By Mark Pearson
“Alms for the lame, alms for the lame!” I cried as I lifted myself off of the mat that I was laying on. In my hand was a small bowl made of pottery. It was old, almost as old as I was and it had a few cracks and chips in it. In a way, that bowl was a lot like me, old and battered with the twists of time and circumstances that had always followed me all of my life. Here I was, lame from birth lying here at a prominent place by one of the many temple gates here in Jerusalem. This gate had the dubious distinction attached to it by being called the beautiful gate. Well, maybe in its day or the day that it was constructed but now it had seen better days. I should know as I have been brought here to beg ever since I was young.
Does anybody have any idea what it is like to grow up and not be able to walk? My first remembrance’s as a small child was of the neighborhood kids running past our door or window. I watched them as they ran, jumped and played games and there I sat watching them; knowing that I would never be able to participate. All I could do was crawl around and hope nobody tripped over me or stepped on me. The one advantage I did have was I didn’t find it hard to get to the table at mealtime. I understand that the Romans introduced miniature thrones that they call chairs and they set at a table that is so high off the floor that they actually sit in one of those chairs and slide themselves halfway under the table. I don’t think that I could climb into one of those things much less sit in one. I have a hard enough time trying to get onto a milking stool.
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I remember the first time that I was brought here. I was only five years old when I was brought to the temple to beg. That first day was one of the scariest days of my life. I was laid down in the midst of a bunch of people who were incapacitated in some way just as I was. There were some blind people along with others who were missing limbs and they were all crying out and holding bowls or small bags to catch coins that were being tossed to them. My parents told me that I should do very well here because of my tender age and in the long run, they were right. I mean, who couldn’t pass by a small lame child and not have compassion on one so helpless.
My parents weren’t rich and I had other brothers and sisters that they had to look after and provide for so more time and attention was given to them instead of me. They wanted them to be well-educated so they could land a good job in the trades or my sisters attract a wealthy man for a husband. I know they loved me and I will give credit to them for the fact that they did take the time to teach me some things out of the Torah. This was their responsibility according to the rabbinical law so as a result, I did learn to read and write some of our languages. That came to be pretty handy as I needed to read what was stamped on a shekel or a farthing to determine its value.
“Alms for the lame, alms for the lame!” I cried again as some more people walked through the gate on the way to worship and offer sacrifices. Others who were in the same predicament as I was were also vying for the attention of the passersby in hopes that one of them would have a generous bone in their body and an extra shekel or two that they may have to share with someone less fortunate than themselves. Alms for the blind, lame, crippled or some other malady created a cacophony of sounds as we all shouted in hopes of receiving a copper, silver or gold coin that would tie us over for at least another day. This was not the most dignified way to make a living but a man has to do what a man has to do in order to survive. “Man? Is that what I was supposed to be?” I sure didn’t feel like one as I lay there with my hand out and shouting along with the rest of them. This life that I was stuck in was made up of one depressing day after another.
The only thing that broke up the monotony of my dreary existence was some of the interesting people I have met or the things that occurred here in the temple over the years. I can remember an incident when I was about seven or so when an old man came by. A man who I had seen several times before who was always kind to me and always had a shekel or two to drop into my bowl. He always stopped to talk to me and even though he didn’t look like he was very well off, he made sure a few coins were deposited into my bowl. Why I noticed him more than the other older folks is he was always smiling, even when people would be rude to him or jostle him or shove him out of their way.
One day a young couple came through the gate carrying a newborn baby boy. They appeared not to be very wealthy either as they had just purchased two pidgins, an offering usually purchased by the poor to offer as a sacrifice. Well here came that same friendly old man and as this couple stood there waiting their turn he came up to them and asked if he could hold the baby.
He took him in his arms and began to pray and praise God and said. “I can now depart in peace because as you promised me, I have this day seen with my own eyes your salvation, the one whom you have sent to be a light to all non-Jews and bring honor, glory, and praise to your people Israel.” He then said to them that this child will be blessed by God to do great things in Israel.
I couldn’t hear exactly what was said word for word because of all the other distracting things that were going on all around me. Other people were filing through the gate that took my attention away from them but when I looked back at them again some older lady was talking to them and she was saying much of the same things to them that the old man had said. After the lady left, the couple went on into the temple to perform all the things that were expected of them according to Jewish law.
After that day, I never saw the old man or lady again.
A year or so later a caravan of people from some distant land to the east showed up here in Jerusalem. They claimed to be Magi, whatever that means, astrologers, I think they said they were. They came into the city bringing what appeared to be half of their countries wealth with them. They caused quite a stir, especially when they met King Herod and the teachers of the law.
This bunch was looking for a baby that was born and was, so they claimed, to be King of the Jews. They said that they had been following a star and it has appeared here over this country. This didn’t set too well with Herod because as paranoid as he was he wouldn’t take that sort of news lying down. I heard that it didn’t set too well with those living in Bethlehem either because I found out later on that Herod ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the town and in the surrounding areas. I thought back to that couple and the old man and what was said about him and wondered if that was the boy Herod was looking for? I hope he never was able to catch him. I suppose that in spite of me being born lame, at least I wasn’t born in Bethlehem or maybe I would have been one of those children who perished as a result of being on his hit list.
