Abridged from Only a Servant, by Kristina Roy
“The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)
Only a Servant
In front of his house, under the spreading nut tree, sat the old Jew, David, and with thin fingers crumbled bread for his tame chickens. The moon shone on the uncovered head of the lonely man—a man who, in the whole wide world, did not have any relatives.
It is true he had his little house, a small orchard beside it; also this nut tree and the bench beside it was his, but this was not his homeland. He was a stranger among strangers, with whom he could never speak in his native language. He grew old in this village but did not get accustomed here. There was nothing to bind him. The people got used to him and he got used to the people, but the acquaintance never brought any bonds of love.
In the winter when he was sick, the neighbors knew that he was ill but did not go to see him. Who would be going to a Jew? Only one went; only one, and he was going faithfully, and took care of him. He did not shun him.
The aged man had to think of this one continually; he was thinking of him now. To this aged man, near the grave, something unexpected happened. His heart, which he considered buried long ago, began to be warmed up in love to this strange young fellow, and that young fellow was a Christian.
In the beginning, the aged man looked with the suspicion of a real Jew, who had suffered snubs among the (so-called) Christians, at the uncommon behavior of the stranger, who appeared as a sunbeam that suddenly shines out. None of the neighbors had yet noticed a difference between himself and the servant of Ondrasik, but the Jew saw it long ago. He saw it from the moment the strange young man brought him water from the well the first time, and sat down in the miserable kitchen and chatted so kindly, as if he loved old David—him, whom nobody loved, and whom even the nearest ones forsook. Suspiciously, the old man watched the young fellow to see if he would not disclose some weakness and live in those sins in which the “Christians” usually lived. But in vain, up to this day he saw no spot in his straightforward actions. He did not drink, he did not curse, he knew God’s commands given to the Jews on Mount Sinai and fulfilled them day by day. The Jew noticed that this young Christian loved God, and that he really loved people.
He inquired about him secretly. Well, in the whole surrounding country there was not a neighbor—neighbor to him in house or field—whom Method had not helped somehow. The old night watchman told him that while he was carrying a bundle of wood in the wintertime, he was overtaken by the Ondrasik’s servant with a load of dried leaves. Method stopped at once, relieved the old man of his bundle of brush, laid it on the wagon and offered him his own seat, walked beside the wagon the whole distance, till they came to his hut.
In the spring again, as they were digging a ditch around the field of Ondrasik, he also spaded the adjacent field of the old unfriendly widow, Hlinarka. Everybody, till that very day, was afraid of the old woman. She was very free with many nasty words; nobody gave her a good turn, but this young stranger.
It was nothing great which he did for the people, nor could he, since he was only a servant, but one thing is sure: whatever he saw that somebody lacked, if it was in his power, he helped him out of pure love. Yes, he did it as if he could not help but do it.
The aged Jew watched to see what kind of servant the young fellow would be, if he would not be spoiled after a while. It was more than a year since he came, and it was noticeable that nobody could take as good care of the property of Ondrasik as his servant. Whatever he could, he improved, whether in the house or on the farm, giving the master advice in everything. Not even Eleazar could have been more faithful to Abraham than Method was to this ignorant farmer.
The Jew considered Ondrasik ignorant; often he noticed that instead of prospering, the farm was going to ruin, but no, he would not give him advice. Why should he, to that heathen? He despised him, just as the farmer despised the Jew. The Jew noticed that Method was wiser than his master, but he never heard the young man speak otherwise, than with great respect and love for him.
Everything in that young man’s life was clean. He was young and the Ondrasik’s had a daughter and Petrash’s two. The village well was in front of the Jew’s windows. The Jew watched to see if he would not notice something similar to what other young fellows did. The people jokingly called it, “the weakness of youth.” Often the old man saw all three girls at the well and how Method drew water for them and talked with them in a friendly way. They smiled to him and he to them, just as if he were a brother to all three.
The Jew could not help but to compare him with Joseph in Egypt. Though Petrash’s girls were quite naughty, they were always decent in behavior towards him; they even seemed, since he was visiting their brother Sammy, somewhat more restrained.
Last week the Jew rejoiced when Method called on him; he felt that he was his debtor and for a long time desired to repay his service of love somehow, and now the young man came to ask him for some service.
