Friday, October 1, 2010

The Purist's Dilemma

One day an old pharisee named Johanan who was regarded by the community as a wise man was heard to say he had had enough! He was tired after so many years of seeing his nation filled with pagans of every kind, and he was thinking to join the plot against them. The Roman army occupation was difficult enough to endure, he was often heard to exclaim.

Johanan was known as a doctor, a pharmacist, something of a builder, a judge and many other good things, and so was highly regarded by his people.

Palestine for as long as anyone could remember had been the locus of important trade routes facilitating commerce between Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia and beyond. And this was part of the problem. All sorts of people came and went, day in and day out. And always some stayed. And while other of his associations interacted with the strangers, often forming lasting friendships with them, Johanan was obstinate, a purist, and Israel he insisted had to be cleansed, beginning with the infidel-idolaters.

But one night a friend of his found him slumped at table. The old man was gravely ill, in fever, and he was only breathing with great difficulty. No doctor could be found except an infidel who stayed with him a fortnight until finally he revived. The old man had no choice but to be grateful, though he attributed his recovery to God. Over many days, as he was convalescing, he and the infidel doctor, who worshiped graven images, discussed all sorts of things, not least the differences which troubled Johanan.

"You must be a little blind, Johanan" the heretic said to the Pharisee. You were dying and I nursed you to life. I rode at great lengths on roads constructed by many whom you would rightly call strangers, in order to purchase medicines which were also cultivated and prepared with the help of intelligent strangers. You yourself told me that your sister and part of her home were saved by fire-fighting vigiles, who tirelessly passed buckets down a line all night, to carry water to the blaze. Axes and building-toppling hooks, constructed by the Romans, were also employed to create fire breaks and to prevent the flames from spreading. And you complained of none of this, Johanan.

And most of all, what of your servant Elam? Did you not call him a veritable scholar, rich in wisdom, learned in languages and an artisan? And did you not tell me of the many years in which you shared your respective thoughts for mutual benefit, despite your differences?

The Pharisee thought on these things, knowing that what he heard was true. How then shall we live as a people and preserve our traditions he demanded! The physician said "We have our home land too," and the problem is the same for us as for all. Those of us who fled here wish we could be in our own land too, but we must feed our families and the political situation at home is very hard at this time. Our own tradition, like yours, Johanan, says that we must show hospitality to the stranger, just as you have shown hospitality to us.

Was not your beloved Ruth a Moabite? Yet look at your scripture, Johanan. They seem to make for little exception.

"An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever."

"You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever."--- Deuteronomy 23:3-6

But who was the hero in the story of Ruth but Boaz, a man who showed kindness to a Moabite woman, the stranger?

And look what benefits come from our interaction in your own life even now. The answer? You will always have your majority. This is your land. We will not dominate you and you will not dominate us I trust. But that must not prevent us from freely assisting each other in many ways, for the good of all. It takes many hands and talents for all of us. Surely you see that, my friend? We will go home when we can.

Johanan looked up at the Physician in tenderness. "Please stay with us as long as you need. I have gifts for you as well, my true friend".

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