I’m here (Luke 19)

Posted on April 17, 2014

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He tapped his fingers on the sycamore branch, the rings on his fingers drumming a gentle rhythm that he could feel but not hear over the noise of the mob below.  He breathed heavily from the exertion of climbing, work made more difficult by attempting to do it without drawing attention to himself.  At first he had made careful, quiet movements of ascent- a foot here, a hand there- as if nothing could be more normal than a grown man in a tree, but he had soon given up and finished in a scramble.

If the crowd had noticed, it had already forgotten, and if it had earlier noticed him craning to see over and between them, it had forgotten that also.  Beneath him families bunched together like the fig clusters his tree had dropped in the street.  Men stood shoulder to shoulder or in groups, talking and debating among themselves.  The clamor vibrated up the through the wood, and he wondered if that was how the city had felt, ages ago, when their Jericho wall had fallen and their city had been taken, if they had not just seen the army but also felt the horns, the marching and the drums, all of it pulsing from the hills like a heartbeat in the earth.

With a hand he smoothed the wrinkles of his shirt.  He could not remember its country of origin, only that it was from far away and thus expensive, which was all that mattered to him.  He owned several.  With the other hand he steadied himself.  On one side of the branch there was a knot in the wood, and the touch of bark in his palm felt like a coin purse.

He leaned his head into a groove in the trunk.  He had never wanted to be a tax collector.  He remembered the first time he had felt the press of money on his hand- the cool of it, the weight of it, how it seemed to sink through him and into him.  He remembered the first man and woman he had swindled.  The man like those who had teased him, the woman like those who had ignored him- both of them like so many whose friendship and respect and belonging and love had all flown above him, high in the air where he could see but not reach.  He had never wanted to be a tax collector.  But if he was to be denied the privilege of looking the world in the eye, neither he would feel pity when it came to him to kneel.

A small wind raised a column of dust in the street.  The crowd shouted and clapped, tightening against itself and against his tree.  The prophet was nearing.  He leaned forward to see him as he walked by.

And then the noise changed.  The shouts and claps disappeared, smothered by the new sound of every head swiveling towards his sycamore branch at once.  The prophet had spoken- had seen him, he realized in a panic, was looking at him now- and he recognized the sound of his name.  Come down from there.    

Something jumped in him like a lamp sparking to life, a thing which he had often felt but which he could never name.  Words came to mind, ones from the prophet Samuel as a child in Eli’s house. Adonai hineni, Lord, here I am!   In an instant he knew how the prophet had found him- that he had been shouting those words all his life, up to this very moment, and the prophet had heard.  Lord, I’m here!   This thing had a name now, this desire that roared and trembled inside him like lion and lamb.  Hineni, hineni, hineni.  He turned the words over in his mind like a child inspecting a new toy.

He wedged a foot into a divot in the wood and began to climb down.  The crowd watched, first him and then the man in the street.  It was very quiet.

(Luke 19)

 

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