Wash Your Face!
Br John van Dorpe, LC
I knew my corner of the city like the back of my hand, and I could find my way around without any help. From my parents’ house to my daily workplace, you follow the wooden fence twelve paces, and then cross the open square until you hit the rough stone wall. That is the back wall of the tanner’s, and then you follow that wall around the corner and down the alley until you can smell sheep. There is the corral and the fruit sellers’ stalls.
Cross the square, following the tables of the fruit sellers and soon you will begin to hear donkeys. That’s when you know that you have to make a sharp right turn and you will then reach the smooth stone wall. Follow that to the left for four paces, round the corner, and you are at the best spot in the whole city to collect “contributions,” as I call them. People call it the Beautiful Gate, and on a good day, I understand why: it really is beautiful to hear all those shekels clinking into my sack.
I got along well in my occupation at that time: most respectable people are pretty generous to collectors like me, and especially those Pharisees, though they have a strange way of giving you some money and telling you that you’re a sinner at the same time. I only really had one thing to complain about.
You see, my parents are very kind to me. They allow me to stay at home. I know a bunch of other guys in my position who aren’t able to stay at home, so they sleep in stables and places like that. But though my parents were kind enough to let me stay at home, they couldn’t find another job for me except collecting contributions, so that’s what I do all day every day, or at least, that’s what I used to do.
One day, and I will never forget this, I was sitting in my prime spot next to the Beautiful Gate, when this group of guys came up really close. It was about noon, so I knew they were awfully close since they blocked out the sun. They were talking among themselves, but I didn’t care, I just started my regular spiel, “Help a poor man who isn’t able to do any other work except ask your kindness in the name of the Lord. You see, I was born like this, and in the name of the God of Israel, I request your considerations.”
Pretty good, isn’t it? Yea, it worked pretty well, usually, but this time these guys didn’t seem to be listening to me. Instead I heard one of them ask another something about sin and my parents: these obviously weren’t your ordinary temple-goers, and their accent! It was really strange, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So I tried my spiel again. Then I heard one of them say, “So that the glory of God may be revealed.”
With that I knew for sure that he must be one of those wandering rabbis, like that crazy John guy who ran around in camel skins, eating bugs and who got his head lopped off for yelling at Herod and his “wife.” One of those weirdoes. And yes, that was it, they were Galileans! At this point, I figured I wasn’t going to get anything out of them, so I diverted my attention to finding other opportunities, but just then I heard that rabbi guy say to his buddies, “Grab him.”
What? Grab me? Who did this guy think he was? I tried to knock some sense into him, but before I could start swinging at where his voice was coming from, two of his cronies grabbed me by the arms. They had rough, calloused hands: fishermen. I tried to shrug them off and to reason with them, “Listen, fish-breath, I don’t have any money, and I don’t like being manhandled by your crusty fins, so just bug off, would ya’?”
They didn’t answer me, but just held on tighter. And if that wasn’t enough, I heard this wise guy spit. Yea, you heard me, spit. I tried to wipe my face on my shoulder, but it was dry! Now I have seen a lot of strange stuff in my career, but this guy beat them all. He spit a few more times— on the ground I guess—and then he bent down so the sun was in my face again. Then he brought his face so close to mine I could feel him breathing. So I told him flat, “All right, it’s been fun, Mister, but why don’t you just move on, and mind your own business and I will mind mine, and why don’t you take your buddies who smell like fish with you while you’re at it?”
Then (I couldn’t believe the nerve of this guy) he smeared the mud he made with his spit on my eyes! No joke! So you can only imagine the kind of things I said at this offense. And, you know what, I am sure I heard some of his buddies laughing at me! These half-gentiles come here and grab a perfectly honest guy in my position and then their ringleader smears mud on my eyes! Then do you want to know what this lunatic said to me? “Go wash your face at Siloam.”
Yeah, you’ve got mud on your face, go wash, why don’t ya’? The nerve! Well, at least the two fishermen guys let go of me, then. I was about to spit into the face of that creep, but my inner righteousness, or the thought that here was a bunch of tough Galileans made me think twice. So I snatched my sack, and felt inside—huh, they didn’t take anything—and I stormed off towards this pool called Siloam. Down to the corner of the smooth stone wall, across the square, follow the wooden fence to the right for twelve paces, or until you hit the column and you’re there.
“What has happened to the religion of this country?” I grumbled to myself. “When I was younger we used to get some respect, the guys in my situation. But now look at me! This creep comes up and smears mud all over my eyes, and he thinks he’s a rabbi!”
So I threw my sack down at the edge of the pool, shoved my head under the water and shook it furiously. Coming out of the water I wiped my eyes— and I saw…
How mistaken I had been about this rabbi!
Br John studies philosophy at Our Lady of Thornwood in Thornwood, NY. Click here to read his story.
Photo credit: Lawrence OP on Flickr.