Monday, February 17, 2014

Walk with me in old Jerusalem (intro, John 5)

Come with me, my friend, and walk with me in Jerusalem . . .

Ah, there you are, Ephraim, I'm joyful to see you this fine morning. Shalom. Will you walk with your old friend, Daniel? I am on my way to the Sheep Gate. Oh, don't look at me like that . . .I know that it is not altogether pleasant, but we've not seen each other in quite some time. Come with me.

I must make the arrangements for the sale of my sheep. You know that I raise many of my sheep to be used for the Temple sacrifices, no? Yes, I have heard the priests say that the sheep I supply are among the finest in the land. Moses told us that the lambs must be without blemish, and I breed and care for my sheep as if they were my children. Oh, you've heard about my wife's pet? Yes, yes, Miriam took that scrawny lamb to her heart . . . our children are grown and she needed something to dote on.

Oy. The lamb has grown fat and its fleece is magnificent. Miriam has promised to use some of the wool for thread, and make a special garment for our village rabbi. That old harpy, Tabitha, keeps muttering about secret sins, and how Miriam must be trying to atone by sewing our rabbi such a special robe, but the last time that I found her skulking about I sent her packing. Miriam has not been well of late, and she needs no extra work to entertain bothersome neighbors. Chutzpah, you say? Impudence? No, I just know what is best for that wife of mine.

Oh, forgive me, Ephraim, I am walking too fast for you. I forget that you are a city dweller, and not accustomed to walking the mountains and fields, as I do. Let us rest a moment, before we reach the Sheep Gate. It is a noisy and dirty place, no? The sheep are bleating, and there are hundreds of them. The dogs are barking constantly and the shepherds are calling, trying to make sure their flock does not get away, until they are safely in the pens. My dog is the best at that . . .sometimes I think she knows what I want her to do, before I give her the command. I don't think that Miriam has ever forgiven me for naming the dog Abby. She seems to think it has something to do with her mother's name. Oy. Abigail certainly was the bane of my life toward the end, but she was a godly woman, bless her memory. Ready to move on now?

You aren't very talkative this morning, Ephraim. As I said, the Sheep Gate is a dusty and noisy place. There is not much one can do, except to hold one's breath and keep a sharp eye. With so many animals there, the dust is as thick as the wool on the sheep. And the smell? Oy vey. What a stench. But then, you must expect it, for they are outdoor animals, and they must be washed and cleaned before they can be used in the temple. I do feel sorry for the boys that must wash them; all day long they are scrubbing sheep. The water simply intensifies the stench, much like a wet dog seeking shelter by our hearth.

Ah, we are almost there. See, on our right hand side? Where those five colonnades are? That is called the Pool of Bethesda, or in some tongues, Bethsaida. You remember what they say about that pool, don't you, Ephraim? See all the poor souls huddled about the water? Some are sick, some are blind, and some are crippled. They all are hoping to see the water ripple -- the legend says that an angel will come and touch the water sometimes, and the first person to get in the water once they see that ripple, will be healed. Do you believe that, Ephraim? I'm not sure about it.

I have a second cousin on Miriam's side that is there . . . he has been there for thirty-eight years now. Can you imagine? It's whispered that he made a terrible choice in his early years. That his decision as a young man has haunted him now for all these years, and he waits by the pool for a chance to be healed. I don't understand how he thinks he can be the first one in, though. He can't walk; he can barely move. I just bet that when that water stirs, the whole lot of them are shoving and yelling and cursing and trying to be the first one into the water. He doesn't stand a chance. But he's still there.

Pick up the hem of your robes, Ephraim, I wouldn't want you to go home to Deborah with your fine, city garments soiled. Come and see my fine sheep -- look, there is Abby, and my son Bartholemew, too, keeping the flock until I returned. He'll be on his way back to his clay and his wheel, now that we are done.

Please join us again this week as we continue . . .

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