The fading light of dusk casts the city in shadows as I cautiously make my way through the streets, staying close to the walls. Jerusalem swells with crowds, as it always does during holy festivals, and the travelers push and jostle along.
Every once in a while lamp light spills from a window, illuminating a small area of the street. Otherwise, the shadows thicken. I run my hand along the rough stone, to alert me when the building ends and a side street begins. My eyes burn from city dust competing with my exhaustion. The Rabbi spent most of the day teaching in the temple courts and, now, he and his followers retreat to the garden outside the city to spend the night. Many of the others have friends or family to visit.
I tug my shawl tighter about my shoulders, trying to ward of the wind’s chill, and search for a sheltered place to settle down for the night. The wall suddenly gives way and my foot connects with something. I stumble but keep from going headlong onto the street.
“Hey,” greets me from evening’s darkness.
I squint my eyes. “Who’s there? I’m so sorry. I can’t see a thing.”
“No worries. Just my legs you’ve tripped over. A bit challenging in the dark, I’m sure.” The deep voice of the owner sounds like he’s smiling. “Have you lost your way?”
“Your question implies I’m going somewhere. I have no place to go, so I suppose I’m not lost.”
“Then you’re welcome to join me. Not much cover, but it will do for the night. There’s a little space next to me.”
I look up and down the street. The crowds are starting to thin as travelers find refuge in warm, lamp lit homes and inns. I know no one and my pockets are empty. I grope the empty space until I make contact with stone again. His legs stick out from an alcove in the wall. Following the stones down, I find the space he’s talking about. I settle in next to him making myself as small as possible against the opposite side. Not wanting my bare legs exposed, I fold them in and hug them close.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
“No worries,” he says again. “You must be desperate, to take me up on my humble offer.”
Desperate? Am I? I haven’t felt it in such a long time. Desperate has slowly dissipated the more time I spend with the Rabbi. Yet, here I am. “In need, tonight. I think.”
“Then I’m happy to help someone in need,” he says.
We fall into comfortable silence, without obligation to tell our stories or want of unnecessary talk. The alcove blocks the wind and I’m soon warm enough that sleep slips over me, pulling me into her arms.
A curse jolts me awake. A shadow looms over us in the grey light of dawn. A shadow curses again and kicks my companion in the shin. “Stupid blind beggar.” He spits and stomps away.
Blind? I take a hard look at my companion and in the dim light I notice two things. One I see the milky white film covering his eyes. He stares straight ahead, I assume seeing nothing. And two, he looks young and vulnerable. He grimaces and wipes away the spittle that landed on his chest.
“People can be cruel.” With my reputation, I’ve had my fare share.
He shakes a small basket and coins clink together. “But they also have great capacity to care.”
I open my mouth to say the coins are guilt offerings, made by those who want to feel better about themselves. They drop a few coins and think they’ve done good. Rather than getting involved and really caring.
What stills my tongue? In the past, I would have spit back at the rude man, regardless of the consequences.
As daylight grows, I see that my companion is indeed young. Years younger than I feel. I attribute his optimism with his youth.
I hear the familiar voice before I see the familiar face and peek out from under the folds of my shawl. In the grey light of dawn, the Rabbi and his disciples pause on the street in front of our alcove. “Rabbi,” one of the disciples say, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins.” The rabbi crouches down and looks into the man’s unseeing eyes.
The blind man. We haven’t even exchanged names. But on the streets, we rarely use names.
“This happened so the power of God could be seen in him,” the rabbi continues. “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.a The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The rabbi suddenly spits and shock washes over me. Not my rabbi. He wouldn’t. Would he? But then I notice he’s spit on the ground, not on my young friend. He makes mud with the saliva and scoops it up with his fingers. He takes the man’s hand and whispers “be still.” The rabbi spreads the mud over the his blind eyes. He then grasps the hand he holds and pulls him to his feet.
“Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam.”
I lean forward to watch as my friend uses the wall as his guide and makes his way down the street. I glance up at the rabbi, who also watches. A smile plays on his lips.
As the first rays of sun cascade over the city walls, I adjust my shawl about my head and shoulders and sit back to wait. I’m quite certain when my friend returns, he will no longer be the blind beggar, but the man who once was blind but now sees.
Grace & Peace