Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 16, 2018
The Beggar’s Story
It was evening; I was climbing up a steep hillside toward a city; the lights were shining bright, creating a halo above it in the heavens. Occasionally I stumbled, and thorns and thistles snagged my robe and scratched my feet as I made my way along.
At length the terrain leveled off; I had nearly reached the top — but then I saw an enormous storm cloud approaching, so vast as to nearly fill the sky; lightning flashed from within the cloud as it drew nearer. From the depths came the sound of a low-pitched hum; the whole earth trembled in response, as if the voice of God spoke from the abyss. And I was lifted up, and soaring into the center of the tremendous deep. I awoke, shivering.
Lemuel glowered over at me, “It’s about time you woke up, you worthless sod!” His words were without malice; a joking phrase grown dull with repetition.
I grunted an acknowledgement and began folding the blanket that also served as my robe and my sunshade. In time it would be my shroud, I had no doubt.
Pulling myself across the tiles, I reached for the bowl that he had placed on the stool where I could reach it. He caught my hand and held it as he recited a psalm of thanksgiving to its conclusion; only then would we eat our meal. Never was there such a one for prayer as my brother!
Lemuel then set a small cup of milk down next to my bowl, giving me a grudging smile — my brother truly does have a good heart. And at that moment, as if summoned by a bell that only she can hear, my Lady Herodias appeared.
Although she is only three years old, Heri — as I sometimes call her — is infinitely wise; you can see it when she gazes at you with her deep and thoughtful eyes, holding secrets that she will never reveal. The Egyptians of olden days worshipped these creatures as gods and, although it is quite wrong-headed, you can see how they got the idea.
Before beginning my meal, I set the cup of milk on the floor next to me, where Heri very delicately lapped it up. When she had finished she began the process of cleaning her face — giving special attention to her long, elegant whiskers, and then each of her white-tipped paws. Watching her I remembered — suddenly, vividly — my dream: how easily I had climbed the hill, how steady my steps, how strong my legs. How unlike the reality of my life!
My throat felt thick; I coughed, so abruptly that a startled Heri ceased her cleaning for a moment and stared at me. I rubbed my hand over my face, “I’m ready when you are, Lemuel.”
With a deep sigh my brother slapped his hands down on the table, “Let’s roll out!”
It’s another of those routine phrases of his. Another is “Onward we go!” both of which he adopted from hearing soldiers in the Roman legion shout the words as they marched through the town when we were still young boys.
Lemuel would like to have been a solider, I think; he is fascinated by tales of foreign lands, and his eyes positively sparkle when Caesar’s troops pass by, as if reflecting the shine of their bright armor and glittering spears. Instead, his life is spent in servitude to me; as my guardian, nursemaid, my all-in-all. Without him I would very simply be dead: I cannot walk, I cannot work, I cannot prepare my meals or clean myself. My damaged legs have crippled my brother, as well.
That Lemuel is sometimes angry and resentful, no one can blame him. Least of all me, his terrible, weighty burden. His love for me is all that has kept me alive.
And so we are off again; my brother pushing me through the streets in a sort of carriage he built using the parts from a discarded wheelbarrow, Lady Herodias perched on my knees like a queen reviewing her subjects as we head toward the temple gate. We can always be found in the same place, every day, from early morning until the last light, with a brief return to home in early afternoon for a small meal — beggars are not to be seen eating: a sure sign that they have all that they need!
Suddenly the cart sped up as my brother started to run. “Make way!” Lemuel cried, “Make way for the prince!”
I laughed, feeling the air brushing against my face. When we were young — when our parents were still living — my father bought a beautiful little cart for me to ride in and Lemuel would push me through the marketplace calling out like that. People had stopped and stared then, as they were doing now.
For a moment life was sweet again. Like the midday meal had been. Sometimes you just never know how things will turn out.
