Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Child

“Begone with you! Get out from under my feet! Useless brat, you’re always in my way!”

These shouts, and more besides, which she didn’t stop to hear, pursued her down the street as she fled from the home she shared with her father and stepmother and her stepmother’s two very young children. It was always the same these days. Since her father had remarried she was constantly told that she was a “useless lump of a girl”, and “no help to anyone.” She tried hard to be a help, she really did, rocking the babies when they cried, fetching things she was asked to fetch, but somehow, the minute she felt her stepmother’s eye upon her, it would suddenly turn into disaster – something would be dropped or spilled or knocked over, and it was all her fault. She never seemed to get things right, and was obviously a bitter burden to the woman who was her new mother. Gone were the long days playing in the streets with her friends, or the gentle lessons with her mother; her mother had caught a sudden fever and died within two days, and, after a period of desolation, her father had been talked into another marriage. She felt like she had lost both her parents, since her father seemed to drift along these days like an empty man, and hardly seemed to notice her existence.

But there was bustle and hurrying in the village this afternoon. She had no idea what was happening, but she followed the crowd to find out. Any excitement was better than sitting down in the dust feeling sorry for herself. She had learned the hard way that it was better not to ask adults too many questions. That only led to being noticed when she didn’t want to be. So she listened hard and learned that somebody called Jesus was just down the road and people were going out to meet him. She had no idea who he was, but figured he must be someone important if half the village thought it worth stopping their daily work to see him. She noticed some of the mothers snatching up their littlest children and taking them along. She trailed after them, keeping out of the way as best she could, but making sure she didn’t get left behind.

But it seemed it was all for nothing. When they reached the crowd up ahead and some of the women rushed forward with their babies, as if they specially wanted the man to see their small children (why?), a group of burly fishermen stepped forward and told them, quite roughly, to go away and leave the master in peace. He had better things to do than be bothered with a bunch of little kids!

It all felt so horribly familiar that she felt the tears stinging at the corners of her eyes. She was about to wipe them away with her grubby hands when another voice cut through, and the crowd was suddenly silent. She would spend the rest of her life wondering whether that voice was heartbreakingly sad or so full of joy that it felt like the very stars were skipping. Maybe there was a place where deep pain and deep joy met together? “Let the children come,’ he said, “and don’t try to stop them. The Kingdom of God belongs to ones like these.”

At those words the men stepped back and the women pressed forward with their children in their arms. And the girl stood where she was, trying to see what was happening, but too scared to come any closer. Then the crowd started to clear in front of her. She looked up and saw him, and he saw her, and beckoned her forward with a gesture.  Not stopping to think about it, she ran forward straight into his arms. He held her close, and she had never felt so loved, so safe. He looked up at the crowd and said softly, “Truly I say to you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God like a child, you shall not enter it.”

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