He spoke about the lame Sammy, how his future could be improved if he, David, would take interest in him and not only teach him to figure, but also advise him how to start a business.
Perhaps for nobody in the world would David do that favor, but when Method asked, he agreed readily and said, “Why do you care about that neighbor? Is he not altogether a stranger to you? Why don’t you let him alone? He has parents and family, let them take care of him.” At the same time, the aged man watched whether Method would make some evil remark about the Petrash family.
“Do you know, neighbor,” said the young man, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God out of a whole heart, and thy neighbor as thyself. If I were lame, it would suit me very well if someone would take care of me in this way. The parents love Sammy, but up to this date they have not planned anything for him. It behooves me to do it, because God gave me that thought and I believe it will be very agreeable to them.”
Ah, for all this, the aged Jew had to admire and love the young Christian, but for one thing he almost hated him, because he did not give him any peace about that Christ of his. He was continually finding references concerning Christ. In almost every chapter in the Old Testament he found something about Him, and every discussion ended with: “He loves you.”
Old David would not have been thinking about those discussions if he could have forgotten them. Even now he would have put them out of his mind, but he could not. His teaching was very, very good, also. It was the teaching of love, and stole into the heart of the aged man, tormented by injustices, healing it as oil heals the wounds.
Up to this very day, if he had known the teachings of Christ, David would have just smiled coldly; of all those who lived around him and called themselves Christians, according to the teaching of Christ, not a single one lived by those teachings. They cursed, they bore false witness, they fought, and did not forgive each other.
In the village were two churches, two confessions: Catholic and Evangelical. They hated each other; spoke contemptuously about the faith and teaching of the other, and at the same time pretended to believe and worship Him who commanded love and mercy. If any one of them would have come to him with an offer of this teaching of Christ, it would have raised only an ugly laugh in the heart of the aged Jew. He would have compelled the offerer to compare his life with the teaching he was presenting. However, this good, strange young man lived, really lived, as Christ commanded. He loved and obeyed his Christ. Yes, he could do that. But since he could, why could not the others? Why was there such a difference between them?
The old man ceased his thoughts; there was no one to answer his questions.
“Good evening,” sounded from nearby. Facing him stood the very one of whom he had to think so much that day and whom he was impatiently awaiting.
“I almost despaired of being able to come to see you.
“I, too, had given up hope that you were coming.”
Over the withered face of the aged man passed a gleam of joy. When one has had nobody for a long time, and then begins to love somebody, there is usually a deep, strong feeling.
“Sit down!” Readily the man moved over, making room for him on the bench. “I am waiting to hear what message you are bringing; how did you manage at Petrash’s?”
Methodius sat down and told him all about it.
“I am not sure, I am not sure,” the Jew shook his head doubtfully, “whether he will not finally change his mind.”
“I am hoping for the best. Just now I prayed that this matter may be successfully carried out, and I believe that my prayer will be granted.”
Thus they counseled awhile, and even the aged man made plans to show how the Petrash’s could get started. The heart of the old businessman warmed up.
“Neighbor,” suddenly said Method, “when you knew how favorable this place is, why have you not started a business yourself? Why did you bother with these old rags?” The young man grasped the aged man’s hands in his own, and with a friendly smile looked into that face, which suddenly was covered with a shadow of a deep sorrow.
“Of what benefit would the business have been to me? Who would have taken care of the other things? I am all alone in the world, like a post in the wilderness. I had to do something. I had to make a living somehow, because without work I would have died in sorrow and loneliness; thus I did what I could. But why do you remind me of this?”
Almost roughly the old man pulled his hands away, covered his face with them, and rested his elbows on his knees.
For a while he sat there, crumpled up, wholly overcome with the pain of his recollections. The young man looked at him with noticeable interest and heartfelt sympathy. Then suddenly he put his arms around the aged man and drew that wrinkled gray head to his young breast. It had been a long time since the aged man had been embraced by anyone. Long ago he had felt the joy of being hugged. Long ago, when he was still young, he also knew, oh, he knew the bliss of such an expression of love. Later, when it all passed and passed forever, when he passionately but vainly opened his arms to the emptiness, when his heart almost died with longing, in vain he had mortified his heart so long that it seemed to him that he had cast out of it all human feelings, that it was now only a rock. However, now it was proven that it was not so, that it had only lain dormant. The ice melted when the sun shone upon it.
