David the Homeless One (An Original Christmas Story)Posted: December 25, 2014
David the Homeless One
My father Judah was a poor shepherd the son of shepherds for untold generations. He had no land and was a keeper of sheep for others. My mother Sarah was a poor girl from a large family with no prospects. Their fathers were cousins, and since my mother’s father Nathaniel had too many daughters even a poor landless shepherd like my father Judah could afford the bride price.
I was born in the late spring of the year, when the grass in Bethlehem is still green, and the grain in the fields is just beginning to mature. Herod the King was building his fortress Herodium near our home. My father became a laborer on the great project to support his wife and baby. But civil war came to the Roman Empire, Octavian against his rival Marc Antony and the Queen of Egypt Cleopatra. When giants decide to fight, war also comes to poor nations like Israel and even to impoverished, out of the way villages like Bethlehem. Herod was loyal to his patron Antony, and Octavian’s allies attacked Herod. Desert raiders mounted on camels came in the middle of the night, and my mother fled in fright. As she picked me up to flee into the hills she dropped me and my left leg was broken. My leg never healed properly, and I have been lame ever since like Saul’s son Mephibosheth.
Three years later my father was killed when a cave-in occurred while he was working on the excavation of one of the cisterns of Herodium. My mother returned to her father’s house such as it was. We had barely enough to eat gleaning in the fields, and living off of the charity of others. When I was six my mother died of fever, and my grandparents did their best to care for me. But when I was eight my grandfather died, and I became little David the homeless one.
With no other way to eat I became one of the beggars at the village gate living from the alms provided by passersby. Sometimes people who were not in a hurry would hire me to perform an errand for them. As it is said, “Like vinegar on your tongue or smoke in your eyes, is the slow one you send on an errand.” With my crutch I can go here and there, but not nearly fast enough to chase sheep, or work in the fields. Benjamin the Inn Keeper gives me his stale bread from time to time. As it is said, “Generous hands are blessed hands because they give bread to the poor.” Benjamin even allows me to sleep in the cave he uses as a stable in cold or rainy weather.
Life is hard for homeless ones like me. But particularly hard is the scorn of the self-righteous who call me lazy and shiftless. Many in the village laugh at me and make fun of me. Some of the religious ones even make a point of preaching to others that my misfortune is the result of sin. They say, “Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.” Surely my parents must have done something horrible for God to have cursed me with lameness. The almighty punishes sin, so I must be a terrible sinner. The scorn of the self-righteous is as hard to bear as the hunger and the cold.
I was in my twenty-fourth year, Herod was still the King and Augustus Caesar was Emperor in Rome. Poor Israel had been turned upside down with an insane special census to levy a head tax upon all residents of Herod’s Kingdom. Everyone was required to return to the village of their birth in order to pay the levy.
Bethlehem was busy. Many wealthy people had returned to the village to make their claim to ancestry from the great King David. Everywhere was crowded especially Benjamin’s Inn. Finding a place to sleep at night was difficult for anyone but especially a homeless one like me. People were using the doorways and small shelters I would sometimes frequent at night. Also with so many guests in the Inn, Benjamin had no stale bread left over. On the bright side begging was good. Many visitors coming and going meant more alms for beggars. “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and the Lord will repay him for his deeds.”
On the third day of the census, toward evening Hosea the righteous one passed by my place outside the village gate. Stopping to look at me begging, he spat at me and said, “You beggars give Bethlehem a bad name. This is the home of the royal house of David. You should go somewhere else and collect your alms. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth,” he finished.
“And may God cover the soles of your feet with boils,” I muttered under my breath. About that time a poor man with a woman riding a donkey came up the road, and asked me for directions to the Inn. I pointed down the hill a short ways and said, “The Caravanserai of Benjamin is just down the slope, but I doubt you will find any room there. All of Bethlehem is overcrowded.”
The man and the donkey shuffled off toward the Inn. Benjamin seemed hurried and exasperated as he tried to explain to the man there was no room. The woman cried out in pain, and even from a distance I could see she was sobbing. As Benjamin went back inside the Inn, I struggled up with my crutch. “Friend,” I called, “I do not have much to offer, but allow me to help you find some shelter.”
“Oh please,” responded the man, “my wife is with child and her time has come.”
I hobbled down the hill past the Inn. “I know a cave, come with me.” I led them to the cave used by Benjamin for extra animals. There was straw, and wood to burn to bring warmth and frighten away the wolves. “I am David the homeless one.”
“I am Joseph,” the man responded, “a carpenter from Nazareth.”
