The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”-Luke 18:11-14
A fight had broken out. We were in the middle of it literally. Ruan and Alex were fighting where we were sitting. We were unintentionally the cause of the fight. Alex was being difficult and he used some foul language. Ruan confronted him. He thought that it was inappropriate to use that kind of language in our presence. The next thing we knew they were throwing punches at each other. Ruan is only 14 but he is almost twice Alex’s size who is two years older. Things went from bad to worse. Alex emotionally disintegrated right before our very eyes. His face turned red and tears flowed profusely. We pleaded with them to stop but their passions had taken control of them completely. Before anything could be done, a punch landed on Alex’s face and he lost his balance. His head hit the steps. Blood started to ooze out a gash just above his right eye. Alex became hysterical at this point. He was screaming away at Ruan and was wailing like a two year old. Ruan just sat down in silence.
Alex went to the side of the cathedral and sat there alone. He couldn’t stop crying and he then laid down on his side. To make matters worse, he started to hyperventilate. He looked like he was going into shock. We tried to calm him but he was inconsolable. Ruan became remorseful for his actions and came over to apologize. However, Alex was not in the right frame of mind to accept anything from anyone. We began to get worried. It seems like he needed medical attention, and then he slowly started to breathe normally. Throughout this time, Ruan sat behind him and said that he was sorry. Alex continued to bleed from his wound but he refused any first aid from us. He stood up and walked away in a daze. We remained at the steps. Our minds were reeling from the whole incident. We have never seen any of our children or teens break down in this manner before. We have never seen them in such a vulnerable and fragile state.
All it took was a simple altercation. It is something that happens on a daily basis in the streets. Everyday we walk by people fighting over the silliest things. Maybe it sounds strange to some readers but it is the reality in the streets here. Alex navigates in this world daily. He always appeared to be comfortable in this environment. Maybe he believed that he was immune to the violence until a punch landed on his face. The aggression revealed to him that he was just as fragile as anyone. Perhaps it was too much for him and he couldn’t handle it. For us, it was heart breaking scene. We saw a teenager revert to the young lonely child. We had a glimpse of the hidden frighten child in the teenage body of Alex. There was nothing we could do or say that would help Alex.
There is something in us that wants to show the world that we are strong and better than others. This was the basis for the fight between the boys. In the end, the only thing that was obvious was how weak we are as human beings. We stood and watched Alex in tears and broken emotionally. There was hardly anything we could do to make it better. Ruan has physical strength and sometimes he does things to appear like a bully. In reality, he has a tender heart. He wants to be a good person but ends up doing things that hurt others like Alex. He is unable to do the good he so desperately wants to do. Alex wanted to show everyone that no one can push him around. The only thing he managed to reveal to the world was how fragile he really is.
The Pharisee in the above parable wanted to believe that he was better than the tax collector. He thought that he was stronger than the tax collector who has succumbed to the temptations of life. Unfortunately, in his attempt to show off his strengths, he ended up revealing that he was much worse. The tax collector showed the better way. He acknowledged his utter weakness. Maybe because he did not have much of a choice. Society had already condemned him for being a traitor. His weakness and vulnerabilities were open for everyone to see and judge. In a strange way, this involuntary exposure of his personal and moral frailties made him open to receive something better and greater. It has given him the wisdom to discover a different and a more lasting and powerful source of strength.
We saw Alex and Ruan a few days later. They were talking and joking around together. Ruan came up to us and said that we were late. We were not. We arrived at our usual time. Ruan and Alex were early. They usually show up later in the day. There was something different about them. Ruan was more affectionate. Alex approached Mary and started telling her about things that happened to him over the weekend. There was a tenderness in the way they interacted with us. I think it has something to do with being vulnerable. The fight was a simple altercation in the eyes of many. However, the Holy Spirit transformed it into an encounter where all our frailties were revealed. It has given us the courage to admit that we are weak and now we are ready to discover our true strength in the redeeming power of God’s love. Perhaps this is why the boys were not afraid to share their love and affection with us. They no longer needed to pretend to be tough. They just needed to be themselves. The strength will come from the One who is truly strong.