Category Archives: Short Stories

Morning

Yes, here we are. This was the spot. Just here. In fact – look, there’s the stone lying on the ground. Do you remember, Mary?

This was the very spot where we thought it had all ended. But in fact this was where it had only just begun. Only a year or two back, but it might as well have been an age. So much has happened since then.

Yes, it was about this time wasn’t it? Around about dawn. Yes, me too. I love an early morning walk in the garden. The air is so fresh, so new and, in a funny sort of way, full of hope for the coming day. Don’t you think so too?

What do you mean, “I’m just an old romantic”? And a bit less of the “old” while we’re about it.

You know, I’ll never forget your face when you came and told us that the tomb was empty. When you and the other women came rushing back to the house we couldn’t make head or tail of what you were saying. So I said to myself, “I’ll go and see what this is all about”

So I did – and you remember the look on my face, too, don’t you?

What an amazing moment.

Suddenly, all that he had done made sense. His teaching, his healing, his conflicts and even the parties, (not to mention that look that was always in his eyes) – they all made sense. Even death on a cross made sense.

Amazing, amazing, amazing. God so loved the world, that he sent his only son – not to be our judge – but to be our saviour. And the empty cross, and the empty tomb – they are just the most powerful symbols of God’s love. I – I still struggle to take it all in.

Come on Mary, take my arm and let’s walk a little further. No need to talk. Let’s just enjoy the morning air, and think about where we go from here.

Nigel Carter

Looking Back

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

(Luke 14:25-33 NRSV)

Looking back at that day now, it all seemed so preposterous. But that day, that moment has become burned upon my memory like a brand on a slave or an ox. For me it was when everything changed, suddenly it was all different.

We had all been with him for so long – some of us right from the beginning. We had come to him in our different ways: some because of his words which set hearts on fire – my goodness this man could teach; never heard anyone like him before or since.

Some came to him because of that touch, that touch that could actually heal – skin disease, haemorrhaging, deafness, blindness: you name it, he could actually heal it, actually heal it. And, more than that, much more – that touch did more than just heal the wounds and ravages of disease, it healed the soul too. Being touched by this man was like being washed all over – on the inside!

Some came to him because of those eyes, those eyes that could pierce to the core of all we tried to hide from him, in our pretending to ourselves that we were even good enough to untie the straps of his sandals. Those eyes that saw all so clearly, and yet allowed you to return his gaze, overwhelmed by the compassion which shone in them.

And so we had all come: a rag bag of followers from all walks of life, and we had done our best to follow the master.

We weren’t perfect; far from it. We had our ups and downs, our little disagreements, but we were doing our best to learn and grow. And we were so excited by what we had found, for in this man we discovered that God loved us too, he loved me. There was a place for all of us in God’s eternal kingdom.

And then this! All this talk about hating your mother, your wife, your children more than him! Utterly outrageous; the ramblings of a madman. And then he goes on to tell us that if we can’t do that we’re not fit to be his disciples, not fit to be his followers, his apprentices.

We pointed out to him that we were his friends – probably his only friends and that he was going the right way to make more enemies for himself. I could see that a storm was beginning to brew so I tried to calm things down. I reminded him, as gently as I could, that many of us had made great sacrifices to be his disciples.

Sacrifice. Ha! All seems a bit hollow now, looking back.

But, do you know what he said?

“Should have thought of that before you set out!” He said. “Should have counted the cost at the beginning. No good to the Kingdom if you start having second thoughts now.”

Well, for many of us that did it. I, for one, suddenly saw everything in a different light. We must love him more than our families: more than the mother who gave me birth, more than the father who gave me my kinship, more than my own flesh and blood. We must carry our crosses like common criminals if we are to be worthy of following him . . . !

Worthy! Looking back that’s a good one.

But that was the turning point. That was the point of decision, for all of us really. We had to decide whether to go on or go back. Some did go on, but others went back, back to homes and families, work, to the reclamation of the status quo.

I never saw him again from that day to this.

Of course things could never be quite the same. There were those who were all too ready to ridicule us for getting involved with this man in the first place – “Glad to see you’ve come to your senses at last”

But, try as we might to get back to normality, things could never be quite the same. Once you’ve heard those words, once you’ve felt that touch, been bathed in those eyes, you can never really go back. You just have to live with it – always wondering. Looking back, it couldn’t have been any other way.

And then today. Today I looked into those eyes again, and they looked back at me. I don’t even know if he recognised me in all the chaos that was going on around him – but I hope he did, I’d like to think he did. Because today, as I was rushing into the city to get my business completed before the Passover festival, I saw those eyes again, dulled and stained with blood from a crown of thorns as he carried his cross, like a common criminal, through the streets of Jerusalem.

