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.

Weak Made Strong

I was the bait in their trap. I knew it. They knew it. But he knew it too, and he walked right into it with eyes wide open.

I could feel their eyes on me throughout his teaching. I wanted to hear his words, wanted to let them wash over me as they had done to others I knew, but those eyes boring into me from the sides and from behind made it nearly impossible.

I fidgeted.

I squirmed.

I nearly got up and left, but just as my mind had resolved to do so, something he said ended the power of their eyes.

“Come and stand here.”

I knew he spoke to me before I even looked up and found his eyes on me. My heart leaped and I scrambled to my feet, keeping my shriveled right hand close to my chest out of habit. Them gleam in his eyes the brightness of his smile encouraged me, but they both disappeared when his face turned to them. I looked out with him at their tasselled robes and pious, mocking faces.

“I ask you,” he said, “on the Sabbath is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or destroy it?”

I saw rage heat their faces, saw them fighting for any response that would protect their standing in the Synagogue while denouncing the man. I can only imagine what he saw.

No words came from their lips. But seeing that they could not answer, his lips spoke once more to me.

“Stretch our your hand.”

And I did. The hand I kept close, kept hidden so others would not see my deformity and shame, I stretched out for all to see. And as I did spasms and snaps throbbed and flowered along my arm. What was weak and withered became whole and strong. The fig tree must feel like this as fruit sprouts from leafy branches, but what takes the tree weeks to achieve took only a moment for me.

I looked from my now perfect hand to the man who had made it so. The light and brightness of his face nearly blinded me, and though I often saw him after that the sight of him always dazzled me. But it didn’t dazzle them. Hatred had joined rage to twist their faces into a mockery of human form. And that was hatred was as much for me, I saw, as it was for him. But still he shone beside me and in his light even their hatred and rage could not disquiet me.

Their mutters contained murder–murder of his light. I knew it. They knew it. But he knew it too; and one day, several years later, he would walk right into it with arms and eyes wide open.

All Things New

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Oh shut up Bartimaeus!” a voice shouted.

“Jesus, have mercy on me!” he cried even louder, but his voice was lost in the crowd.

“Give it up! It’s obvious he can’t hear you,” another said.

But it did no good.

“Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

I opened my mouth, rebuke ready on my lips, but the words had no chance to fall. A clear voice, deep and sonorous as a bell, rang through the babble and hum of the crowd, stopping my tongue from sin.

“Call him,” Jesus said and so I did.

“Take heart Bartimaeus,” I said. “Get up! He’s calling you!”

The blind man threw aside his beggar’s cloak and scrambled to his feet. The crowd parted as he made his stumbling way across the square. Blind he may have been, but his path was unerring and straight as a loosed arrow.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus said.

A murmur passed through the crowd.

“What kind of question is that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

But I wasn’t so sure. I watched Jesus, watched his eyes, and it seemed to me that he saw more clearly than any of us. I might even say there was nothing his eyes did not see, and so there must have been something more to his question.

Bartimaeus said, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”

Such simple words for so audacious a request, but my heart echoed those words, repeating them deep within.

For just a moment Jesus looked away from Bartimaeus, his piercing yet kindly eyes fixed on mine as though he had heard the words of my heart. He smiled and turned back to Bartimaeus saying, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Immediately Bartimaeus could see, you could see it in his eyes. A light had appeared in them and with it came wonder and joy. He laughed then, I can still hear it today. And though I stood far apart, I laughed with him, laughed with tears filling my eyes. As Jesus continued on, Bartimaeus followed, seeing everything for the first time. I was not far behind. And even though my eyes had always seen, they too saw anew. In Jesus’ wake I saw flashes of the world as it would be, flashes of his kingdom come, before everything returned to normal. Well, not really. For everything was different. Jesus was here and soon enough he would make all things new.

And His Kingdom Shall Have No End

He came to me at night, as He often does—my mind unguarded and dreaming—with a message for my king. A vision he brought me. A vision of such staggering majesty all I could do was weep.

I saw a light, bright as the moon, enthroned in the darkness above. It gleamed, majestic and regal, for all the world to see. Until it went out. Another light followed it, dimmer than the first yet brighter by far than the darkness all around. It too went out and the darkness thickened.

But two more lights dawned, one after the other. Like a reflection of the moon to the moon itself were these lights beside the first, dimmer and hazy, yet reflections of that true, pure light nonetheless.

Darkness returned, then light, then darkness—crowned and seated one and all on that first light’s throne. On and on it went through centuries: light to illumine followed by darkness again.

Until it stopped.

The pattern broken.

Darkness reigning. Darkness so thick and deep it seemed no light had ever pierced it. Darkness stretching on and on.

But in that darkness, seeming utter and endless, rose the sun. Brighter than bright. Light of lights it shone.

And the darkness raged against it.

Raged and cursed and flailed, but failed to unseat it, to diminish its shine even when it died only to rise and dawn once more, grown somehow brighter still.

Enthroned it sat, breaking forever the cycle its ancestors could not escape.

Enthroned. Forever.

“Do you understand?” the Lord God asked me.

“Yes,” I said. “His kingdom shall have no end.”

“No end,” the Lord God said.

“My Lord, who am I that such a message should come through me?”

“My voice and my mouthpiece, you bear good news of great joy for all people. You are not the first and neither will you be the last. Now go. Tell David all that you have seen and heard from Me this night.”

And so I went and told it all as the Lord God commanded me.

My king fell to his knees before his King, overcome.

A mumbled, “Who am I?” was all I heard before leaving him to his prayers. I wasn’t there to hear what he said, but I know my king and I know his heart. Faithful and true, he worshipped at the news. From the depths of his soul, he worshipped.

For though neither he nor I will live to see it happen, we know. The Lord is God and his words are true, this day and everyday. In all the darkness and light to come.

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

I see him descending the mountain with a crowd. Does he know I’m here, on the edges and removed? Outside. Always outside. Does he have words for one such as me or are his words for them alone? I must know, for only he can help.

“Unclean!” I shout. “Unclean!”

With the babble of voices surrounding him, no one hears. I cry louder.

“Unclean! Unclean!”

Those closest to me hear my words and scatter. Those beside them turn and see me: torn clothes, hair uncovered, hands covering my mouth while I shout. They understand even if they can’t hear. A path opens.

Not like the parting made for princes or priests. No. More like the Sea’s parting—violent and eager to return to its resting place.

But the Teacher stands silently, eyes fixed on me. I can’t hold back. I run to the man and fall at his feet. I dare not touch those sacred feet or even brush his sandals. Words bubble within me, but for a time I can say nothing, just kneel with my forehead in the dust at his feet.

The crowd grows impatient, its unease palpable, so at last I speak.

“If you’re willing, you can make me well.”

It’s all I can think to say. I look at my scabbed hands and flaky skin. My body breaking into pieces, the stuff that binds it dissolving before my eyes. It is too much to ask, even of him. This is my lot, my fate, the will of Him who made me. I’m prepared for a rebuke, but it doesn’t come.

Instead, a hand settles on my shoulder. I gasp.

“I am willing,” he says.

There is no flash of light, no thunderclap. But skin that was dead is now alive. My hands stretch out—whole and unmarred—to cradle those blessed feet. His hand rests on my shoulder still, holding me together as I weep in the dust and dirt.

I’ve been healed.

I am whole.

I belong.