Do you hear that odd, high pitched sound
in or around your ears? What to know
what it might be?
Gatherer of the
Each day on the highway the man could be seen collecting the flax. It grew wild by the roadside, and in the ditches and valleys nearby. A man could survive where chance, in the form of travelling carts spilling seed, had cast her harvest. For the vagabond it sufficed as an existence, for you could cut and bundle the coarse strands that grew on the untenured lands, and spread them out to dry in the sun. Each night he would take the dried flax from each days gathering, then beat it, and either weave it into rope or sell the raw material to the local weaver.
Some might have praised this soul for his industry, but this was a harsh land. Collecting Flax was the habit of children and his activity was seen as akin to scavenging. He was a creature on the edge of society and the man was considered low. A slave faired better, for the most part.
Yet there was something about this man that stirred you. The rough hands, the sun hardened face, these all men shared but not that strange stare … that foreign, alien gaze. It made you feel uncomfortable. Sensible people kept their distance, for he was an outsider, a nobody with no opening to the world of society. In our modern world, he would be the nutter on the bus, the alcoholic in the gutter, or the eccentric.
Obviously, no decent person wasted breath on this type of wastrel. "Turn the Other Cheek" the Mothers would say to each other if his presence were brought up at either the well or market. In Ancient Judea this meant to ostracize and have no dealings with the person. But still, the presence of this strange fellow clung to the air is a haunting way. Some of the women swore he stared at them, even in their dreams. It was clear he was to be avoided. He was not even a proper Jew, but apparently one of the Essenne sect.
He was outcast, untouchable and to be ignored. But did this appear to concern the man? Not at all, it seemed. He went right on as he had for months with his lowly business of gathering the wild flax and then winding it and selling it as rope. Each sunrise found him Gathering the Flax, and each evening he was in the abandoned hut on the edge of the village, weaving his rope.
Of course, the men would have spoken to him as all men will but he did not frequent the betting pools or taverns, or their secret dens. So the man had little recourse with anyone. Indeed, few but the gossips gave him even a passing thought as he scavenged in the wilderness.
Yet of course it was very different with the children. Gathering the flax, as they would be doing as well to earn a coin, the children saw him often. They loved to speak with him, and he often was seen laughing with them. They came to know and like him, for whatever the man was to the adults, to the children he was the most wonderful storyteller who always had a tale of amazing places and far off lands for any and all who had an ear to listen.
“Tell us of the time you met the bandits at that merchant town!” One would call.
“Oh, that story is days old, children.” He would say, laughing at their bright open eyes. “There are so many more to tell … What about a story about the COBRA… The amazing snake that flattens it head when it is about to strike!” The mouths would open, the eyes light up, and the ears would be straining to hear every single word. And so each day became another adventure for the children in some far off land, listening to extraordinary tales and discovering incredible creatures.
Naturally, the children did not tell their mothers about this. Little ones are wise in their own way, and they know how mothers are too quick to say "You cannot do this! The man is a stranger, and may be dangerous. You must stay away." But of course, as time went by the ripples spread out through the humdrum of village existence, and one mother after another saw how many children seemed to follow the stranger about. One word of fear invariably breeds many and soon enough the women were up in arms at what strange evil had crept into their midst.
"He must be stopped!" they called out to the village elder. He had known for months that one day it would come to this. A gaggle of angry women is like a horde of wasps descending, so the elder wisely avoided the issue and told the women, “It seems like a legal matter to me!” Thus he sent them off with their plaint to the Roman magistrate.
And so the inevitable day of reckoning dawned without warning. The Roman Magistrate, already bored with his life in this provincial outpost, ended up that morning with this vexatious clutch of women baying for blood at the court house door.
"He is polluting our
children's minds!" they caterwauled. "He tells them of incredible strange
journeys, and their hearts are stolen and they go idle all day." The women
muttered their approval to each other, as they all agreed upon the evil in their
midst. Naturally the magistrate simply wondered how he could best get rid of
But he could pass them on to no one else, so he was forced to listen or suffer muttering and curses for weeks and months to come. So he took charge of proceedings by asking careful questions about the matter. It soon became clear that the man broke no law, nor had he interfered in any way with the normal processes of village life. So the Magistrate declared that the problem was not his.