Too soon we reached the entrance to the temple; “the Beautiful Gate” where I sit each day, among the others — the aged, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, the demon-haunted; each of us with our tragic story, each one vying against the others to reach the hearts of the temple worshippers. And, of course, their pocketbooks. Who among us is the most pitiful? Whose misery most deserving of relief?
Alms! Alms! Charity, for God’s sake!
When I was younger the handouts were more generous. After all, who isn’t moved by the sight of a lame child? But a crippled old man gleans far less sympathy, and far fewer coins. But haven’t I suffered longer? Should I be punished because poverty and pain have eroded my appearance? Am I not like the one Isaiah spoke of:
despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and companion of grief; one from whom others look away; he was ignored and avoided, considered worthless. ~ Isaiah 53:3
There are days when I consider it a bitter irony that this doorway is also called “the Gate of Mercy.” Get it? I sit outside the threshold of God’s charity and compassion. But then Heri yawns and stretches and winds her way around me, insisting on being petted, and life is suddenly sweet once again.
Lemuel lifted me out of my carriage and half carried, half dragged me to the spot where I can always be found. Age does have its privilege here: a regular position, like the elders in the temple; preferential seating which I am expected to occupy. So my brother’s facetious cry has become true: I am a prince — among beggars. I would give anything to be a pauper among the able-bodied. But I have nothing to give…..
I settled on my blanket as the worshippers made their way into the temple for afternoon prayers. This hour is favored by merchants and innkeepers — many of whom are often quite generous; last-minute good deeds to soothe uneasy consciences, perhaps. Whatever the reason, it is a good time to be here. I glanced over and saw that Lemuel had stationed himself a short distance away, mingling with the crowd, pretending to admire the vendors’ wares. In reality he was standing guard to make sure I would not be robbed, as has happened in the past. Our eyes met and it was as if an arrow pierced my heart: my poor brother! Tied to me by invisible strings, his life as constricted as my own.
Lady Herodias, meanwhile, was drawn to my neighbor’s knapsack, her eyes narrowed, her tail twitching, crouching. Slowly a foolish brown bug began to emerge — just the head and feelers visible. Heri backed up a few inches, and bent lower, ready to spring .… when suddenly the cricket made a huge leap and landed on her left foot: in an instant the hunter became the prey. With a startled mew! she turned tail and burrowed under my blanket. As I say, you never know how things will turn out.
The sound of a metallic click on the marble tiles drew my attention back to the passing crowd; someone had tossed a coin to little Jacob, with his huge dark eyes. None of us will fight him for his gleanings; his body so thin, his movements so jerky, we’ve seen it all before; soon he will be too weak to sit up, and soon he will sleep with his ancestors, God be praised. God be praised, indeed! For the mercy of an end to suffering! Is that why we sit here — is that all we hope for — here at this Gate of Mercy: the mercy of our final rest?
I shake my head and get down to the business at hand, “Alms! Alms for the poor! Charity, for God’s sake!”
“Look here!” a voice called out, I looked up into the eyes of the man who spoke — a rarity, it must be said: most people hurry past, discomfited by our many maladies, embarrassed by our begging, preferring to look away; perhaps to spare us their looks of pity — or contempt. But this man and his companion were looking directly at me. They were dressed modestly, but their clothes were clean, and they looked well-nourished.
I put on my meekest, most ingratiating smile; you never know: sometimes the most bedraggled person will hand over a great deal of coin — not guilt-gold as Lemuel calls it, but given out of true, pure generosity; genuinely “for God’s sake.” I’ve heard a story about a poor woman who gave the last coin she had. You never know.
“I have no money, but what I have I give to you,” the man said. I reached out, expecting perhaps a piece of fruit, a slice of bread or even a flask of wine — when suddenly the man grabbed my outstretched hand and yanked me to my feet. I gasped in shock and alarm.
“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” said Peter (for this is who it was).