Nigel Carter

The Gardener

When God created the universe, the heavens and the earth, he looked at all he had made and, behold, it was very good.

He looked down on the earth and saw it teeming with life, both animal and vegetable, and he thought to himself, “I’m too busy to look after all this myself. I’ll put stewards in charge of the Earth and they can run things down there for me.”

So he created man and woman out of the dust of the earth and gave them dominion over the whole animal and plant kingdom, to care for his creation.

Now God set the man and the woman in a garden (well it was more like a farm really but the man liked the idea of being a gardener because he thought it sounded a bit more up-market than being a farmer).

This garden was a rich and fertile place. It had rivers which flowed through it and watered all the ground. There were four rivers which flowed into the garden, and two of them were the famous river Tigris and the River Euphrates which, after irrigating the garden flowed out and on into the sea. Hmmm. I wonder where that could be.

There were even rumours that there was gold to be found in the garden but, since this was the beginning of time, no one had found any use for gold yet. It would be many centuries before the invention of printed circuit boards, dentistry and the International Monetary Fund.

So God placed the man and the woman in the garden and said to the man, “I want you to look after things down here for me. If you follow my instructions you will prosper and thrive and you will have more than enough food for you and for all your children, and your children’s children and your children’s children’s children and your ch . . .”

“OK, I get the picture!” Said the man, who had gone quite pale. “So what do you want me to do?”

“In the first year I want you to plant wheat, and to grow it and harvest it”, said God.

“Wheat. OK.” said the man.

“In the second year I want you to plant potatoes,” continued the Almighty.

“Potatoes. Right, I can do potatoes,” said the man. “Now what about year three?”

“Brussels Sprouts” was God’s reply.

“Brussels Sprouts! Brussels Sprouts! What am I supposed to do with a field full of Brussels Sprouts? I can’t stand them. Wheat’s fine, I can deal with wheat. I can even go with spuds, but sprouts . . . For goodness sake! . . .” The man’s voice trailed away in the presence of a looming silence from his Creator.

The woman took the man aside and said, “Now don’t you start causing trouble already. We’ve got a nice little thing going here; and we haven’t been here more than five minutes and you’re already rocking the boat! Anyway, when the time comes we can always trade the sprouts for some more wheat.”

“Listen to the woman!” said God in that ominous voice that one expects from someone whith a long white beard.

And so the man reluctantly agreed to God’s plan for the garden (although he wasn’t sure about this business about being able to trade his surplus sprouts). He went ahead and planted his wheat. At harvest time he found that he had a bumper crop and he praised God for all his bounty. Next year he followed God’s plan and planted potatoes and, again, at harvest time he had so many potatoes that he didn’t know what to do with them, and so he invented the waffle iron.

But when it came to planting the sprouts the man had second thoughts and, instead of following God’s design for the world, the man planted wheat again.

“No one will ever notice,” he thought to himself, and I’m sure God didn’t really want me to plant sprouts – must have been a bit of a divine April fool’s joke. Yes, that must have been it.”

But this year the crop failed. There was no food for the man and his wife. The ground had become dry and arid and, coincidentally, the voice of God had not been heard in the garden for quite a few months, not since the time for planting.

The woman sought to console her husband but the man turned to his wife and said, (as men so often do), “This is all your fault! You’ve upset God now. And if you’d helped on the farm a bit more this wouldn’t have happened. And what is it with God, anyway? Why does he have to make things so difficult?”

“But it was you who planted wheat instead of sprouts”, she protested.

“Yes, and you did absolutely nothing to stop me, did you?” retorted the gardener. And he thrust her away and ordered her back into the house.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said the man to himself as he set off out of the garden in search of food. And, just as a precaution, in case he met some problems on the way, he had beaten his ploughshare into a sword – purely for defensive purposes of course.

And as he walked, the man thought that he could occasionally hear a strange noise, like the faint sound of someone weeping.

Nigel Carter

Mrs Jones Dreaded to Think

This short story, though fictional, briefly touches on an incident which I encountered whilst I was training for the ministry, and which has remained with me ever since. I am the man with the Co-op bag.

Though it happened in a particular place and at a particular time, it could be a sad facet of urban life in any part of our land. It begs the question, “Who is my neighbour?”

It was raining. It had been raining for days and today looked like being no different. It was one of those dull, wet, cold, end-of-January days which reminded you that the expectations of last Christmas had once again been an illusion and that next Christmas was a very long way away.