"He breaks no rule, women. By your own admission, all he does is tell your children stories. Why ... A storyteller we all are at some time! Further … He makes no trespass gathering flax on untenured lands. It is his right as a citizen to do so. Therefore I have no ruling except that you, yourselves, must take your own children in hand, and allow this man as much right as you would give yourselves."
The village women turned away, greatly displeased. After a few days, and after many hours of nagging their husbands to act, they returned once more to the Magistrate to further their plaint. This time a straggle of hapless husbands had been drafted to the fray. "We have ordered our children not to talk to him," they cried out as instructed by their wives, "but still they do so. We say to not speak or listen to him, and yet he speaks to them still! He draws them in. They are bewitched by this devil!"
The Magistrate lifted his voice over their wailing. "SILENCE! The Roman Law is very clear, and though you people barely deserve it, answer me these simple questions. Tell me… Does this man go out of his way to talk with these children? Does he seek them out?" he questioned the crowd.
Consternation broke out amongst those present. The rabble muttered, comparing notes that might incriminate the accused. Finally one spoke out, a wizened old crone. "He does not seek out the children, but by some dark force he draws them to him against the wishes of the parents. We claim this as grounds for witchcraft, for our children were well behaved before this man came here." This brought a rousing murmur of approval, and before him the magistrate saw a thatch of nodding heads.
"But you yourselves have stated. The children sought him out long before you forbad them to see him! I can hardly see this as a claim of some dark wizardry. Rather, it is one of disobedient children." The magistrate spoke carefully and reasonably, knowing how easily he might anger the rabble before him. Villagers are like dogs howling at the moon. There is no reason for the action, but how to explain this to a dog? If you want some peace you have to silence them, and that means feeding them. He acted to sooth over their consternation before it rose up like a snake to strike outside of the law.
He had seen it a hundred times… These crowd that begin to turn towards that ugly shade of prejudice which authority most fears. Men and women were shouting accusations about the man, threatening that unless justice be done by the court, it would be done otherwise. The magistrate saw they would have to be appeased, and so he arranged a hearing for the following day, sending word to the man and demanding his appearance.
Excitement! The taverns were rumbling with the whispers all night, and the women went visiting each other like a gaggle of geese, setting forth their case to all, confirming their own stories to themselves in order to incriminate the interloper who had disturbed their otherwise peaceful existence
The sun shone brightly the next morning, and with the cattle lowing in the brown pasture surrounding the town, the village magistrate called the day to order. Wearing his gown of office, he sat on the Chair of Judgment signalling that the days events had begun. He had ordered it moved from the courtroom into the open arena, where the minor details of life were settled. In this way, he appeased the women with an air of importance, yet kept the matter to a local dispute. He was also protecting his courthouse against possible damage by the mob he expected that day.
A couple of bored centurions looked on from behind the magistrate. They were dull eyed men, near retirement, who enjoyed fingering their swords as a continual reminder that order must be kept.
A large crowd of curiosity seekers had gathered to see the man. Indeed, the fellow now held an air of mystery as he stepped out from the shadows of inconsequence into the appointed place for trial. Though most often ignored, he was well known to all by the passing acquaintance of eye contact. It had all become quite the spectacle. Somehow, the vagabond had managed to gather clean clothes and appeared to the court well washed with beard trimmed. He went to his appointed place, a small seat near to the dais.
Despite clean clothes the obvious effects of the years of outdoor living showed in the nails and hands. The rough, tanned face spoke of many seasons under the sun. Lines were cast into his features like ruts on a well worn road. He sat there impassively, hardened hands linked calmly in his lap. Despite the gawking and muttering all around him his composure was completely unruffled.