I could see Lemuel fighting his way through the crowd to reach me, but what was more pressing at that moment was the sensation in my legs and feet: I could feel them! For the first time in my life I could feel.. … there was warmth, and then as if they were on fire — but not in a painful way; as if they were filled with life, with energy, with strength. I could stand!
I began jumping and leaping like Heri’s cricket. I practically ran into the temple, shouting Hosannahs all the way, Peter and John barely keeping up, and Lemuel following behind, calling my name.
Everyone was staring; the priests, the prayerful, the idlers, the lamp lighters. Most recognized me, as they had walked past me day after day for years on end, and their faces registered amazement — and shock, confusion, doubt, and — for a few — delight: here stood a living, breathing confirmation of God’s mercy and compassion. “A miracle!” someone whispered. “God be praised!” another voice, louder. Then a shout: Lemuel had caught up to us and, pushing Peter and John aside, reached for me, “What are you doing?! Let my brother go!”
Then he saw me standing before him on my own two legs. He stared, unblinking, his body as motionless as one of the temple pillars. I laughed and called out — my voice echoing through the temple, “Look, Lemuel! I can walk!”
I kicked my feet in the air and did a little dance — one of the priests put his hands to his face in horror (honestly: if David danced before the ark, it should be perfectly fitting for the rest of us to do the same, don’t you think?). I paused, breathless, and then said, again, “Lemuel! Do you see what God has done? I can walk!” After a moment I had another realization, and I said, “Lemuel, you are free!” We fell on each others’ shoulders, sobbing.
It has been many months since the miracle, and life has changed in amazing ways. Now that I can get around on my own, Lemuel has taken a job with a spice merchant which gives him an opportunity to travel, and everywhere he goes, he tells our story: one of many chapters in the good news of Jesus Christ.
And as for me? I have found work on a fishing boat — although I’ve been known to cast my net for for other “catch” as well. Lady Herodias has adapted to her new position as ship’s cat, and her coat has never been sleeker (or her body rounder!).
As I’ve always said: You never know how things will turn out.
Grateful as I am to our gracious God, I often wonder “why me?” Why wasn’t little Jacob healed instead? or old Nathaniel, or Joel, or Hannah’s baby daughter… or any of the rest of those who were there that day? Why was I singled out for this miracle when others needed healing and restoration just as much, if not more?
I have no answer; I can only show forth the reality that I embody. What I have I give to you: I have been healed; I have been given a new life through Jesus Christ, son of God, savior. In His name I seek to do as He instructed all who follow Him: let us love one another — for I believe there can be no greater healing miracle than love.
In His Name,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Have faith in God’s grace and the healing power of Jesus Christ. It all starts (and continues, eternally) with love.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Acts 3:1-16 ~ told by Deborah
Peter and John were heading to the temple for afternoon prayer as a man who had been lame from birth was being carried in. He could always be found at the gate to the Beautiful temple, where he begged from those who were going inside.
When he saw Peter and John at the entrance to the temple, he immediately called out, “Alms! Alms for the poor!” And Peter, and John, too, looked directly at him and said, “Look here!” And as he looked at them, expecting to receive a handout, Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” And grabbing his right hand, he pulled him to his feet; and immediately his feet and his ankles became strong.
With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he went into the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And everyone who saw him walking and praising God recognized him as the one who used to sit at the entrance to the temple to beg alms, and they were incredulous that such a thing could have happened.
Seeing their looks of amazement, Peter said, “Why are you surprised by this, you who worship the Living God? Why do you stare in awe as if we did this through our own power? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus — the one you rejected and handed over to Pilate, even though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One, asking for a murderer to be released instead, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses to that crime. But by faith the very mention of His name has made this man strong — the man you see before you, and know personally. It is the faith that comes through Jesus that gave him this perfect health that is right before your eyes.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. And God used that to fulfill what the holy prophets had foretold: that his Messiah would suffer. So turn, then; turn to God so that you can have a fresh start.”