How do you say thank you to a King
by Michael Deaton
It's been three weeks since my wife touched me again.
It had been three long years. I didn't know if I would ever feel her touch again. I didn't know if I would ever feel the touch of another human being ever again during those three years. But then three weeks ago . . .
I'm really ahead of the story and I think you need to hear it all.
Three years ago I was working in the field. Plowing the ground. Getting it ready. Plowing is back breaking work but I was glad to be doing it. My wife and I had recently had a child. A baby girl and it wasn't just work in the field anymore it was building something for my family. As I was working, I could feel my fingers getting numb and at first I thought I must be gripping the scythe too tightly. I didn't say anything to my wife over the next few days as the numbness never went away but she must have suspected something. I carried my hand next to my body like, well, like a wounded bird.
One evening as I plunged my hands into the wash basin the water reddened. My finger was bleeding and bleeding freely. I hadn't realized I had cut myself. I didn't remember using a knife or anything sharp.
"It's on your clothing as well," My wife told me softly.
I looked at my robe. There was crimson spots in different places.
I stood there for the longest time not wanting to look at my wife. I knew as I stood there my life would never be the same again.
"Shall I go with you?" my wife asked.
Where, I asked her.
"To see the priest."
"No, I'll go alone."
The priest wouldn't touch me. He looked at my hands. He looked at my face that was covered with worry and sorrow. I couldn't fault him. He was only doing his job. He was doing what he was taught to do in those circumstances. He covered his mouth and extended his hand, palm outward. "You are unclean." With those words I lost my family, my farm, my future, my friends, my life.
My wife met me at the city gates with a bundle of clothing and bread and coins. She didn't speak. Some of our friends gathered. In their eyes I would see what I would see for the next three years — fear and pity and maybe thanksgiving that it wasn't them. Their fear and horror of my disease was greater than their concern for my heart. They stepped back. I turned away.
Over the last three years my hands deformed from the disease. The tips of my fingers literally fell off as well as parts of my ears and the tip of my nose. I carried a bell and if other approached I was required to yell out. "Unclean! Unclean!" Father's would grab their children. Mother's would cover their face. My clothes became rags and covered the ever increasing sores.
I kept asking myself, "What had I done to deserve this?" Some say it was because of my sins. Others told me it was because of the sins of my parents. What could I or my parents have ever done to require me to carry a damnable bell and beg. Beg for food, beg of forgiveness, beg for my life back.
I shared a cave in the pits with a Samaritan. Never in my life would I have ever even considered breaking bread or sharing space with those that were beneath me. It is amazing what the disease did. At the bottom of the pit we were all equal in a strange sort of way. Each of us missed our families. Each of us missed what our life had been. Each of us prayed and at the same time cursed God. Each of us lost hope and buried our dead. Each of us saw the future and welcomed hell.
Then three weeks ago, several of us, were near the pits in a village between Samaria and Galilee. We were ringing our bells, begging for coins and food when one of us, I don't know who started yelling, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
I didn't know who he was yelling to until I saw him. I had heard of this man Jesus but this was the first time I had seen him. I looked, well he looked so ordinary except for his eyes. There was something about the way he looked at us. I saw no pity. No fear. There was something in his eyes that I had never seen in the eyes of another man either before or since.
In a voice so low it was hard to hear he told us to go show ourselves to the priest. He didn't touch us. He didn't give us anything. He just told us to go show ourselves. I hadn't been made clean but I felt something. I felt that I had to go and do as he told us and on the way — on the way something happened. Not only did my hands clear but they changed. My finger tips were restored. I touch my nose. It was whole. I was whole. I wore the rags of a leper but I knew that I was clean.
We went to the priest and he examined us. He told us what I already knew. The priest orders two living clean birds and cedarwood and crimson yarn and hyssop be brought for each of us. He slaughtered one of the birds over fresh water. He took the living bird and the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and hyssop and dipped them in the blood of the slaughtered bird and sprinkled each of us seven times. Then — he let the living bird go and pronounced us clean. Each of us was ordered to shave our hair and burn our old clothes and to bath. You have never seen such splashing and joy. But there was an urgency. We each wanted to go home.