He was like every other working man except for the details. These details are in the way he sat, and the graceful manner in which he moved. There was nothing awkward about his presence, and certainly there seemed no sense of being intimidated by the crowd. Most of all, he had exceptionally clear blue eyes. These were eyes undulled by circumstance, bright and alert, clearly untouched by the monotony of daily life and the tedium of humdrum affairs
It was just this type of thing that the Magistrate looked for when judging a man’s worth. This one had an air of difference. Certainly it seemed that way. As an educated man sent out to the dirt and grime of local politics, this magistrate was similar to most Romans forced to do their duty in the boondocks. They universally despised the grubby and petty minds of all who surrounded them. Every true Roman wanted only one thing, to be in Rome.
So it was that this accused man stood out. Against the backdrop of so many village minds wrapped up in a cattle-like world of subsistence, here was a strength, a sense of presence the judge recognized. He saw something that in other circumstances he might have wished to have known more of. But it was not to be at this moment, nor in this place.
"You." the magistrate called, indicating for the man to step forward. "You have been accused of misleading the children of this village, causing them to dream and thus neglect their duties. These people say you are employing witchcraft to do so. How do you answer this claim?"
The man stood up, and unclasping his hands he spread his arms with a shrug and said "How can I detain the children," he answered. "They are like the birds that come and go from the tree. I do not hold them, nor cause them to dream. I simply answer questions they would ask. I tell them stories of where I have been and what I have seen."
The surrounding crowd ruffled like a peacock ready to display it wares. The Magistrate, aware of the mindlessness of uncontrolled men, took the proceedings in hand with the full weight of his judicial manner. "That is not sufficient. What questions do they ask? And what answers do you give?" he demanded.
The man shrugged once more. "The children will ask things like why the birds sing, why the rivers run, why is the sky blue?"
"And what do you reply?"
"I say simple things. That the birds sing because they love life, and wish to add a little beauty to this world. I say the rivers run because they know that idleness in the sun causes them to become useless like a stagnant pond. I say the sky is blue because it is different from the green of tree and grass. That the Lord God made it that way so when people be of a different colour or type or richer or poorer that they should be proud of their difference, as this is how God made them."
"See!" a woman from the crowd called out. "He fills their heads with empty nonsense, dreams and imaginings. The children listen to this more than they listen to their parents, and we can't get them to obey us at all." The crowd murmured its agreement.
The Magistrate signalled them to order, asking further of the man. "You speak of different races. Have you travelled? Have you worked as a merchant?"
"Travelled? Yes most surely. I have travelled past Egypt, Your Honour. I have travelled to the far ends of this planet and seen much, but I did not do this as a merchant. I travelled with them, but my purpose was for spiritual study."
The magistrate felt a wrenching in the very bones of his heart. My God… Beyond Egypt! How he longed to travel to Egypt, to see the wonders he had read of there, to visit the places Plato and the old ones had spoken of. But of course, none of this showed in his face. "You appear to have no trade … How do you survive?"
"I have a trade, Your Honour. I am a carpenter, and served the merchants with repairs which gave me free passage, and I paid for my tuition at various schools with my work. But my tools were stolen coming back to these lands, so now I earn a little money gathering the flax. I knit the flax into rope and trade this for food and shelter."
The weight of how a man can be so wronged with judgments according to appearance settled like a depression on the Judge. A carpenter! A mere CARPENTER had simply taken his tools of trade, and done so simply what any man could have done… He had journeyed freely to the far horizons.
Yet himself, he was trapped as a Magistrate, compelled by duty to remain. His sense of imprisonment in this miserable dustbowl of a village increased with every word this man before him spoke.
Of course, none of this showed in his face. Yet did he detect a twinkle of amusement in this man’s eye? Did this lowly fellow who stood before him realize what was running through his mind? He looked more closely, and realized with shock that this rough carpenter understood … Somehow this uneducated man started right into his heart, and for all the world the magistrate fought to hold back a deep tear welling up in his eye.
