Our “porch pumpkin” didn’t quite make it to Halloween.
We knew it was in a bit of trouble, even a few days ago. A small gouge in its protective rind had allowed some microbes to enter in…evident only by the fact that the previously-firm flesh of the gourd had become noticeably squishy in one quadrant.
But hey, the rest of pumpkin still looked great – fresh and bright and strong – so I simply turned the thing around, and allowed its “good side” to face the street…in order to provide an autumn welcome to any and all who visited our home.
Alas: among our visitors, apparently, were a band of mischievous middle-school marauders. Unaware of the pumpkin’s fatal flaw, they grabbed its stem and headed toward the street – to conduct a late-night round of pumpkin smashing.
Only they never made it as far as the pavement.
Halfway through our front yard, the stem separated from its (now rotting) mooring…leaving the pumpkin to smash onto the lawn, a few yards short of its intended (and adolescently entertaining) destination.
For some reason, I found this outcome mildly satisfying. While I would have preferred not to lose our pumpkin to such neighborhood mischief, I can also imagine the brief rush of guilt and regret that must have surged through the perpetrators’ spirits – as their roguish plot unraveled right before their eyes.
And cleaning up after them the next morning provided fodder for a point of reflection, too. At that very moment, I was headed to our weekly scripture study group, you see – where I encountered the gospel passage we hear proclaimed at Mass this week.
It’s a familiar tale Jesus tells – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
“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.’
This story, Jesus says, is directed toward “those who were convinced of their own righteousness.” And don’t we all fall into that camp from time to time?
Aware, perhaps, of how we’re rotting on the inside from the effects of our sinfulness, still we are determined to keep that squishy stuff hidden. We’re inclined show the world our “good side” instead.
What a blessing it is, then, to have the chance to run with rogues on a fairly regular basis. To hang with guys (and gals) who know they’re not worthy raise their eyes to heaven…but still they do. Still they’re willing (as members of the Body of Christ) to humble themselves and acknowledge their need for redemption.
There’s an odd sort of strength in such an experience of community, I’ve come to believe. For in the rot we’re willing to reveal to each other, this is where we tend to find the “pumpkin spice” of God’s mercy. This is where we become whole once again, exalted in and through the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.