Several years went by and another incident happened as I was still here begging at this same gate even as a young teen. I remember this twelve-year-old kid came through here to be bar mitzvahed. Why I remember this event was that this same kid came strolling through the courtyard behind me with half of the teachers of the law in tow. The teachers were amazed that this kid had such a grasp of the sacred scriptures at such a young age. He was asking questions and giving them answers to their questions as they walked along. What they were discussing that day dealt with matters of the law so it was way beyond my understanding. I was impressed with this kid though because he showed that he could hold his own with these scholars. I could hear some words like Messiah and who they thought the Messiah would be and do when he showed up but that was all.
A few days later a young couple came through here frantically looking for a lost child. They asked different people if they had seen a young kid who appeared to be lost. They asked us almost as a last resort as if handicapped people wouldn’t know anyone like who they were looking for. Anyway, all of us answered them in the negative. It never occurred to me that the kid I saw with the rabbis would be the one that they were looking for. After all, that kid didn’t look like he was lost to me, in fact, it looked like he knew every inch of this place as if he had designed it himself.
Sure enough they came back on their way out of the temple and I heard this kid say to that couple he was with and who appeared to be his parents that they should have known that he had to be about his Fathers business and because of that, where else should he be found then in his Fathers house!” “This temple? He claimed that this place was his Fathers house?”
Something was familiar about this couple who were frantically searching for this lost child and had finally found him. I could vaguely remember seeing this couple before but where? Could this be the same couple that I remember bringing the newborn baby boy here those many years ago? I still remember what the kindly old man said about that child. Could it be that the kid that was leading the priests around here the other day is that same boy all grown up? I wonder.
I also have wondered what he meant by that profound statement since he was most likely addressing his earthly parents.
This temple has always been referred to as God’s House but I have the feeling that God has made a change of address. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that He has abandoned us altogether, but it seems that he isn’t talking to us much anymore. The so-called leaders who work here are more concerned about making life comfortable for themselves then they are of taking care of the spiritual needs of our people. Oh, they are a praying bunch of people, especially those Pharisees. They wear nice clothes and make long loud prayers but they are the stingiest people that ever set foot in this place.
The whole priestly family from Annis on down are a bunch of crooks. It is they through their proxies that run the concessions here in the temple and they make a lucrative profit for their trouble. Everyone knows that the out of towner’s get shortchanged when they exchange their money for temple money to pay the temple tax or to pay for sacrifices, even the animals and birds that they sell here are overpriced. What a racket they’ve got going here. Even when someone brings their own animal or other items to sacrifice, the priests always find an excuse as to why it isn’t acceptable and force them to buy one that is from their vendors of course. But what can a lame person do to change these things? If I try to warn any of the worshippers about this, I run the risk of being forcibly removed from this prominent spot. I can’t afford that because I still have to make a living.
If only we could hear from God through a prophet like the ones that I heard my parents tell me about, those that were mentioned in the Torah. I remember some of the names of those prophets of old like Samuel, Elijah, and Daniel. I do remember my parents telling me about this old priest who came here to serve in the temple on a rotation basis. He was designated to go into the holy place and offer incense. There were a lot of worshipers outside praying, including my parents. After a while, they all begin to worry about him because he was in there for such a long time. It was known that people could be struck down and die when they were inside the holy place if they displeased God in some way. When he finally came out, he couldn’t talk. My parents heard him talking before he went in, but he could only make motions with his hands after he came out. My parents along with all the others gathered there realized that he must have seen a vision.
Before his time of service was up, he wrote down what he experienced. He said that an angel had told him that his wife who was long past childbearing age would have a son and when he grew up he would prepare the way for the Lord’s Messiah. At least that was what they were told or words to that effect. My parents said that it was the first time in their lives that anyone experienced anything like that. Then, of course, I remember it made quite a stir at the time but not as much as when those astrologers came later. Oh, and then when those two old people announced that the baby boy that they were carrying would be the savior of the world? These were all vivid memories that I had as a boy as I lay here begging in this place.
I can sure tell from experience that this world definitely needs saving.
Check back next week for Chapters 4-6 of Mark’s piece, “Alms for the Lame.”
Mark E. Pearson was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo. In 1970 he moved to Michigan where he met and married the girl of his dreams, Mary Lou Davis, together they have two sons. He attended Briercrest Bible Institute in Saskatchewan, Canada, and later received his associate’s degree in business from St. Clair Community College. He was a bookkeeper and worked in retail sales for 30 years and has spent the last fifteen years as a Jeweler at Coughlin’s Jewelers in St Clair, MI. He is a voracious reader of history and as a result of being an avid reader he began to write short stories and articles for editorial columns and magazines on current events and comparing and relating past events to current happenings.