He Welcomes Me Near

I am as near as I can get, as close as I’m allowed to be, which means I can hear, but there’s nothing I can see beyond this courtyard.

The Rabbi reads from the prophet Isaiah, his clear voice seeming to cut through the noise without overwhelming it or drowning it out. It somehow remains audible even when an approving babble of voices rises from within. He continues speaking and a hush descends.

“There were many widows in Israel is Elijah’s days, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years and famine spread across the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon . . .” A murmur rises within the room and though his voice remains clear, I lose the thread. The murmur grows into a roar that cannot silence the Rabbi’s voice. I hear him clearly despite the noise, despite the ruckus, despite the rage and hate vibrating through the air like the pounding drums of an invading army. Their voices rattle and shake, sabers meant to frighten off those who, like me, have committed the unpardonable sin of not being one of them.

The Rabbi still speaks, but I only catch the end. ” . . . And none of them were cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the crowd surges out, forcing the Rabbi before them, our eyes meet, and though lust for murder surrounds him, he smiles at me. Me! A Gentile!

And the words I have just heard become a promise in my soul. There is cleansing; there is comfort; there is hope for all people: Jew and Gentile, slave and free. For me. No matter that they had kept me at a distance. This man has invited me near. No matter that they had kept me out. This man has thrown open the doors.

And when next I see him, many months later–bruised, bleeding, and broken upon that brutal cross–he is doing it again. Inviting everyone to come near. To enter in through the doorway of his flesh. To enter the Holy of Holies and find that there is, and always has been, a place prepared for us at the feast of all feasts. A place at the table is set for me and another is set for you. So come. Come and eat. Eat your fill and be satisfied. All are welcome. Even me. Even you.

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