyway, I don’t want to hear that word anymore in my house.
Son: Tell me, Papa, what word is that?
Meanwhile, in another house, where the scoundrel, Philemon, lived…
Philemon: Ha, ha, ha….. I can’t, anymore….
Marthina: Hey man, will you finish your story?
Philemon: Can you imagine the palace mayor telling the king: “My king, the prince is conspiring against you!” The king said: “Nonsense, this is all nonsense. The prince is still an innocent little boy.” The palace mayor says: “Well, this innocent little boy has already set his two eyes on the throne.” The king replies: “It’s alright, as long as he does not lay his third eye on it.” Ha, ha, ha….. This one deserves a good laugh. Ha, ha, ha….!
Marthina: Ha, ha, ha….! Don’t be so gross, Philemon…
Philemon: But the gross part is, when the queen came in and told the king……. Ha, ha, ha….! Oh, oh… I can’t stand this anymore….. I guess my belly is going to explode…… ha, ha, ha!……
The next day, Tuesday, in the house of Ezekiel, the pious man…
Ezekiel: My dear, today is Tuesday, and it is the day of the guardian angels.
Rebecca: What does that mean, Ezekiel?
Ezekiel: The angels are pure spirits. They don’t eat nor drink. We must emulate them, Rebecca. It’s a day of fasting today.
Son: But Papa, I’m hungry…
Ezekiel: Shut up, you brat… Rebecca, why don’t you just prepare light soup and some bread…
Rebecca: Is… that all?
Ezekiel: Yeah, that will be enough. “Our body is like a horse: You tighten his rein and he’ll adjust to it.”
Rebecca: But, Ezekiel, our child is a growing boy, and he needs sufficient food. I’m afraid he……
Ezekiel: No need to worry, Rebecca. He who fasts never fears the Lord. If you fast, you will appear before the Lord’s tribunal with your head held high.
Rebecca: And at the rate we’re going, that’ll be soon…!
At the same time, in the house of Philemon, the scoundrel…
Philemon: Damn, this chicken breast is better than yours, Marthina!
Marthina: But where does all the food you devour go, huh? There seems to be a hole in your stomach…. Look, Philemon, you better stop now, or you might throw up everything…
Philemon: Who said so! I’m like those pelicans who swallow whatever gets into their beaks! Huh! Hey, lemme have more servings of those eggplants and lentils! And a sizable piece of that bacon too! Lalarooo…!
Marthina: Well, as you wish. But if your belly explodes…
Philemon: You’re a happy, man, when your tummy is full, so they say.
Marthina: Yeah, but people also die of overeating.
Philemon: Well, if death comes and claims my life today, then I’ll tell him I won’t give way… if he wants to take me, then he has to drag me into it!
The following day, Wednesday, in Ezekiel, the pious one’s home…
Ezekiel: “You will take one tenth of the yield from your fields, and you will take it to the Holy Temple of God, where you will offer as a pleasant sacrifice the tenth part of your wheat, the tenth part of your oil, the tenth part of your wine.” It was thus commanded by Moses, as it is written in the book of Deuteronomy, thus, I will comply with it.
Rebecca: Today we shall offer our tithes and alms to the priests of God. Everything for the Temple, for giving honor to the Lord, so that we shall all be included in the number of God’s chosen people!
At that same moment, Philemon was gambling in the barrio’s inn….
Philemon: This is the number! C’mon, count this! Four and six, then eight, and sixteen! I win again!
A Neighbor: Such luck you’ve got tonight, huh, Philemon! You’ve left me stark naked this time!
Philemon: Know why? I’ve got a twin brother and the two of us started playing dice since we were in our mother’s womb!
Neighbor: No, you’ve cheated me, that’s why.
Philemon: I cheated you? Are you saying I’m a cheat? Hey, look, fellow, lemme give you another chance. I’m betting everything on seven! Everything, including the forty dinarii I won last night, and what I won yesterday!
Neighbor: What else can I bet? I don’t even have a cent left.
Philemon: Man, why don’t you bet your tunic? No, no, your wife will be better. Right, your wife against my dinarii. Is that okay with you?
