Romans tax us to death and they can’t even fix the roads. How often had Abel heard his father mutter that complaint under his breath as he had carted earth back to their hovel? Well, the old man was gone and now it was his son’s turn to haul the rusty-red dirt.
With the cart now securely back on the track Abel paused to adjust his garment, tightening it around his waist. His torso glistened with sweat. Putting his hands back on the handles of the cart, he inhaled deeply and pulled. The wheels protested but yielded to the man’s persistent and stubborn resolve.
It fell to his brother, Benjamin, to transform this plain dirt into the pots and pitchers used every day here in Palestine. Some were quite beautiful, others very ordinary, but they all had their purposes.* He carted dirt as his father once had. Ben created beauty from dirt as, well, as only he could.
Not two miles away, another man bent down to pick up a handful of red earth. Benjamin, returning home from the marketplace, craned his neck to see what was happening. Who was this uncouth stranger who would pick up the dirt he had just spit on?
They said he was a Rabbi, but surely he’s made himself ceremonially now? I can see it on the faces of the Pharisees.
The itinerant teacher, still hunched back on his heels, mixed the two ingredients together in the palm of his hand. He got back onto his feet, reached out and gently applied the red clay to the eyes of a younger man who had been standing close by.
Ben shuddered, his sensitive, creative spirit at once horrified and fascinated.
Someone muttered to his left. He cocked his head and caught the tail end of the conversation.
“…the fellow was born blind. Must’ve done something wrong for God to punish him. A lotta good dirt in ‘is eye’ll do ‘im.”
Days later the rumours reached the outer limits of Jerusalem where Ben and Abel lived. They told of a blind man who could see. Not only that, Ben confirmed, suddenly the center of attention in his small world, but he had been thrown out of the synagogue for becoming a follower of this so-called Rabbi.**
Some time later Benjamin and his brother visited the field where Abel was accustomed to collecting the clay. Pots had been the last thing on their minds in recent weeks. The city was abuzz with all kinds of strange events, some of which revolved around the itinerant teacher whose actions had so disgusted and then amazed Ben. But there was more to come.
“What the—?” said Abel, as he stared at the two scruffy figures digging in the field.
“I’d say you’ve lost your exclusive rights to this patch of ground,” teased his brother.
The two men they were watching ignored their approach until Abel called out: “Hey, what are you two doing? If you’re working for some potter, no need to dig a hole that deep.”
At that moment the two potters noticed the bundle tossed on the ground beside the hole. The dirty-white cloth was rusty with some kind of stain.
Benjamin nudged Abel. “That’s a shroud,” he whispered.
“And that’s why the hole is this deep,” called back one the sharp-eared gravediggers.
“Who is it?” asked Abel. “Why are you burying him here?”
“Man hung himself, and nobody else wants what’s left of the mess. The priests told us to put him here. Seems he turned in that Galilean Rabbi to the authorities and then got to feeling bad about it.”***
One of the men had turned toward the potters and caught the horrified look they exchanged. He laughed: “Don’t worry, we’ll mark the grave so you don’t dig him up by accident.”
On a hill not far away, drops of blood dripped to the ground at the foot of a rough cross. Red mingled with red as the earth from which all men come and to which all men return received the Master Potter’s offering.
In a potter’s field, two men heard the sound.
* Romans 9:21
** John 9; 2 Corinthians 4:7
*** 2 Timothy 2:20