Mrs Jones didn’t bother to look up at the sky as she left the church porch. She carefully put up her umbrella and set off down the path towards the street. She wasn’t as steady on her pins as she used to be and she carefully picked her way around the cracked paving stones which held large puddles of water. She noticed how the rain seemed to make the graffiti on the old gravestones stand out even more than usual.

‘Disgusting!’

Mrs Jones enjoyed going to the ten o’clock Communion Service on a Wednesday morning. It was a lovely service. Not many people went, but the vicar said that it was worth it even if only one person turned up. Mrs Jones knew everybody who went and felt comfortable there. Occasionally, though, some rough-looking types from the local hostel would come in. That always spoiled it for Mrs Jones.

‘I don’t know why you encourage them’ she had told the vicar, on several occasions. The previous vicar wouldn’t have allowed it, she felt sure. And if he had, her Frank would have sorted him out. Frank had been a Churchwarden, a pillar of the church, until he had died of a massive stroke, one rainy day just after Christmas, ten years ago.

Mrs Jones turned the corner into Trinity Road where she lived. The gutter at the edge of the road was blocked up and water was flowing over the pavement, forming a great muddy pool. The cause of the blockage appeared to be a dead bird lying on the edge of the grid and preventing the water from draining away. It looked like a pigeon, or it might have been one of those collared doves; but it had white feathers, or at least it used to have white feathers. Now, like everything else that day, it was a filthy grey.

‘Wish the Council would do something about these streets,’ thought Mrs Jones as she walked out into the road to circumnavigate the pool of water. If Frank had been alive he would have phoned up the Council and given them a piece of his mind. He was not afraid of doing that.

A dog barked in a garden, and for some reason her mind went back to the church service. Oh yes! She remembered now: the Bible reading. ‘It’s not right to give the children’s food to the dogs,’ Jesus had said. ‘Even the dogs get to eat what the children leave,’ the woman had replied – or something like it. Funny reading. Strange.

‘Her next door’ had had a dog, briefly. Her husband had brought it home one day – that’s if he was her husband. Mrs Jones wasn’t sure.

When they’d first moved in, Mrs Jones had gone round just to say hello, but ‘her next door’ wouldn’t let her in. She’d been quite polite and everything but she stood on the doorstep and talked. Mrs Jones thought she knew why. She had just happened to glance over her shoulder and seen into the living room. She’d noticed that there was no carpet on the floor and the furniture was really . . . well, tatty.

Mrs Jones had a nice house, Very smart inside and not a speck on the windows. Not like ‘her next door’. Mind you, it was difficult to keep the windows clean with all this rain.

Mrs Jones kept herself to herself as far as ‘her next door’ was concerned. She would always be civil, but she didn’t believe in being in and out of each other’s kitchens. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours,’ Frank had always said.

‘Her next door’ was a bit of a funny woman anyway. Well, she wasn’t much more than a girl, really. She had told Mrs Jones that they had just got married when they moved in. But she already had two kids and was expecting another. It wasn’t decent!

And what about her husband? He had been at home a lot in the beginning. Mrs Jones thought he had probably been too idle to get a job. She hardly saw him these days though. He turned up once in a blue moon – and when he did, the rows and the shouting that went on! The babies would be crying and she would be shouting and screaming, and he would be ‘effing and blinding’ at the top of his voice. And then he’d go out and slam the door and you wouldn’t see him for weeks.

After one such occasion Mrs Jones had gone round next door the following day and complained about the noise. ‘Her next door’ came out looking like she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. Her eyes were all red and her hair was a proper mess, and her hands were shaking! And she had a cough like she smoked sixty a day. Goodness only-knows what she’d been up to. Mrs Jones dreaded to think. And with kids in the house, too!

‘Her next door’ did say she was sorry about the noise and it wouldn’t happen again, but Mrs Jones wasn’t born yesterday. She’d heard it all before. Frank would have done more than complain about the noise if he’d been alive. He’d have got onto the Council and had them sorted out. He wouldn’t stand for any messing about.

All these comings and goings made Mrs Jones’ life a proper misery. She had enough troubles of her own, thank you very much, without having to worry about what ‘her next door’ was up to.

And to cap it all, a couple of nights ago she had been getting ready for bed when she had looked out of the window and seen two men going down ‘her next door’s’ path. One looked like he was carrying a Co-op bag full of groceries. What a time for men to go calling at a woman’s house when her husband wasn’t there! It’s not right. This neighbourhood is going to the dogs.

Mrs Jones reached the gate of her house in Trinity Road. As she turned to walk down the path to the front door, she thought she saw the face of a young woman through the dirty window of the house next door. Then the face disappeared.