Joseph made a bed of straw for his wife, and began to make a fire. “I am not fast,” I offered, “but I can go to fetch the midwife.”
“God will smile on your mercy, homeless one.”
As fast as I could I made my way to the house of Rebecca the midwife.
“Rebecca, Rebecca, hurry you are needed,” I cried.
“Whoever, sent you must be desperate,” she replied.
“Please come, the woman is already well along in labor.”
“And I suppose, if they have sent you, they have no money?”
“I do not know,” I replied, “they seem poor enough. But as it is said, ‘Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.'”
“Enough of your proverbs already,” she said, “show me the way.”
To her credit Rebecca was kind and encouraging. Within an hour the baby had come. Joseph had built a fire. The cave was warm the mother was nursing her child.
“God performs another miracle,” Rebecca said to me. “It is a boy. But the mother is weak, needs food to produce milk. You David, go find bread.”
“But where shall I find bread with no money?” I asked.
“You are good at begging, go beg bread for the baby.”
So I set off for the home of Yitzaak the Baker. When I arrived I could smell new loaves coming out of the oven. It was an aroma like heaven for a homeless one who eats mostly stale bread. “Yitzaak,” I cried, “I need bread.”
“And so does all the rest of Bethlehem,” he replied. “This is an extra batch of loaves,” he continued, “for people who can pay!”
“But Yitzaak,” I replied, “this is not for me. A poor mother has just given birth and needs bread to make milk for her baby.”
“So you say,” The Baker replied, “and I suppose they have no money also.”
“You are right about that,” I said, “they are poor and far from home. But please a little bread for the sake mercy.”
“If I give away all my bread, then I will become a beggar like you!”
“But, Yitzaak, as they say, ‘Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.'”
“Enough of your proverbs,” he replied, “no money, no bread.”
Reluctantly, reaching into my robes I drew out two copper pennies. “This is all a poor beggar can offer,” I said, handing him my money.
Yitzaak paused for a long moment, and sighed, “I don’t know why but I believe you today. For two pennies I give you two loaves one for the new mother, one for you.”
“God will smile upon your generosity Yitzaak,” I proclaimed, and began to hobble back toward the Inn. I found Joseph giving water to his wife as I limped forward holding out a loaf of bread, exclaiming, “And it is fresh too!”
“May God be praised my homeless friend.”
“This is for her,” I continued, “and you and I can share this one,” I announced holding up the second loaf.
As Joseph and I sat at the mouth of cave about to share our loaf, Joseph muttered a prayer, “Blessed art thou O Lord of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”
“Thank you,” Joseph I replied, “Bread tastes better when it is shared,” and I marveled at how good I felt for once being the generous one. Then as I looked up at the stars shining brightly overhead, I wondered, does the Lord of the Universe really care?
I went to sleep happy with my fill of bread. In the middle of the night I was awakened by voices. “Where is the child?” a local shepherd named Joel was asking me.
“What child?” I muttered groggy with sleep.
“Angels came and told us to look for a child born tonight in Bethlehem,” the shepherd beamed as three of his companions nodded their heads in astonishment together.
“I haven’t seen any angels,” I replied, “are you drunk?”
“No,” answered Nathaniel, another of the shepherds, “but it was amazing! A light appeared to us in the meadow. It had a beautiful voice. It sang to us, ‘the messiah is born in Bethlehem — go and see, go and see.’ And then the whole sky shown with light, and we heard a chorus of voices, ‘the messiah is born in Bethlehem — go and see, go and see.'” We were led here.
“A child was born here tonight,” I replied, “in this cave.”
The shepherds crowded further back into the cave. Joseph invited them to see the baby almost as if he had been expecting them. They told Joseph about seeing an angel, and he asked them what the angel had said. The baby’s mother told the shepherds an angel had appeared also to her. And then as quickly as they had come the shepherds left laughing and talking about the miracle they had witnessed.
“Joseph,” I asked, “do you believe the story about angels the shepherds told?”
“Many strange and wonderful events have surrounded the birth of this child,” he replied. “An angel appeared to me in a dream to tell me to name the boy, Jesus. God is mysterious and miraculous Homeless One. Why would God choose a poor family to give birth to the Messiah? We do not understand the ways of the Lord.”
Mysteries and miracles are all well and good, but having spent my pennies for bread the next morning I had to return to the village gate to beg for alms. Two days passed. Joseph had hired himself to Benjamin to make two additional tables for the Inn, so I did not need to continue feeding them from my meager begging. But on the third day strange visitors came to Bethlehem. They rode the finest camels, and they were accompanied by a half-dozen servants. Dressed in finery and bedecked with jewels they appeared like foreign princes — three of them.
