by Fr Duncan McVicar on 02/07/2012 -
Before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes, and he was calling in a clear voice: “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!” “Now, this is a wonder,” I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city? I followed him. And I wasn’t disappointed. Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her heart was breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. “Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “and I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear. In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart. “Give me your rag,” he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, “and I’ll give you mine.” The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood – his own! “Rags! Rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman. After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, and old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes. And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.He climbed a hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died. I sobbed myself to sleep. I can come to love that Ragman.I did not know that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too. But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence. Light – pure, hard, demanding light – slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman - no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness. Well, then I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: “Dress me.” He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!
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