He mentally forced himself to snap back to his job and the matter before him.
"It is clear," stated the magistrate, "that you are not a burden on the public good, for you do support yourself. It is also clear to me that you mean no evil intention to the children of this village…”
The Magistrate paused to let the words sink in, but before the crowd could erupt in anger he continued, “But I ask you, what right have you got to take children away from their duties and the way of life their parents intend for them?"
This cleverness brought a rousing murmur of agreement from the villagers. All admired the way their magistrate so tactfully dealt with the problem.
"What right has the bird to sing?" the man replied. "I simply say what I will, the children decide to listen. How does this draw them from their parents?"
The Magistrate once more looked deep into the man's eyes, understanding for a moment a little of the pain hidden there-in. This pain, this separation… It was his pain as well. It was everything he had suffered in life, yet more. This man’s pain shone like a golden coin in the depths of a lonely ocean. The magistrate was taken with a wish that he could somehow reach in and take it, hold it, treasure it for himself.
Egypt! What a journey, and beyond the fellow had said. What he could learn from this stranger if they had but the time. Yet he also wanted to despise him, to prove to him that the cost of his freedom was too high. He wanted to take that secret coin from this sad-faced fellow, so that he might hand it back, saying "Look! Here is the cost of your Truth!" . But he could not. Instead he drew the man aside from the villagers, and spoke quietly.
"I see in you, friend, a deeper wisdom. But this wisdom hurts the small minds of this place. They cannot contain it. You, by your simple words, have brought joy to the hearts of the children of this town, but when they seek to share this with their parents, the brightness of their smiles hurts their mothers eyes."
Then it struck the Magistrate… Could it be that this man was quite possibly educated like himself? "Can you read, and have you read Plato?" The vagabond nodded his approval.
The Village Judge was shocked. This man was far more than a carpenter. He could have a position in any court. He could READ, he had travelled beyond Egypt! Why was he here? Why here in this miserable, god forsaken place?
However, the crowd was beginning to rumble. "Then remember the Cave! The eyes of parents who have lived in the darkness and ignorance of tradition cannot accept the change their children bring them. They children seek to bring home some joy, and the parents fear that this very joy will break the bonds that are their curse and yet their security. They fear for themselves, and their children, and they fear what will happen because of change. Further … They hate you for causing this trouble in their lives."
Drawing himself upright, and beginning to understand more clearly the pain buried in this man's heart, the magistrate continued. "No matter my decision (He nodded to the villagers) these people will harm you if you remain. Understand, if you can, that I by law cannot send you away but I can, as a man, say that the swan does not lie down with the carrion. The jackals see no difference between a live swan and a dead rat, and would tear it all apart in ignorance and hunger."
"And so I would say, as a man, for your own sake and this village's continued peace even though it be the peace of night, I say that you must go, though it pains me that I shall not know you."
The man gazed at the distant mountains, nodding his ragged head in understanding. "I thank you for your kindness," he said, taking the elders hand, gazing deeply into the man’s heart as he did so. "I can see you are a patient shepherd. I wish you well with your flock."
With this parting comment he made to leave, knowing that THIS is what he wanted to avoid. Knowing that every step would take him to a far greater danger, and a far, far more evil world.
"Wait." the magistrate called, realizing a sudden, unexplained sense of loss. "I do not even know your name!"
The man turned, his tender eyes lit with a love born of hardship and a thousand, thousand insights into the nature of man. "Yeshua," he answered. "Of Nazareth." And with this he turned and left behind another town, another place. Without thought of direction he knew where he must go, and what he must now do. He headed West … Towards the destiny that he could no longer avoid.
Copyright 2007 Michael Wallace
Note: the Image used in this story comes from http://tinyurl.com/jct76 and represents a forensic scientists reconstruction of faces from the period in Judea where Jesus lived and worked. The assumption is that as Judas had to identify Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane then he obviously was not that different looking from the other disciples. It's a question mark, but we use the image as a modern depiction, and it represents how others would have seen the man in his day.
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