They stopped at the Caravanserai and made inquiries for food and provisions for their camels and pack animals, while their servants set up fine tents. I watched and wondered what brought them to Bethlehem. One of their servants came to the gate announcing that his masters were seeking a special child. They had seen his star in the East and had followed it to Israel and now to Bethlehem.
I told the servant that I might know something, if he would take me to his master. I hobbled after the servant, who led me into a lavish tent, where the three great princes were eating. “Noble sirs,” I began, “I am but a humble beggar, but I might know where you can find the child you are seeking.”
“Speak,” one of the princes said, “if you can lead us to this child, we will reward you.”
“Noble sirs, three nights ago a child was born in a cave not far from here. His parents are poor and humble, but the night of his birth shepherds came saying angels had appeared to them announcing the birth of the child.”
The three princes conferred with one another in a language I could not understand. Finally, the one who spoke Aramaic said, “Lead us to the child.”
They rose and followed me down the hill to the cave. Joseph was in the mouth of the cave making a table. I said to the three princes, “Noble sirs, this is Joseph the Carpenter, father of the child.” Joseph looked at me with a question on his face. “Joseph my friend,” I began, “these Noblemen from the East saw a star in the skies announcing the birth of your baby. They have come in search of him.”
Joseph graciously invited the princes into the cave to see the baby. The one who spoke Aramaic asked Joseph and Mary questions about the angels and the shepherds. Then bowing low they admired the baby and sent one of their servants to bring gifts. Three servants returned bearing royal gifts costly, precious — gold, frankincense and myrrh. After they had presented their gifts they left the cave with a strange light in their eyes. I followed them out, and one of the servants turned and handed me three silver denarii. “My masters thank you for your assistance.” I had never held so much money. I could eat for several days, weeks even.
The next afternoon I was sitting at the Village Gate at my accustomed begging place, when one of the servants of the three princes came to me. “Homeless one, my Masters would like to pay you to perform an errand.”
“Certainly,” I replied. “What can I do for your exalted Masters.”
“Come with me, this must remain a secret.” I followed him into one of their tents, and he said to me, “On our way to Bethlehem, my Masters stopped in Jerusalem. They inquired at the court of Herod, where is the Jewish Messiah to be born. The High Priest citing one of your prophets said, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea!’ When Herod heard this he asked my Masters to go search for the child, and then bring word to him. Last night an angel appeared to one of my Masters in a dream telling him to return to our country by another way. Herod will search for the child to destroy him. We leave this very afternoon. You need to go warn the parents of the child to flee and keep this a secret.” With that he handed me two more silver denarii and bid me go to warn Mary and Joseph.
I hobbled to the cave to bring the news from the princes to Joseph and Mary. They were distressed. How could they leave quickly with no preparation for a journey? I volunteered to go buy bread for them, while they packed up their meager belongings. I went straight away to Ytzaak’s bakery and putting down one of the princes’ denarii I purchased five loaves of bread. When I passed out of the village gate I noticed a cloud of dust coming from the direction of Jerusalem. Hobbling as fast as I could I went directly to the Cave. “Joseph, I fear there are soldiers of the King coming this way.” I handed them the bread and told them they must go immediately.
A short time later I heard the sound of horses’ hooves at the Inn. Quietly Mary and Joseph and the baby snuck out of the cave and started south toward the road to Beersheva. Before they were out of sight, however, a soldier came down the slope to look in the cave. When he saw me, he asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I am a beggar, a homeless one,” I replied. “I sleep in this cave sometimes. Is there something I can do for your Worship?”
“Tell me, where did the peasants go who were staying in this cave?”
“I know no peasants. The last several nights I have not slept here.”
The soldier glared at me, and went to the mouth of the cave and began scanning the horizon. When he turned to the South, he stopped and muttered under his breath, and I knew what I must do. Perhaps because he did not consider a lame beggar to be a threat or a crutch to be weapon. He never saw it coming. I hit him in the head with my crutch — thwak. He went down with a thud. I hobbled out to the meadow and spent three nights with the shepherds. The soldiers left Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and the baby got away.
You ask, “Does God care?”
“Yes, blessed art thou of Lord of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth. And remember my friends, God also needs good and kind people who care for others. For as it is said, ‘Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, whoever is kind to the needy honors God.’” You have heard this from David the homeless one.