(Photo © 2012 Paula Tohline Calhoun – all rights reserved)
Last year, I wrote a narrative poem, just after the Easter holy days called “A Man of Trade Explains.” It was fulfilling the wordle challenge of that week. I have since done some editing of it, and I hope you will find some inspiration or at least some interest in this story of a “Szabos Goy” (as they may be called today by some – a Gentile who will do work for Orthodox and/or observant Jews on Sabbath day each week). Easter is coming so early this year – as a matter of fact, to my understanding the earliest day it can be on the Christian calendar is March 27 – so March 31 is pretty close to that! Some day I’ll do a post and try to explain (to myself most of all), the intricacies of how the dates for Holy Week are set each year. There is quite a formula, having to do with the moon, and other things.
Easter is my very favorite Holy Day of the year – the whole of Passion Week preceding it has so much meaning to me, I can’t begin to describe it, so you will pardon me “jumping the gun” on posting this (edited) poem for Good Friday just a bit early.
“A Man of Trade Explains”
I am so weary, sir, and
late, as always. I have arrived too late.
But in my defense, it is my busiest time –
Passover; well, of course you know all about that.
Do you know how many children of Abraham, discreetly,
want my services at this time of year?
So many being extra pious
to be seen by the right people, and
counted among the righteous, free from the stain,
they call it, of sin.
Anyway, most are all gossips in disguise, uncertain if
they should take sides, or stand back. They told me
I did not need to be early.
There was much to be said and done
before your fate would be decided.
“No stones left unturned” is on my shingle.
“If you need work done on your day of rest,
I am your man.”
(Discount for payment in advance.
After-Sabbath payment, full price.
Reasonable rates for regular customers!)
“My wife cooks on Saturday!
My daughters wash dishes on Saturday!”
(All those chores the truly pious women save
until the day they are not allowed),
All discreetly performed, for a fee.
My shoulders ache, I am so tired, sir.
“Piety will be preserved.”
So you see, I had to wait. There are many who pay
in advance. (Discount when paid before sunset,
As I retired for the midday meal,
an eerie darkness began to fall.
Too early for sunset, “There must be a storm coming,”
I thought, searching the sky for the shadows and banks of clouds,
harbingers of rain – more custom for me!
Rain on the Sabbath makes even me believe in a god.
But there are no clouds, and a more telling sign, no anxious servant
come to pay in advance for my services. In case of rain.
Instead they run, in terror, while I watch the sun melt away.
I noticed the righteous did not take time to cross the street as usual,
to avoid brushing against the sinners who ran beside them.
Yet, what did I do, but stand rooted to the cobbled street?
My knees trembling with fear.
I’ve been running so long, sir.
The earth began to echo the quaking of my knees, or
was it the other way around? No matter; the cries for your god,
the screams of the women, moved me to drop everything
to run here – pushing against the tide of those running away –
into the face of the disappearing sun that was
fixed now, hovering in darkness above the bluffs
outside the city gates.
I of course heard of your
trial – the cry of the crowd gathered at the governor’s palace;
there could be nothing good to come from such noise.
I was too busy to attend such a side-show. Besides,
I got the hushed and anxious account from those who left early
in disappointment or disgust, from those ashamed. Ashamed
to watch you fail to save; ashamed to see the specter of defeat;
ashamed to have to watch you crawl in the mud and blood, and filth,
a crown of thorns circling your head like the corona
around the almost hidden sun; and too frightened to
watch Romans gloat in their absolute supremacy.
You were just another “man who would be King,”
the “King of the Jews.” Who are the fools here:
Those who believed you are David, returned to save his own?
Or those who find expediency in your death ?
Where can I go now? What can I do?
All over too soon. I have arrived too late to
ask for what you promised me. But not too late
to see some soldier pull the spear out of your side,
to see the water of death, the flow of blood
rush out of you, to see that all that is left
is an empty vessel, a body torn and wasted.
And I remembered.
As heavy as the burden I bear, surely yours
is greater. Why would a righteous man take on
such shame; how could such an unrighteous one like me
exchange my own pitiful yoke of labor for yours?
And, had I accepted the exchange, must I die now too,
in fierce agony on some cross, with nails
in my hands and feet?
And who would be there for me, then?
Would anyone have broken an alabaster jar
of perfume to anoint my feet? Would there have been
even for me, some quiet moments of shade and rest,
beneath some ancient willow, or the quiet, rocking peace
of a boat upon the sea?
Those few brief instances, is that your easier yoke?
Your lighter burden? Your burden scares me, sir.
I am too tired for my own, sir.
Out of respect for your mother and your loved ones,
I will not dare to approach, nor offer my services.
I would not defile them in their grief.
Yet, surely they are weary now too, sir.
Whose burdens do they bear, sir?
I must go home. My wife is waiting for the
discount seekers, the before-Sabbath payment
of the righteous. She must be weary too, sir.
Tell me sir:
Am I too late to ask for peace and rest?
If you are listening, if you can hear,
if you return as I heard it said you had proclaimed –
May I ask you then? If it’s really not too late,
If I can keep on carrying this heavy load
a while longer, enough that I might ask you, sir,
for that exchange? When you arise, sir
(I am too tired to dismiss the possibility),
will you please look me up? I am not
too far from the city gates, west of here. . .
I think I’ve grown too weary
to stay here any longer.
Too weary to wait anymore.
Might I ask for that exchange now, sir?
Paula Tohline Calhoun
God’s gracious gift of living in the Kindom of heaven right now, in the present – “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” – is the supreme gift of Grace that cannot be earned. I can never be grateful enough. . .