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The Rag Man

The Rag Man

One Friday morning, a young man, handsome and strong, started walking the alleys around his town. He was pushing an old shopping cart filled with clothes, both bright and new, and he was calling in a loud voice:"Rags! Get your rags here! New rags for old! I take your tired old rags! Rags here!"

Soon the Ragman came across a woman sitting on her porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her shoulders shook with grief.

The Ragman, when he saw her, stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman."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 hands a linen cloth, clean and new. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put this woman's stained handkerchief to his own face; and then HE began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet the woman was left, sitting on her porch, with a peaceful smile on her tear-stained face.And so the Ragman continued to walk and to cry into his handkerchief. And he kept calling, "Rags! Rags! Get your rags here! New rags for old!" After a little while, the Ragman came upon a girl who had fallen while playing in the street and hit her head. She had wrapped around her head a cloth bandage. Blood was starting to soak through the bandage, and one trickle of dried blood ran down her temple.

Now the Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart."Give me your rag," he said to the little girl, "and I'll give you mine."The child could only watch at him while the Ragman loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And slowly, the Ragman himself started to bleed into the bandage, and a trickle of his own blood crept down his temple.

He left the girl, her head now healed, and continued pushing his shopping cart full of rags. "Rags! Rags! New rags for old!" cried the crying, bleeding (but still strong) Ragman.

After a little while longer, the Ragman approached a man who was leaning against a telephone pole.The Ragman asked, "Are you going to work?" The man shook his head.The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?"

The man leaning against the pole said, "Look at me." He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket – it was flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no right arm. "Well," said the Ragman, quietly but firmly. "Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine."

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman. As they exchanged jackets, it became clear that the man who had been leaning against pole suddenly had two good arms, and the Ragman only had one, with one sleeve pinned up at the cuff."Now you can go to work," he said.

The Ragman continued to push his cart with his one arm, crying, bleeding, calling "Rags! Rags! New rags for old!" A little while later, he found a drunk man, lying unconscious beneath a dirty army blanket. The man was old, hunched, and sick. Without a word, the Ragman took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk man he left a new wool blanket.

The Ragman continued to walk. He was continuing to cry, bleeding from his head, pushing his cart with one arm, stumbling in drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, and sick. Finally, he reached the garbage dump on the edge of town. With a deep sigh, he slowly made a bed from the contents of his cart and lay down on it. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his old, aching bones with an army blanket. His body shook under the load of its injuries and pain and disease. His eyes wept and the wound under his bandage continued to bleed. With one last, deep sigh, he closed his eyes and died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I sat down in an old, abandoned car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope. I wept because I had come to love the Ragman. As I had followed him, I had watched him work wonders and change lives so profoundly that it didn't seem fair that he was gone. He had taken those things that were soiled and damaged beyond repair and had replaced them with the new and the whole. He had offered hope to the damaged and lost of the city.

But if the Ragman was gone, then my hope was gone as well. I felt such an overwhelming sense of grief and loss that I remained in the private seclusion of the rusted out car and sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know - how could I know — that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and on through Saturday night as well.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was awakened by a violence that shook me to the core of my being. Light - pure, hard, insistent light - slammed against my tear-stained face and demanded that I awake. When I was finally able to open my eyes, I blinked against the light and squinted in the direction of the pile of trash where the Ragman's body had been. As I looked, I saw the last and the first wonder of all. The Ragman was there, yes! But he was no longer dead. He was alive! There he stood, folding the old army blanket carefully and laying it atop the neatly arranged handkerchief and jacket. Besides the scar on his forehead, there was no other evidence of what he had previously taken upon himself. There was no sign of sorrow or age, no evidence of illness or deformity. His body was whole and strong and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

I wept to see him again. When I thought that hope had died along with Ragman, I had abandoned any hope for my own life. And yet there he stood, healthy and whole. Climbing from my shelter I moved toward the Ragman, trembling from what I had seen and because of what I knew I needed to do. Walking to him with my head lowered, I spoke my name to him with shame. Looking up into his clear, loving, compassionate eyes I spoke with yearning in my voice, "Rags. Please take my tired rags and replace them with new ones. And he did just that. Taking the old, tired rags of my existence that covered the griefs and wounds of a life sadly lived, he replaced them with the new clothes of a life spent following Him. He put new rags on me and I am now a reflection of the hope he offers to us all.

The Ragman.

"The Christ."

The Spirit of God Shall Teach You!
God Has Shown Me Rivers

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