‘Typical!’ thought Mrs Jones. ‘Nothing better to do with her time. That reminds me if this rain ever stops, I must wash my net curtains and hang them out to dry.’

Nigel Carter

The Man on the Train

It had been quite a long journey on the last train up from the city, and there were only two of us in the whole carriage so we sat and chatted. I didn’t know him but somehow he did seem familiar.

We talked about this and that, as you do, especially in these times. We discussed the state of the economy, unemployment, immigration, bankers, the health service, education, the state of justice, politicians; all the usual . . . and then, just as I was sharing my views about women bishops, he asked me if I was a Christian.

I thought it was a bit of an impertinent question, really, but the way he looked at me – as if he already knew the answer to the question – and the fact that there was no-one else in the carriage, meant that I didn’t mind giving him an answer, I suppose.

“Yes, I go to church now and then. I mean, I believe in God and Jesus and all that, but I can’t be doing with these people who ram religion down your throats all the time. It really gets on my nerves. I do think that there is something after we die, touch wood, but everyone has their own opinions, don’t they?

And I love Christmas: I love all the presents and the parties, the Christmas trees and the decorations. I really enjoy the kids’ nativity plays. It’s great that they get to learn about Jesus; and Santa is a very big deal in our house. So is Easter. We always have lots of Easter eggs to share.

I would like to go to church more often but, you know how it is, there’s always something important that needs doing; especially on a Sunday. There’s the car to wash for a start, and the lawns always need cutting; and by the time you’ve had a read through the Sunday papers its lunch time, and we quite often like to go and have a pub lunch these days. Then, sometimes we have family or friends over on a Sunday and, well, you can’t really say to your guests, “Ok, I’m going to church now,” can you? It would be rude, and they might think that you had suddenly got religion or something. Anyway, I don’t really need to go to church all that often. I can worship God in a field. You don’t have to go to church every week to be a Christian.

Mind you, I think it’s an utter scandal that they keep closing these lovely old churches down. They had better not think about closing my local church down. I shall have something to say about it if they do. I was christened there and married there, and I’ve been to a few funerals there.

The trouble, of course, is that the Church is its own worst enemy. Take our local one, for example. I’ve been a couple of times over the years and all you get is a sanctimonious vicar banging on about reading the Bible more often; and I’m convinced that all he really thinks about is money. Always after money for one thing or another. Well, people are not going to put up with all that, are they? And has he ever been to visit me? What do you think? Out of sight, out of mind I reckon.

I’m not a bad person. I wouldn’t do anybody any harm; and if I possibly could help someone I would. I think it’s important to be there for people.

I don’t have a lot of time for going to church but I am a Christian. Anyway, confidentially, I quite like to keep busy. I don’t like sitting doing nothing for too long. It doesn’t feel right, does it?

Have you ever had that? You know, that slightly empty feeling; as if there were something missing; a sort of sense that there ought to be more to life. I don’t like that feeling so I keep myself busy. I can see from the look in your eyes that you understand what I am talking about.”

I suddenly realised that I had said far more than I had intended to my companion and, a little embarrassed, I turned away and looked out of the train window.

We were slowing down so I looked back to ask him if he knew which station we were arriving at. I had been so engrossed in our conversation that I had completely lost my bearings.

To my astonishment, he had gone. He was nowhere to be seen. And as the train pulled into this station I realised that I did not know where I was.

NJC

Three Voices of Simon – Part 3

A Reconciliation
John, Chapter 21

My name is Simon but you probably know me better as Peter: Petros, the Rock. Oh yes, I can speak Greek too. Petros. Ha!

I have a story to tell you. You may not believe me when I tell you my story, but I will tell it anyway.

You see, I’m the man who betrayed Jesus. That’s me. The one and only. And if you really knew me you would know just how typical of me that is: big man, big ideas, big time blunderer. But you must admit that if you are really going to make your mark on history, then betraying the Son of God is an impressive way to do it.

You all thought it was Judas, didn’t you? No. Judas was always something of a misfit, a bit of an idealist in many ways, and putty in the hands of the Sanhedrin. They played him like a tambourine, used him to get at Jesus and then made sure he took the blame. Very clever. I almost felt sorry for Judas in the end.

No. I was the real villain of the piece, I’m sorry to admit. I was the villain because I was his best friend, told him I would lay down my life for him – and I meant it too – until push came to shove. Then, when he needed me most, I hid my face.

It was never supposed to be like that. We were supposed to be on the road to glory. In the end I believe we were, and still are. But now I know just how bumpy that road can be – at least I think I do.