Neighbor: Yeah. C’mon, cast the dice.
Philemon: In the name of the Archangel of the seven clouds, of the cherubim with the seven wings, of the devil with the seven horns…. gimme seven, c’mon! Here goes….. Seveennnnnn!!! By Jove! I won again! Your wife is mine now, neighbor!
Thursday evening, in Ezekiel, the pious one’s home….
Ezekiel: Rebecca, I’m telling you, just as the saintly Tobias told Sarah, Rachel’s daughter: I’m not getting into bed without first invoking the name of the Almighty.
Rebecca: Hmmmm…! Well, go ahead, invoke his name and get into bed at once, as I can’t wait any longer….
Ezekiel: “Lord, You know fully well that I am not taking this sister of mine with impure desire, nor can I get close to her without the right intentions. The only reason I’m taking her is to procreate. A child, my Lord, who will not be the fruit of carnal desires, but of the hope of begetting the Messiah.” My dear wife, let us procreate!….. dear wife!…
Rebecca: Ahuuuummmm…! What a boring speech you gave, the Messiah has already fallen asleep….
Meanwhile, in Philemon, the scoundrel’s house…
Philemon: Pssst… come over here, my sweet, chubby lady… Don’t be a bore….
A Woman: Are you out of your mind, Philemon? What if my husband finds the two of us together?
Philemon: He wouldn’t say anything. He’ll have bitten his tongue out of shock.
Woman: And what do you suppose I should tell him, huh?
Philemon: Tell him you walk in your sleep, and while doing so, you ended up in my arms…. mmm…
Woman: What if your wife finds out…?
Philemon: She’ll never find out. She’s deaf and blind.
Woman: Then, why did you marry her?
Philemon: Precisely because of that!
Woman: Oh, Philemon, you’re a demon!
Philemon: Maybe, but you’re the best.
Woman: Take that hand off me, you insolent…!
Philemon: I’m cold, chubby dear….. mmm… mmm…
It was a Friday in the pious man’s house….
Son: Papa, Papa, I wanna go out, let’s go to the plaza, Papa…!
Ezekiel: No, son. You’ll only find several rude boys in the plaza. That’s where you learn all those vulgar things…
Rebecca: Maybe we can go visit my cousin, Rose. Poor thing, she’s all alone…
Ezekiel: She’s not alone. She’s divorced. I’ll never set foot in the house of a divorced person. I look the other way when I walk down the street.
Son: Papa, let’s go through the steps! That’s where all the boys play “horsey-horsey”!
Ezekiel: The son of a good family does not mingle with street children. Wisdom means you maintain considerable distance from the rest. Don’t you ever forget this, son.
Rebecca: Gosh, Ezekiel, let’s go, if only to do a few exercises or take a walk around the neighborhood.
Ezekiel: No, Rebecca. Very soon it will be late and don’t forget that tomorrow is a Saturday. We’ll have to get up early to worship the Lord in the temple. Let’s all go to bed now.
In Philemon’s house, at bed time…
Marthina: C’mon, Philemon, it’s time to sleep. Aren’t you going to bed yet…?
Philemon: Hik! Why the hurry?… Is there a fire around here?… The night is still long…… like a monkey’s tail. Hik!
Long live the monkey!
Marthina: You’re drunk, Philemon…
Philemon: Who? Me….? Drunk?…
Marthina: Who else? Let’s see… How many fingers do I have in my hand? Look at it very well.
Philemon: How many fingers? Lemme count them…. two…. four… six… eight.. sixteen….. twenty-four…. forty-four…. Hik!
Marthina: You’re drunk…. c’mon… go to sleep…
Philemon: Solomon was more loaded, but they didn’t tuck him in bed… Hik! I’m King Solomon…. Hik… I’m King Solomon!…. Hiiik!
Saturday came. It was a rest day and all the children of Israel went up the temple to pray….
Ezekiel: Lord, I thank you for giving me another week to live by your commandments. My family is different from the rest of the families in the city. We fast, we give alms and we observe tithing, we observe all norms of your sacred Law…
The pious Ezekiel, with his wife and son, was praying so loud before the altar of God… While doing this, a man entered the temple and stayed at the back. He knelt down and beat his forehead against the floor, and with his closed fist, beat his chest…. He was Philemon, the scoundrel…
Philemon: Lord, please help me… I am a sinner…. Lord!
