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Today, I am retelling a traditional story. This version draws loosely on a story by Leo Tolstoy, so the context is set in nineteenth century Russia.

Martin was an old man and a shoemaker who lived and worked in a cellar apartment in a large city. The apartment had just one window that opened on the sidewalk where he could see the feet of people walking past.

One evening, after reading in his bible the story of Jesus visiting the home of Peter, he dozed off and heard a voice say,

"Watch the street tomorrow, Martin, for I am coming to visit you."

Immediately, he woke up and wondered if it really had been Jesus' voice. He found it hard to sleep that night, and in the morning, as he put soup to cook and water for tea, he wondered if Jesus would really come.

As he worked, his eyes strayed to the feet passing by. Mid-morning he saw familiar boots. Steven, an old man who lived in the building and worked as assistant janitor to help pay his rent, had gone out to clear the snow. Martin could see he struggled with the task.

He called Steven to come in and have tea with him. The old man sat beside the wood stove and downed the cup of tea in one gulp.

"Let me pour you another," Martin said. Then, he glanced at the window.

"Are you waiting for someone?" Steven asked.

"Well, I am rather embarrased to say so, but I had this strange dream." And he spoke of the story he had been reading and the voice. Because Steven was interested, and could not read himself, Martin told other stories of Jesus.

Eventually Steven got up, thanked him for warming him, body and spirit, and went out to finish his work.

Lunch time came and went. No visit from Jesus. Mid afternoon, Martin went upstairs to look up and down the street. A woman in a summer shawl huddled in a doorway trying to wrap her baby in a tattered blanket. "Come inside and do that," he said.

The woman shivered as she thanked him.

"Have you nothing warmer?"

She explained that her husband, unable to find other work, had joined the army eight months earlier and she had heard nothing from him. She lost her job when the baby was born, and no one wanted to hire her. "I sold my last warm shawl for food."

Martin went to the closet and pulled out his wife's winter coat, something he had not been able to let go of. "I don't need this, and you do." He rummaged for a warm blanket, and then had an idea. "A wealthy old woman bought new boots and said she was looking for a cleaning woman. She could look after your child while you worked, and she might know others." He wrote down the address and told her to use his name.

Profuse in her thanks, she went right away to visit the woman.

Martin felt good about what he had done but still could not concentrate on his work. Again and again, his eyes strayed to the window and the street. As the light dimmed, he put away his tools. He went out to take one last look for Jesus. He saw a woman balancing a basket of apples walking down the street. A young boy darted up and grabbed one, but the woman grabbed him. She started screaming at him. He tried to wiggle away, but she held tighter.

Martin rushed over and got between them when she raised her hand to beat the boy. "Forgive him, Mother. Have you never been hungry?"

"Forgive! He must learn a lesson."

"For the sake of Christ, have mercy."

With a sigh the woman released the boy, who apologized for the theft. As he reached out to return the apple, the woman tossled his hair and gave him a second. She smiled at Martin and went down the street. The boy scooted off the other way.

Martin returned to his room, happy and sad. He finished his supper, and as he picked up his bible, he said "Jesus, I really did think you would come today." The book opened to a story Jesus told about the Lord who said that each cup of water given to the thirsty was given to him. He lay the book on his lap seeing now that Jesus had come to him, three times he had come, and Martin had been able to serve him each time.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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