Home. Were would home be? Were was my wife and my child? I know that the farm is gone but it didn't matter. I had been given my life back. I was whole.
I went to the house of my In-laws and asked where my wife was and had she remarried? They couldn't believe what they saw. It seemed to take forever for them to tell me that my wife had not only not remarried, she lived there. She was at the market but would return home soon. I waited for what seemed forever and then I saw her and I saw my little girl. You can never know what that embrace was like. You can never know how the touch of another after so long a time can restore your very being. I stood in the street and hugged and hugged and cried and cried.
In the days to follow, my wife and I made plans. We had a life to live and a reason to rejoice.
Just the other night my wife reminded me that Passover was near and we needed to go to Jerusalem. I had lost all concept of time in the pits. Passover. How many times had I been to the Temple to give thanks. But this year would be so special. I could remember the words to say. "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor . . ." I remembered. What a day of Thanksgiving it would be.
As we entered the city on the day before Passover I heard someone calling my name. I turned and there was my friend, truly my friend. My Samaritan friend. I did not hesitate a moment in introducing my wife and my child. We embraced and look at one another. We looked so different. We looked so . . . normal.
"Have you found your family," I asked him.
"Oh, yes," he told me as his eyes filled with tears.
"So you are coming to Temple . . ." I stumbled. I knew he wasn't Jewish. What was I asking. "What brings you to town." How foolish I felt.
"I understand. Before I returned home, I had to find that man Jesus and tell him ‘thank you.' I found him that day and some of the men he was with told me he was coming to Jerusalem for Passover."
I could not have felt any smaller. I had forgotten. I had never told this Jesus, thank you. How could I have failed to . . . How do I . . . I had to correct this wrong. This man gave me a new life and I hadn't said thank you. My friend who was not even Jewish knew to do what was right and I, in my own joy had forgotten.
"Did he come to Jerusalem?"
"Oh, yes. Earlier this week, as he came into town, people lined the road spreading palms and singing. And since this last Tuesday, he has been teaching those who gather around him at the temple. The priest and the Pharisees have been challenging him with what seem to be impossible questions, but he also seems to frustrate them."
I turned to my wife and told her that I must go to the Temple now. I must find this man and thank him. She understood. She heard in my voice the look that had been on her face just three years ago. How could I have forgotten?
I had such difficulty in trying to reach the Temple. The streets were crowded and there was yelling coming from the Palace. What could be going on at the Palace? Finally, hot and sweaty, I managed to make my way into the Temple walls.
"Where I asked was the Teacher, this man Jesus?" I asked the first one I saw.
Hadn't I heard, the man asked? He was arrested and is being tried by Pilate.
For what, I asked the man. What could that man have done to be tried by Pilate.
"Oh he kept claiming that the temple would be destroyed he could rebuild it in three days and on and on and on."
I hurried as fast I could toward the Palace. The crowds were even worse.
There was some kind of parade or procession going on and the streets were blocked. When I finally got to the Palace it was all but empty. I asked one of the Centurions. "Where is Jesus?" He looked at me like I was a criminal. "Why do you ask? Are you one of his followers?"
"Well, no. But you see I have to tell him thank you."
"Well you are too late. They have taken him and some of the others outside the gate to The Skull."
"What is the Skull?"
"The rock outside where we crucify criminals."
It seemed to take forever to get out of the Palace and on to the streets again. People were going about their business as if nothing was going on. How could this be? They were going t crucify Jesus.
As I left the gates the sky was turning black. It was as dark as night but I could still see in the distance the hill and the crosses. Three of them. Side by side. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me. The sky flashed with a clap of thunder just as I was neared the crosses.
There were some women around on of the crosses crying and one Centurion standing at the base of one of the crosses. I looked up and there was a man on the cross with the words, "King of the Jews" written above his head. It was the same man. He was dead.
I stood there for the longest time. I didn't see any of the men who were with him that day just three weeks ago. I turned to walk back to find my wife.
Tonight I lie in this bed and keep asking myself how could I have failed to thank him? Even more important, how do I thank him now? How do you thank a King? How do you thank a dead King?
If only . . . I had one more chance.