Ezekiel: Thank you, God, because my family is not like those who are stained by sin. They are thieves, adulterers, drunkards, and full of vice… Ehem… like this one at my back…
Philemon: Lord, cast your eyes upon me…. I am not King Solomon… I am…. I am… a shit… Help me, Lord… I want to reform my life….. How I’d wished I could….
Jesus: And so it happened, my friends, that on that day, the scoundrel went home, having reconciled himself with God. But not the pious one, because, for the Lord, he who is last becomes first, and the first becomes last.
The pious man and the scoundrel are “the pharisee and the publican.” The decent man and the brazen one, the religious and the sinner. In narrating this story, Jesus makes a harsh criticism of the arrogance that characterizes the pious men of his time and of all times. He also talks of his personal conduct: Jesus was usually surrounded by these scoundrels, some of them became his close disciples, to whom his good news was directed. These people sympathized with Jesus. His actuations, behavior and his life actually reveal to us how God really is. A God who is close to the suffering people, discriminated against by those who consider themselves perfect.
The organization of the Pharisees, composed of male laymen, was very significant during Jesus’ time. It was estimated to have about 6,000 members then. Although its leaders were educated and belonged to the upper echelon of society, the movement had a number of supporters among the lower class. Its communities were selective – like sects. They thought of themselves as the good ones, the redeemed, and God’s predilected people. In order to become part of this select group the candidates were carefully chosen, after which they underwent training for one or two years.
The focal point of the pharisaic way of life is the scrupulous observance of the Law, according to the interpretation they themselves made of the Scripture. In Jesus’ time, they had formulated 613 precepts of the Law. Out of these, 248 were positive commandments, while 365 were prohibitions. Thus they turned the will of God – the Law – into a heavy and burdensome yoke. Those who did not observe all these norms religiously were damned. The Pharisees greatly despised the masses and they were convinced that these people were beyond salvation. A considerable part of the message of freedom and hope recovers its meaning by contraposing it to the lifestyle of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees succeeded in getting the support of some layers of society, specially because they were anticlerical. They were against priestly hierarchy, proclaiming that sanctity was not a monopoly of the priests, but it could also be attained by any faithful lay person. Nevertheless this truth was gravely distorted in the manner the practice of being holy was interpreted. It was reduced to a scrupulous compliance of a series of pious acts like fasting, almsgiving and prayers. The Pharisees were formalistic and ritualistic. Salvation for them was a matter of earning more and more merits. Every Monday and Thursday, they fasted (the Law required only one day of fasting a year), they observed tithing (even insignificant wild grass was paid for), and they distanced themselves fanatically from the so-called “sinners.” These were precisely the gluttons, the drunkards, the gamblers (who were frowned upon by the religious men), and the cheats… They were the “scoundrels.”
Jesus’ constant message – as shown in his actions, in his words, in his parables – that God specially cares for the sinners, the brazen ones; and consequently they become closer to God than the pious ones, always provoked an angry protest on the part of the Pharisees. This was something they could not accept since they were always sure of their piety. And this is what Jesus was rightfully telling to their face. The Gospel tells us that if there is anything that will alienate a person from God, it is self-righteousness. This type of people tries to distance himself from the sinners, lest they become sinners too, without realizing that in reality, by doing so, they are alienating themselves from the Lord. The Pharisees believed that salvation was practically impossible for them. Jesus reversed everything: by making salvation difficult for the “self-righteous,” since what really separates them from God is that piety that kind of leads to insolence and arrogance, and that attitude which is practically beyond conversion; and not the commission of grievous sins. The scoundrels, on the other hand, are more open to humility, in acknowledging their sins before the Lord.
This transcendental message is presented to us in this episode in a humorous and picaresque manner. It is not to give it due importance; rather, it is intended to enable us to recognize the same caricature of our own attitudes, so that we may have the profound humility to learn to laugh at ourselves and not to take ourselves too seriously.