I’m a fisherman by profession. My brother Andrew and I ran our own fishing business out of the port of Bethsaida on the shore of Galilee. Its not a bad business to be in. You never go hungry, the lake is teeming with fresh fish and there is no shortage of customers on the quayside. We were doing OK.

When Jesus chose us to be his closest disciples there wasn’t much time for fishing any more, but that didn’t seem to matter. We survived and if I were to tell you some of the amazing things I have experienced you would believe me even less than you do now.

But its true. I have walked for three years with the Son of the living God – and of course I have betrayed him.

Do you ever get the feeling that you are always the last person to catch on? You know what I mean: you have to have the joke explained; you’re the first person at the quay side just after the boat has sailed. Well, that’s me really: bold, courageous, jumping in with both feet only to find I’ve leaped into a pit.

I was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God, and the first to be called Satan by him. I was the only one who dared to walk on water; nearly drowned in that episode. I listened intently to Jesus’ parables, and then had to have them explained to me. I saw the Glory of God revealed on the mount of transfiguration, and all I could do was mutter something about building a shrine.

I can tell you I nearly walked out at one point. In fact many others did. His teaching was so hard at times. Oh yes, and I was the one who first refused to allow Jesus to wash my feet, and then went on to demand that he washed my hair. Talk about not getting the message!

But he was so patient with me, with all of us, and gradually the truth about his kingdom began to dawn on us. It was going to be a very different kind of kingdom and Jesus was to be a very different kind of king.

And then that night, that night before everything we had hoped and dreamed about came crashing to earth around our ears; or so we thought.

We were at table. It was Passover and we had settled down in anticipation of an evening meal which would last way into the night. That was the custom anyway.

But the night had hardly begun when Jesus began speaking of betrayal. There was a lot of talk, and Judas stormed out in a temper. That was when I told him I would die for him. He just looked at me with those eyes and, quite calmly, said that I would betray him three times before dawn. That hurt. After all we had been through how could he have had so little faith in me? But he was right.

Everything happened so fast. We had left the upper room and had made our way over to the Mount of Olives. Most of us were having a doze; one or two had drunk a little too much wine. All of a sudden we were surrounded by temple guards, armed to the teeth, and a hostile mob with clubs, sticks and stones. They overpowered Jesus and dragged him off. I heard some one shout that he was being taken to the high priest’s house. That could only mean one thing.

We were scattered to the four winds, running for our very lives. I was able to sneak away through the olive groves and get back into the city. I had no idea what had happened to the others.

I managed to get amongst a group of people who were gathering in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. They had lit a fire – a warm spring night had suddenly become very cold.

One by one, members of the Sanhedrin began to appear and enter the house. There were raised voices, shouting even. I heard someone shout “Blasphemy!” And my heart sank. They had got him.

Just then a servant girl came past and looked at me. “Hey, I know you” she said, “You’re part of that group that goes around with Jesus of Nazareth”. I denied it. I couldn’t think what to do. Big, bold Simon Peter was terrified for his life.

But she kept on, “Yes you are. I’ve seen you with him. Hey, call the guards. He’s one of those people!” I denied it again. She was beginning to draw attention to me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. That might have been an end of it but then someone else started up, “Yes you are. I can tell by your accent, you’re a northerner, a Galilean!”

I had just finished shouting “I tell you I have never met this Jesus of Nazareth in my life!” when they brought him down the steps from the house – and, along with everyone else, I froze. He had already taken a severe beating. His clothes were torn and he was cut and bruised. But he looked straight at me with those eyes – just for a second, before they dragged him away. That was when I knew I had betrayed my master and my closest friend.

The cock crowed, the sun came up but I was in the darkest place on earth. I fled for my life, again. I don’t know how long I wept for, but it was a long time.

They took him to the Roman governor. Pilate is a cruel man, but he’s not that bright; not exactly the sharpest chisel in the toolbox. The high priest is more than a match for him. The Sanhedrin persuaded Pilate to execute Jesus for treason. See what I mean? They arrest him on a charge of blasphemy against God but persuade Pilate that, really, he’s an enemy of Caesar! Well, that did the trick.

I couldn’t watch. Some of the women went and sat at the foot of the cross for the whole sordid episode. I think John was there too. I just went and hid. It didn’t take very long. From Passover celebration to the burial of our Lord took less than 24 hours. And I knew it was my fault. I could have spoken up for him.

But I didn’t, and that was that. I had my chance, and I blew it, completely.

At least that was what I thought.

Two mornings later those of us who were left were gathered together in one house, hiding for fear of the temple guards, when some of the women came rushing in to say that Jesus’ body had disappeared. I just couldn’t believe it. They kept on about seeing him alive, but they weren’t making much sense. So I rushed over to the place where he had been laid and, sure enough, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. Not a sign of the body; just a few linen cloths lying around.

