I don’t write very many stories. But the other day I was riding down the rode and thought of this one. So here it is, a long rambling parable about what I’m not entirely sure.
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowds in parables. He did not tell them anything without using a parable.” – Matthew 13:34
And somewhere along the way his followers made up more of the parables he never got around to.
There was one cold, dark night in the dead of winter which was brought to our attention on That Day. And at the word of our sister, our Lord smiled in the assembly.
In a small town there was a hotel with a reputation for shady dealings that sat on a street known for its dark temptations. As such the Christians of the town stayed away from both and set up their shops and stores on the other side of the main street. And in this hotel, with its cracking lavender staccato outer, there were was only one light on. The yellow light oozed out so that it looked like a dark monster with a hundred eyes was asleep except for one waking winking eye.
And Sarah walked down the dim hall towards that unblinking eye escorting her tired body and a glass of wine from the sleepy bar – both for the patron within the lighted window. She knocked once and entered the unlocked room. What came next was familiar, for a time. Until he suddenly grabbed her up off the bed, drug her down the stairs, and threw her into his truck. She was unclothed and horrified, miles outside of the routine. Sarah knew the nature of the men she dealt with and said nothing as they left the parking lot. And nothing as they made a right turn, and then a left. And nothing as the truck stopped and she was thrown out on the side of the highway into the bitter cold.
This came as an almost expected shock. Deep down she had always felt, almost, that she deserved some sort of retribution for the way she haunted that dark street – some repayment for the hell her profession had welcomed. And tonight along highway 23, naked, alone, and freezing cold, she knew it had come. What was there to do but walk back the way they’d come.
The pastor of the Christian church had been asleep when the phone rang, startled when it rocked in its cradle the second time, and groggy after the third ring when he said hello. The fellow who was to be the guest speaker the following morning had come into trouble. He had been delayed in leaving and then run into traffic still fifty miles out. And then ten miles out he blew a tire. The tire went out in the middle of a curve; there wasn’t time to correct, and the right side of the car smashed hard into the guardrail. So it was after the third ring and a quick explanation that he hurriedly got dressed and left the parsonage. It was a cold night to be left out beside the road. Before leaving he rang up Jerry, the town’s twenty-four hour tow man who was awake upon the first ring and answering upon the second. He was shortly up and dressed too; for a tow man hell comes calling at all hours of the day.
The pastor found his man standing beside a smashed-up Chrysler in the middle of a curve. The two laughed and tried to make light of the situation as they headed back towards town. “This ought to give me something interesting to talk about tomorrow” the un-stranded man jested. “I’m going to be preaching about staying alert – not letting the Devil take us off guard. The church today gets so distracted with worldly things, not paying attention, and then bam! the Devil swoops in and takes em out.” “Ah yes brother, I look forward to it. What is the text you’ll be using?” “1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 from the New Testament: But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. And Habakkuk 2:1 from the Old Testament, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.” “Well I shall look forward to it then indeed.”
Not long after the two men left the scene of the crash they passed Jerry and the wrecker coming the other way. “It’s a shame having to call Jerry, but there isn’t another tow man for forty miles” the driver said. “I should like to deal with someone else…but a small-town man doesn’t have much choice.” “So I take it he’s not one of your flock then?” the man in the passenger seat said with a chuckle. “No sir, that he is not. Jerry’s a dirty old sinner, everybody knows it, but can’t nobody talk to him about it and get anywhere. He went to jail a few years back for rapin’ a girl. He’s a bad man – but like I say, he’s the only tow man for forty miles.”
As they came into town the pastor slowed down to thirty-five and then came to a stop at the red light. To their left they could see the yellow light coming out of the third-floor window of the purple hotel. The traffic light changed to green, and they started off again. The pastor suddenly wished he’d taken the overpass and come into town the other way – you never know what you might see over in this part. With a visitor in the passenger seat, he thought, it wouldn’t be a good time for the town to show its darker colors. As they continued down the grimy street lit dimly by tall yellow lamps, a figure started to take shape up ahead. Then, to the dear pastor’s horror, it became apparent she was indeed a painting of the dark colors he’d hoped so badly not to come upon. Sarah had walked all the way back, shivering and half froze to death, she’d made it back where this nightmare had started. But with no one to take her into a room for the night, she had nowhere to go. She just kept on walking. Our poor pastor was mortified. Embarrassed. He flicked off his headlights so as to guard his own eyes and that of his passenger and continued on the next hundred yards by the dim streetlights. Neither man said anything of the pale, quivering prostitute walking down the sidewalk.
As the two men entered the spare room of the parsonage beside the church, Jerry too was headed for his own house. In his groggy state he’d forgotten that the truck’s winch had gone out, and the part wasn’t getting in until Monday. When he saw the figure growing larger in the distance he put on his high beams, and then slowed to a stop. Our poor Sarah was by now so cold that she’d have climbed in with the Devil himself. Neither of them said a word as they jerked away from the curb the way that tow trucks do when they take off. When they reached the garage, Jerry pulled the truck into the lot and cut off the engine. With a wave of his hand he took her to his car, and they started back to his house. Upon arrival his stomach turned, and his heart leapt. There was a light coming from his own kitchen window, and a car was parked in his driveway. The business trip must have been cut short.
Jerry hugged his wife and then explained how he’d found the poor urchin freezing to death beside the road and couldn’t have just left her out there. So Sarah was fed and clothed and given the couch – a night for free.
Some time later in a place where time really has no meaning and space works indescribably differently than here, the Queen of Sheba was standing before a great assembly of men and women that seemed to Jerry and the two pastors to be anciently older and from some bygone time. And as she sat down, without knowing why they stood up and stepped forward. And there where the Queen of Sheba had been standing stood that old prostitute who had lived and then died in that purple hotel. Without a word she pointed at the tow man and smiled up at the judge. He was seated on a great throne almost too white to see and far too bright to stare at. And he looked down and smiled too.
For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father,
Through the features of men’s faces, – Gerard Manley Hopkins