13 December 2019
Forgiven - the one who loves much
This is a story - it could be set in the highlands of Scotland, the depths of the Welsh or English mining towns or the West Coast, NZ. The places and times where money is short, life is hard, faith is strong and clear about when and how, and social conventions are important and equated with Godliness..
Times in fact very like those of the story of Jesus and Simon the pharisee.
She smiled at me. Good to see you. Come in.
"I've just been putting flowers on my folks grave. Dad and Mum's stone looked good this morning. The letters are clear as ever—Mary Rose Allison McAlister 1899 to 1971; Angus Thomas McAlister, 1890 to 1969.
Its more than thirty five years and I still miss them. . I got thinking about my dad on the way home how he didn't get baptised until 1949.
He wasn't a bad man, but he had a terrible thirst for the moonshine that some folks still make round here, and when he had too much
that temper of his would burn hotter than hot. More than once, he landed up in the cells; one time he did two weeks in Jail . Mum she loved him just the same, but oh, she prayed for him, prayed
that he'd find Jesus.
What finally did it was that she got sick. I was thirteen and
the baby, born long after they thought they 'd finished having kids.
Mum had this cough that just wouldn't go away. Tried everything,
even mustard plasters, but nothing helped. She was so thin, getting
weaker ever day. When she got bad, Dad wouldn't leave her;
stayed by her bed night and day, dozing in that chair, close so he
could hear her if she wanted anything
Finally Doc Evans told us to call all the family home. I remember his voice so gentle, his arm on Dad's shoulder, telling him my mum wouldn't last the week. Neighbours started bringing food over and sitting on the veranda talking in whispers. But Dad wouldn't give up; stayed there in that chair, holding her hand.
That night my sister Molly arrived with her three little ones, and brother Joe and his wife came up from down the coast.
Molly told me to try and get some sleep, so I went on up to my room. I must have drifted off, cause when I woke up the moon was high up with just a few stars nearby. Maybe it was my Dad's voice that woke me. I crept down the stairs
There was my Dad on his knees, his forehead on the quilt next to my Mum's face, so white and still, as if she'd gone to heaven already. His voice was rough, but I could hear the words plain. "Lord," he said. "I don't know about praying, so I guess I 've got to just say what's on my mind. I haven't been much—done a
lot a things I regret —but Lord, my Mary is good and sweet and
kind; if you could spare her, you've got me, lock, stock, and barrel.
I know it's a sorry bargain, but it's all I got to offer. Please,
Lord… please." His voice broke then, and I could see his shoulders
shaking as he cried.
Course everybody knows about the miracle—the miracle of my mum waking up the next morning still weak, but fever free; the
miracle that come about a month later when my mum and all us kids
stood in the church and watched my Dad being baptised... someone started singing Amazing Grace" and pretty soon everybody joined in. Dad never took a drink again, wouldn't allow a pack of cards in the house, and every Sunday you'd find him in the third row at the Church, my mum sitting next to him, holding his arm.
It was about a year later when a new minister come to our area. I remember the first day I saw Pastor Miller, for that's what he told us to call him. He was—all white and blond, with a wispy mustache that looked like he'd forgot to wipe the milk off his mouth.
He was fresh out of the Hall and raring to go. Caused a few ripples, he seemed to have a direct line to God.
Now Dad never said much about all that. Fact is, he
tried to calm people down, soothe hurt feeling, kept saying "Give the
boy a chance."
That was before Jenny Thompson come to church. Jenny was two years older than me. Her Dad had died in the mine cave in in '37, Jenny was a toddler. Her mother never did get over it and by the time Jenny was 12, her mum stayed in bed—wasn't sick,
except from a broken heart, I guess. They had that little crib that
Jenny's Dad had built, but it was almost falling down round their ears, and that miserable widow's pension didn't keep them in groceries. They didn't have any family to help.
Even as a kid, Jenny was always a real pretty little girl and by the time she was fourteen, she was a beauty. Before long, the gossip was that she was seen with Jimmie Mcneil over at the store.
He was old enough to be her Dad, and I as ugly as, but I guess Jenny was tired of being hungry. Worst of all, he was married
with five grown children and with grandchildren
Then we stopped seeing Jenny round town. They said Mr.
McNeil had told he not to hang around.
One Sunday morning, we were in church, our regular place, third row, over near the wall. Robert and I were courting by then, so he was sitting right next to me, then Mun, then Dad on the end. We were singing "Bringin' in the Sheaves" when I noticed it got quiet towards the back and people were starting to turn round. Here comes Jenny , and then we could see why old McNeil had told her to get out. Her belly was big as could be. She didn't look at anybody, just kept looking at the floor, and walked up to the row right across from us, the only place left. Looking back I could see Mr. and Mrs McNeill , her covering her face with the hymn book and him, his face like a stone.
Pastor Miller grabbed up the Bible, flipped the pages, then read the story of the woman who come up behind Jesus when he was eating at the Pharisees' house. Pastor Miller came near to shouting the words of the Pharisee, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." He was staring straight at Jenny, but she never looked up.
It was communion Sunday, first Sunday of the month. The elders come forward and Pastor Miller steps down from the pulpit to bless the bread and the grape juice. He leans forward and I heard him say to the elders, "We don't serve whores here." They all nod and picked up the plates with the little bread cubes. Jim McKenzie
who is serving that side, walks right past Jenny. When it is time to serve the little cups filled with the juice red as blood, he acts as if she isn't even there.
They all come back and set the plates down. The minister serves them and then held up the cup and said, "Drink ye all of it." Then every person in the church tip their little cups up and you can hear more than a hundred people swallowing, everyone except
Jenny and my Dad.
The organ starts playing and that's when my Dad stands up. He has his little cup in his hand and then I see he still has his bread, too. Walks right across the front of the church, right past the communion table, right to where Jenny sits
Dad kneels right there on the floor next to her and gives her the bread and the juice. I could see her eyes as big as could be just staring at him. She takes the bread and eats it, and drinks from the cup. Then she reaches down and takes my Dad's hand, speckled with black cause you can't ever get all the coal dust out of your pores. She put his hand up to her cheek, and I heard her whisper her thanks.
Then I remembered the other words of the scripture the minister had read, "Her sins are forgiven for she loved much; but
he who is forgiven little, loves little."
When Dad come back and sat down I saw that his shoes
were spotted with Jenny's tears. Mum didn't say anything but she
reached over and took his hand and when she looked up at him, her
eyes were shining with love.
That minister didn't last the year and I can't say any of us was sorry to see him go. And Jenny? Why she married my cousin Dave and they've got three of the nicest chldren, and now five grandchildren. . When the mines closed, they moved and Dave got a job as a mechanic—he always could fix anything. Soon as her children were all at school, Jenny went to beauty college— then got her own business.
You know", she said, "my Dad was no saint. Even after he got saved, he had trouble keeping his temper, and he always was as stubborn as they come. But in all the years that followed, I've never forgotten what he did that day.
Truth of it is, we're all sinners; we've all done things we can hardly face in the light a day. But it seems we forget sometimes that there isn't one of us that's beyond God's forgiveness and grace; not a one of us."
How about that cup of tea
Slightly adapted with thanks from a story by Pamela J. Tinnin
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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