But the women insisted that they had seen him alive and, incredible though it may seem, they were right. Jesus was alive, and we all saw him on more than one occasion. I still struggle to take it all in. I can only tell you what I know to be true.

Others can give you the details but I can say for certain that Jesus died on that cross on the eve of the Sabbath, but is alive and has shown himself to us many times.

The last time was this morning, here on the lake shore. He even ate breakfast with us. And it was this morning that I learned that I’m forgiven. I must admit that up until then I didn’t know if Jesus, this risen Lord, would ever really accept me. But this morning he asked me, three times no less, how much I loved him.

I told him.

“Tend my sheep. Be a shepherd for me” he said as he looked at me with those eyes again. He asked me to lead his people. I, who had betrayed the Son of God to save my own skin, was to be the shepherd of his flock.

I don’t know what the future will hold, and I am pretty sure I’m not up to the task, but the Son of God has given me a job to do. I will do it as best I can, but I hope he’ll give me a little help along the way.

Its funny when you think about it: the fisherman becoming a shepherd. Well, being a shepherd is just as honourable a trade. I now know that I have a lot to learn. But this I also know: if Jesus can forgive my betrayal then all things are possible.

NJC

Three Voices of Simon – Part 2

A Life Restored
John, Chapter 9

My name? – well to you its Simon. I have a story to tell you. You may not believe me when I tell you my story, but I will tell it anyway.

I am a potter by trade. I live in a tiny village called Bethany. Not a rich place, – in fact its name means “House of the Poor”, but it has been my home since birth and it is where I make pots and bowls, and sometimes more luxurious items which the aristocrats buy to decorate their houses with. But mostly its clay pots and cooking bowls which I load onto my cart to take to market in the great city of Jerusalem. It is not a long journey but, my goodness, its a bit of a hill to climb with a cart load of wares and only Job, my poor old donkey, to help. Still, if I’ve had a good day and sold most of my wares, the journey home is twice as easy.

But my story is not about me. It is about my friend. His name? Well that doesn’t matter. Probably best that I don’t tell you his name. I think you’ll see why.

I have known my friend for many years, since the days when I used to travel to market with my father and I would see him sitting in the market place, begging.
Oh yes, my friend is a beggar – or at least he was.

We’re about the same age and when I first saw this boy, dressed in rags, sitting in the market place, day after day, with his hands out, I would ask my father why he was begging. Eventually my father got tired of my questions and said, “Go and ask him yourself”. So I did.

I soon found out that my friend came from a poor family (are there any other kind around here?), and that he had been born blind. He could see nothing at all, and that meant that he would never be able to work, he would never be able to earn a living.

And so, every day someone would take him to the market place and he would beg for alms. Not that he ever received very much money. You see, like so many other blind men, or cripples or sick people he was blamed for his own illness. He must have been a sinner, they said. Or perhaps his parents were sinners and this is God’s retribution. Mind you, those who said such things usually had health and plenty of wealth themselves.

As I got to know my friend, I made it my job to be the one who helped him to the market place as I made my way into town. I met his parents – good people. I can’t see why God would punish them. But then I’m no doctor of the law – I just make pots.

My friend is a good man, too, but you should hear the way people talk to him, the way they treat him. Occasionally a coin or two would be thrown in his direction but for the most part he just sat in the dust while donkeys, carts and sometimes people kicked it up into his face. But, you know, he was always cheerful, always smiling, always cracking a joke; usually at my expense.

A few days ago there was a bit of a rumpus in the market place. It was a Sabbath so there was no trading going on, but there were plenty of people about, and I was there with my friend. A man from Nazareth came walking through, talking and arguing with those around him and a crowd was gathering. It wasn’t a hostile crowd, not for the most part anyway, but it was causing something of a stir.

The man from Nazareth had been about for a day or two and had developed quite a reputation. He seemed to be very popular with people because there was always a posse around him.

The priests and the Pharisees didn’t appear to think much of him though. They called him a trouble maker, a rabble rouser. And they warned people not to have anything to do with him. No one seemed to take much notice though. They flocked after him wherever he went. I remember thinking, “There will be trouble here”. You don’t cross the city elders and get away lightly.

The Romans? We all hate them, naturally. They plunder our wealth and desecrate our holy city. We long for the time when God’s Messiah will arise and throw them back to their own walled city. But as long as the Zealots don’t bring trouble to the streets, for the most part the Romans leave us alone. They rule with a sharp sword, and they crucify without mercy, but they are not very interested in us otherwise. Anyway, when it comes to the political game, I would pitch the high priests of the temple against the Roman governor on any occasion. Annas and Caiaphas have got Pilate just where they want him.

