This story was inspired by the first Marketplace VBS I was involved with. My daughter, Eryn, who produced this year's Marketplace, thoughtfully pointed out that the first one was 20 years ago.
A Beggar, a Miracle, and Gold Nuggets
The beggar put down the stick he used for a crutch and walked through the marketplace to the bucket of gold nuggets. He untied the burlap pouch from his rope belt and emptied it into the full bucket. The children had been very generous tonight. He wondered how he would fare tomorrow after Peter and John healed him. Turning to a table behind him, he started folding the chairs that lined it. Nearby, merchants packed up supplies to take into the church as excited children ran to parents who waited by their cars. Caleb smiled, remembering how much he had loved Vacation Bible School as a child. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
The next night, after eating a bowl of ramen, he rode his bicycle to the church, grateful that it wasn’t raining. Since he had been laid off, he had been riding as much as he could, to avoid using gas. Calling “Hello” to the merchants setting up under the big tent, he went inside to don his rags and find his crutch. He carefully rubbed dirt on his face and arms and smiled at the effect in the mirror. He was a pretty good beggar; the nightly gifts of gold nuggets proved that. When the kids started arriving he limped out to the marketplace and took up his favorite post near the baker’s stall. Not all the kids were inclined to share one of their three nuggets with the beggar, but he would have more than enough for honey cakes and hamantashen to supplement his meager supper. He spotted a group of little girls watching him from a distance and he limped over to them, his hand out, pleading pathetically for alms. They giggled and reached into their pouches while a ten year old boy yelled, “Get a job.”
While he settled back down on his small patch of grass, a commotion started under the tent. Two men dressed in striped robes walked past the merchant tables, inviting the children to come with them to the temple to pray.
“Look, it’s Peter and John.”
The children had seen them in the marketplace before and eagerly followed them. Last night Peter had been thrown in prison and an angel had opened the doors and led him out. Now they walked toward the beggar and he reached out his hand, getting ready for his big moment.
“Alms, alms for the poor,” he whined.
They stopped and he looked up at them hopefully. But instead of reaching for a money pouch, Peter touched the beggar’s hand.
“We don’t have any silver or gold,” he said. “But we’ll give you what we do have. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk.”
He grasped both of the beggar’s hands so that he had to drop his crutch, and pulled him to his feet. Then Peter let go. He stood still for a moment, then jumped in the air and laughed.
“I’m cured,” he shouted, running through the marketplace. “Look, I’m cured.” He ran back to the disciples and thanked them, still laughing.
“It was Jesus who healed you. Be sure to follow him from now on,” John warned.
After that he couldn’t beg anymore, so he apprenticed himself to the sandal maker. He told the children that Jesus had healed him. His pouch was no longer full, but he had a respectable robe to wear instead of rags.
The last night, during closing exercises, an offering was taken for the church’s food pantry. Caleb sat in the back row watching the children put coins and bills, not gold painted rocks, into the offering plate. He took out his wallet and looked at the single twenty dollar bill in it. He had managed to keep it there in spite of his empty gas tank, but his unemployment check wasn’t due until Monday. Slowly he took it out and placed it on top of the children’s offering, then shoved the empty wallet back in his pocket. Maybe someone else needed it more than he did. After all, since Jesus had healed this beggar, he had to believe he’d take care of his finances.