by Kevin Rodgers
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The sounds of cars slowly passing, horns honking, and emergency sirens blaring, caused Nick to sigh. “Never changes,” he muttered as he casually strolled down the familiar narrow alley. To add to the chaotic atmosphere, the unspeakable slander from the mouths of ill-tempered pedestrians could be heard radiating from the crosswalks and sidewalks of the busy intersection, as well as cascading down from the balconies that hung over head.
“It’s nice to be home,” he said sarcastically, as he reached behind the nearest dumpster to retrieve his dirty milk crate and card board box.
The rank smell from Nick’s alley could have been contributed by the spoiled food left in the dumpster from Gipetto’s Pizzeria, which occupied the building on the north side of the alley. Or maybe it was from the exhaust of the congested traffic that polluted the air he breathed. Or better yet, maybe it was from the foot long rat that lay dead at Nick’s feet. Truth be told, all of the before mentioned, as well as other contributors that eluded Nick’s knowledge, earned its fair share of the blame.
Nick stepped awkwardly over the decomposing rodent, as he carried the crate, while dragging the box behind him, to the more congested end of the alley. The smell didn’t seem to bother him as much today. “Maybe I’m finally getting use to this place.” Nick pondered a bit; then quickly shook off his thought, “No. I hate it here,” he said emphatically.
After reaching the intersection, Nick unfolded his box and placed it down upon the dingy pavement. He then positioned the crate inside the box, through an opening he had previously cut. Once he had arranged his belongings in a manner that pleased him, he stepped inside his card board pulpit and climbed atop his milk crate.
Amongst the hectic buzz of ‘big city life’, Nick stood silent, almost unnoticed by the frequent passer-bys. Glancing to his left, then to his right, he finally spoke aloud. “Wow! Today’s even busier than yesterday. Is this a sign, Lord? Is today the day they finally listen?”
A smile stretched across his face, as he closed his eyes and began to pray silently. “Jesus…, it’s Nick again. I’m here Lord, reporting for duty. I pray that I don’t embarrass you today. Please, speak through me. Give me the words that you want them to hear. I love you. A-men.”
Opening his eyes, Nick reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a worn, black leather bible. He quickly shuffled through the smudged pages until he came across a heading that read ‘The Gospel of John’. From there, he began the sermon God had laid on his heart to preach today. Nick really had no need to read from his bible, he knew the words by heart. Every day for the last seven weeks he had been instructed by God to appear at this very street corner, to preach this same sermon to those who passed by.
“From the very beginning, Jesus has been with us all. He has never left us. He loves us so much that he chose to die a brutal death on a Roman cross in order to pave a way for us to go to Heaven.” Though Nick’s words echoed several feet in each direction, most of those that occupied the busy intersection ignored him completely. And those that did look his way cast scornful looks of hatred at him.
This type of response had become the norm for his sermons. No one seemed to care about what he had to say. No one seemed to care about what God had to say. However, regardless of the feedback he received from this group of people each day, Nick always managed to hold himself together long enough to complete the task that God had given him.
“God wants us all to love one another, just as He loves us. In fact, He commands it. He hates the evil that we do to each other. It makes Him sad to see how the sins in our lives keep us from doing what it right.”
As he finished his thought to take a deep breathe, a scream, filled with profanity, rained down upon him. Directing his attention to the balconies overhead, Nick found the source of the hateful remarks.
“Get lost you loser! No one wants to hear you ramblings. WE …DON’T … CARE!” Even after forty-nine consecutive days of listening to such comments, it still hurt Nick each time he was forced to digest the ranting. Sadness had quickly replaced his joy. He now stood motionless as a sorrowful expression covered his face.
A deafening explosion that echoed throughout the alley shook him from his frozen state. Turning toward the intersection, Nick felt cold and wet. His clothes now reeked of the foul stench of beer. Droplets of blood collected along both of his legs, as the shards of glass from the bottle dug into his pants.
“Yeah…you loser! GET OUT OF HERE!” someone shouted from the street corner as more bottles were hurtled at Nick. One struck him in the chest, sending him crumbling to the asphalt, withering in pain. A couple more shattered harmlessly near his feet.
As Nick sat awkwardly in a puddle of foaming beer, he could hear nothing but the jeering and laughter of the crowd that had gathered. “Lord…why?” he prayed silently as he struggled to stand. “Why?”
Looking once more at the spectators, Nick hung his head in defeat as he picked up his beer soaked bible and placed it in his coat pocket. He then retrieved his box and crate, while dodging more flying debris, and retreated down the lonesome, dark alley.
After Nick placed his belongings back behind the dumpster, he continued to slowly stagger further from the commotion. Pain pulsed through his legs with each step he took. Holding his chest to comfort the ache, tears trickled down his cheeks. The sounds of the heckling crowd still filled the air, causing him to feel more and more like a complete failure.
“It’s no use God. Why do you keep sending me here? They never listen. They never listen.”
Suddenly Nick stopped as words softly filled his ears. “Lord? What did you say Lord? Mark…?”
Again God repeated the words to Nick. “Mark 2:17.”
“Mark 2:17? Mark 2:17?” Nick repeated anxiously.
Removing his bible, Nick quickly turned to ‘The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 2, Verse 17,’ and in amazement read the verse aloud.
“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Nick’s face once again recaptured its joy, his heart recaptured its love, and his soul recaptured its desire to reach the lost.
“Same place, same time tomorrow, Lord?”
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This was a touching and in a way, heart-rending story. Only a little editting is in order. Minor grammar things. An enjoyable read.