No, its the city elders, the Sanhedrin, you have to watch.

I was curious when the man from Nazareth came into the market place with his followers. As they were talking he looked around, and he spotted my friend sitting in his usual place. The Nazarean walked straight up to him and bent down to talk to him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, or what my friend replied because I was a little way off and I had to push my way through the crowd to get to them.

I got there just in time to see the man from Nazareth pick up a handful of dirt from the ground and spit on it. He made a sticky paste out of it and rubbed it onto my friend’s eyes. Then he turned to me and said, in that odd sort of Galilean accent, “Take him to the pool of Siloam and wash his eyes”.

It was a very odd sensation. In the first place, how did he know to turn to me amongst all the people who were pressing around? But that was nothing compared to the experience of looking into this man’s eyes. Don’t ask me what colour they were because I have no idea. What I do know is that he didn’t just look at me. He looked deep within me. He had eyes that pierced to the very soul, eyes that could see all the joy and all the sadness, the laughter and the pain, the truth and the hypocrisy, the holiness and the wickedness within me. In an instant he knew me. We had never met before but he knew me. But those eyes didn’t condemn, they healed.

I can’t help feeling that, somehow, as this man from Nazareth looked at me, I was looking, (unbelievable as this might seem), I was looking into the wisdom of ages.

My friend and I made our way to Siloam and I bathed his eyes. All of a sudden he started shouting. “I can see, I can see!” he shouted and started jumping up and down. “I can see, I can see!” he shouted again. Then he turned to me and said, “My goodness you’re ugly!” Before throwing his arms around me and lifting me off the ground in a great bear hug.

“I can see! I can see!” He shouted and danced as we made our way back through the crowded streets to the market place. “Look at that!” He exclaimed as he saw the great palace of Herod for the first time. Then he stopped abruptly, completely awe struck as he gazed upon the colossal bulk of the Temple of Jerusalem – half as big as the city itself.

Eventually we found our way back to the market. It took some time because my friend was torn between singing and dancing, and pausing to look upon God’s world for the very first time in his life.

We couldn’t find the man from Nazareth. He had disappeared. But my friend just rushed around saying to anyone who would listen, “I can See. I was blind and I can see. God is great! I can see”.

Some Pharisees appeared and wanted to know what all the commotion was about on the Sabbath. They caught hold of my friend and started asking him questions.

“I don’t know what happened”, he said, “I just know that I was blind and that a man healed me by rubbing mud on my eyes and making me wash in the pool of Siloam. I’ve been blind all my life and now, because of this man, I can see. Ask my ugly friend here if you don’t believe me”

They quizzed me as well and I confirmed his story. But this wasn’t good enough for them so they went and dragged his mother and father from their home and started interrogating them too. But, of course they new nothing about what had happened and were as astonished as the rest of us.

And do you know what really made me angry? The Pharisees weren’t interested in the fact that my friend had had his life restored to him. All they were concerned about was the man from Nazareth. They condemned him as a sinner – though he healed my friend. They condemned him, using the fact that he had healed on a Sabbath day as evidence that he must be a servant of the devil. And they banned both of us from the synagogue.

All I know is that my friend was made whole by the touch of this man. All I know was that when he looked into my eyes it was like being lit up by a light brighter than many suns. I have a feeling that we will meet again quite soon.

My friend still sings and dances at all the things he sees for the first time. He even comments on the quality of my pottery, so I told him to come and work with me and prove he could do better. He said he would.

We hear many rumours about the man from Nazareth but its hard to get at the truth. I hope we do meet again quite soon. There are so many questions my friend and I have to ask him.

NJC

Three Voices of Simon – Part 1

A Glimpse of Heaven
Luke, Chapter 2: verses 8 to 20

My name is . . . well, its Simon to you. I have a story to tell you. You may not believe me when I tell you my story, but I will tell it anyway. I am an old man now and my days are drawing to a close. I have nothing to gain or lose from telling my story. I hope it will make you think a little, though. Make of it what you will.

You see, I was there when the world was turned on its head – and, do you know the funniest thing? Hardly anyone noticed – except for my companions and I that is. We noticed. We were a part of it.

As I said, I’m an old man now and my work, and my pleasure, these days is to teach my grandchildren how to earn an honest living at the trade which my family has followed for generations. It doesn’t pay much money, and sometimes the conditions are harsh. We tend to be looked down on and sneered at by the well-off and the educated.

