A helpful word on disability, disease and death from Christmas 1983.
As Pastor John has said when preparing to read his Advent Poems, ‘it did not happen this way, but it could have.’
Titled simply, “Jesus.”
“Maria?” “Yes, my love, I’m here.”
“It hurts, O God, it hurts! I fear
The worst for me tonight.” “Rest now
Dear Joseph, God will not allow
Your faith more pain than it can bear.”
“Maria, are the children there?”
“The little ones have gone to stay
With Zechariah for the day.
The eldest keeps his vigil still,
And prays for hours on the hill
Behind the house. He’s fasted for
A week now, Joseph, since before
The priest imposed the quarantine.
He loves you very much.” “I’ve seen
His love. I thought two years ago
When we missed him in Jericho
And had to search Jerusalem
In anger, ready to condemn,
That he would be a callous lad,
But now at fourteen years the glad
And unassuming boy, who reads
The Torah late at night and pleads
For me in prayer, has run the shop
For these two years without a stop,
While I lie here and rot with some
Unknown disease. I’ve heard him hum
A Psalm of David as he changed
My stinking clothes and then arranged
My mat and sat me up to drink
Some broth that he had made. I think
That he’s the greatest joy I’ve had,
Maria, though I’m not his dad.”
“Mine, too, dear Joseph. It’s as though
He bears it all. The children go
To him and cry when I am weak.
He sits them down and helps them seek
Their comfort in the covenants.
He wins complete obedience
For me, and brightens every hour.
He has a strange and winsome power.”
“Maria, do you think that he
Could come and lay his hand on me
And use the power to make me well?
Sometimes I feel like I’m in hell
With these blind eyes and fiery pain.
And worst for me is all the strain
Of seven children you must bear.
Could he not heal me with his prayer?”
“He’s praying now up on the hill.”
“What does he pray? What is his will
For me?” “Pure love, my husband, love.”
“And what is this pure thing made of
If not a father’s health?… Forgive
Me, my Maria, as I live
I love the boy. But if the word
The angel spoke is true, we’ve heard
Messiah in our home for years.
And don’t the prophets say that tears
Will all be wiped away when he
Appears: the blinded eyes shall see,
The deaf shall hear, the lame shall leap
The dumb shall sing and all who weep
Will shout for joy? And should I quell
The hope that he could make me well?”
“I asked him last week, when the priest
Had left, if he could not at least
Relieve your pain, or give you sight,
Or help you sleep well through the night.”
“What did he say?” “He said in sum,
‘Tell Dad, my hour’s not yet come.
The timing of the Lord of Host
Will make a widow and a ghost.'”
“Strange recompense for nurturing
The Son of God, the mighty King!”
“O Joseph, we have seen too much
Of God and grace to doubt that such
A Sovereign plans but for our good,
For he can heal and heal he would
If it were best.” “What does he pray
Up there, Maria? Did he say?”
“He didn’t mention much detail,
But only that your faith not fail.
He says there’s something worse than death,
And loss of faith, not loss of breath,
Is what he fights. He’s gotten slim
From fasting.” “Would you please fetch him?
I want to say goodbye.” “I know
The place; I’ll hurry now and go.”
“Your father wants to see you, son;
I think his life is almost done.
Come, hasten with me to his bed.”
“He’s here, my love, beside your head.”
“I heard you in the synagogue
Once say that there’s an epilogue
To life. And then you looked at me.
You knew. Already you could see
The last short chapter of my days:
The gathering dark and distant rays
Of dawn. And now I thank you, son,
That you fought for my faith and won.
Your intercession on the slope,
Your fasting and your love gave hope.
Nor do I doubt that you and I
Will meet again with God on high.
I bless the night that you were born!
May all the world that night adorn.
Maria, come, light him a flame.
Though darkness gathers, praise his Name!”