“Just a shepherd” they say, as they talk over your head thinking they know the ways of the world. “Just a shepherd”. Well, perhaps I am “just a shepherd”, but looking after sheep is an honourable trade, and there’s much more to it than you might imagine.

If you learn your craft properly you can make a flock of sheep do anything you want them to do. And you don’t have to chase them. Do it right and they will follow you wherever you go. But you have to get them to trust you. You have to talk to them without harshness in your voice. You have to make sure they get to the pastures where the grass is good to eat. And you have to protect them from wolves and thieves – at the risk of your own life if necessary.

Sheep can be pretty dumb. But they know what’s good for them and they will trust the good shepherd because he takes care of them.

“Just a shepherd”, eh? Well this shepherd knows something which the wise and the wealthy don’t know. You see, they think that they’ve got life sewn up. They think that they know how the world works, they think that they are in control of life because of their place in the pecking order.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not jealous – well, not very often anyway – I wouldn’t have their responsibilities and worries for all the world. But, do you know, for all their wisdom and all their answers to the great issues of the day, in their heart of hearts they are chasing an illusion. I know that because I’ve seen the reality.

Many people are religious these days, very devout – earnestly waiting and praying for God to act, to put an end to the troubles of this world; to make his decisive move to restore the kingdom and put evil to flight once and for all. They are waiting for the Messiah, the saviour of Israel.

Well; I’ve seen him.

And if you had witnessed the things I have seen you would agree without question. I have seen the Messiah, I have seen God’s angels in heaven announce the birth of the Saviour of the people. I have seen the world change.

When? Oh, didn’t you notice? Well, you need to be as old as I am, and even then – well, like I said, hardly anyone noticed at the time, and not many believed us when we told them.

I was just a boy, in my teens. We were up on the hills around Bethlehem on a very cold and clear night. There was a group of us. My three brothers were there, and my father, and some uncles and cousins, over a dozen of us in all. We had brought all our sheep together for safety and were settling down around a fire.

All of a sudden the sky lit up brighter than the day. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. It was only for a flash really, lasting no more than an instant but it seemed like an age. And in that instant we caught a glimpse of heaven – an amazing sight; well, more than an amazing sight. Its hard to explain; you had to experience it. We were absolutely terrified.

But in that moment we knew that we had been shown something of cosmic importance. We knew that God had acted, and the world would never be the same again. Never.

We had seen the Messiah. We weren’t dreaming. Nor were we drunk. Don’t ask me how but we knew that God had come down into his own creation, that God was among us and the truth was to be found in King David’s own city of Bethlehem, if we would take the time to look for it.

So now we had a decision to make. Who would we send off into the city to find the Messiah? The trouble is, we all wanted to go. We all wanted to see this new thing that God had done. But that would mean leaving the sheep unattended, unprotected.

But there was no real choice. We knew that glimpse of heaven had been for us. We would just have to risk it and try to get back as quickly as we could.

As it turned out, our journey wasn’t a long one. We didn’t have to travel into the centre of town, where our presence would have raised some questions. Outside the gates a huge shanty town had grown up. People were flocking into the town because Caesar had ordered a census to be taken. He was after more money for his military campaigns so anyone who had two shekels to rub together was going to lose one of them.

Amongst all the hustle and bustle of this place we came across a stable. You could tell it was a stable, and a cattle shed, by the smell. And there we found him. There, in the manger, where his mother had set him to keep warm, was the destiny of the human race.

At first the adults around this new born child were startled when we all burst into the stable. But we made our peace with them and told them what had happened. The man looked astonished, as well he might; but the woman just looked thoughtful, not saying very much at all.

I looked at the child and I thought about what we had seen in the night sky, and it seemed to me that there it was again in the eyes of this child, that glimpse of heaven – all the stars in God’s universe looking back at me through the eyes of this infant.

We paid our respects and left. It was so hard to understand and yet we knew, we who were “just shepherds” knew that we had caught a glimpse of God, in a grubby animal shed set amid the heaving crowds of Bethlehem. It was as if time had started all over again for us. My goodness we praised God!

We went back to our sheep and it was as if nothing had happened. But we knew things were different. We knew that in some way God had changed the world through this Child. It was as if we had looked into the face of God, and he had looked back at a bunch of shepherds – and smiled.

I never did find out what happened to the child. You hear rumours, don’t you? All this happened many years ago but I will never forget that glimpse of heaven, and I will never forget looking into the face of God. And I have a very strong feeling that my story hasn’t ended.

There, I told you so. I can see it in your face. I can tell you don’t believe a word I say.

Or is it that you can’t imagine what it would be like to look into the face of God, and have him smile back at you?

NJC