The aged man trembled in the arms of the young fellow, as when the wind shakes an old tree. Wild sobbing burst from his bosom—the first time in years, tears ran over the wrinkled face.
The youth did not try to stop the crying of the aged man, he leaned his young head against the old gray one, his eyes moist with tears, and because the dropped hands covered the face of the crying one no more, he wiped the tears from his eyes and cheeks.
“Let me alone,” with broken sobs uttered the aged one. “Why do you bother with an old Jew? Everybody shuns me, why don’t you leave me alone?”
“Because I love you, my dear neighbor.”
“Why should you love me?” with new sobs cried the Jew. “It is a long time since anyone loved me—once it was my mother, then I thought that she—but it was deceit!”
“What was deceit?”
“Let me go,” the man struggled to get away. “Do not ask me.”
The young man let him go.
“Believe me, neighbor, it would be much easier for you if you would confide in someone what is oppressing you these years. I am a stranger here and have nobody to whom I could betray you. If you have confidence in me, tell me. I love you and will feel with you.”
“Well, I don’t care.” The Jew straightened up. New light sparkled in his eyes. “You have done me very much good, even now, because you did not shun this old man. You are good and the world is evil; perhaps I may be able to warn you of some misfortune, so that you may be more careful than I and save yourself from harm.
“If you just look at me, my bent over form, the wrinkled old face, and the half-blind eyes, perhaps you would not be able to believe that I have been, once upon a time, young and comely, like a tree in the grove, as you are today,” began the aged one. He rested his emaciated form against the tree but held the hand of the young fellow in his feeble one.
“I inherited a good business from my parents, though I was not rich, but I believed that if the God of my fathers would bless me I would prosper. Nevertheless, I was a very rich man; I had a wife like a flower on Mount Lebanon, and a child, oh, a child! Even Moses could not have been more beautiful when the daughter of Pharaoh took pity on his loveliness. When I think of that happiness, the bliss of long ago, I know, I know that even Adam in Paradise could not have been happier. And that all passed away.
“How am I to tell you all? I used to be much away from home. That unfortunate business kept taking me away, and I did not know that somebody else had eyes also.
“Once I was coming home, full of joy and hope. I came; the house was empty.”
The old man drew his hand through his hair. “Another came and took the treasure of my eyes and the joy of my heart. If it had been an unbeliever—but it was one of our own—our own!
“I despaired; I ran like a crazy man; went to the courts; did everything, but in vain. I had to give her a bill of divorce, and the law gave her the child also.
“He was in a higher position than I—a government official. They pushed me, the poor Jew, away everywhere. Nowhere could I find justice, not even with God. They fared just as they pleased themselves, until they left. Afterwards they disappeared from this country and I never heard from them any more, nor where my child is and what has become of it.
“Oh, Method, oh, Method, when I think of it, I would ask, like Job, ‘Where is God, that I may go till I stand before Him and there present my charge?’ He only knows what became of my daughter, Esther; what has become of her and my wife. She left me, and betrayed me; but I just cannot believe that she was guilty. She was very, very young when we married. He was a good-looking fellow, a great lord; he misled her. If she would have come back, I would have forgiven all, would have received her—oh, how gladly! But they did not let me see her, and perhaps they told her that I would be cruel and hard. She was afraid and believed them, and so all was lost, all lost.
“I fled from that town and buried myself and my sorrow in this country, and just waited, hoping that in winter, death would come and deliver me from this suffering, and that I would take my sorrow with me to the grave. Then you came and compelled me to tell you, and all has been brought back to me—the loss, the yearning, the sorrow—everything. Now what have you gained by it?”
Very much, dear one! Now I know better what to pray about; and some time the moment will come when you will not be sorry that you gave me your confidence.”
The young man arose; also the Jew, involuntarily. They entered the hut.
There, when the elder one had made a light, the youth noticed the empty vessels. He took them and brought fresh water. Thereupon, he arranged the man’s poor couch, just as he used to do during his sickness. Then he sat beside him on the table, opened the big, old book, and began to read.
The Jew covered his gray head with a cap, and Method also put his hat on his young head, so as not to insult him, since the Jews consider it disrespectful toward the Word of God when a man reads with an uncovered head.
Today, though, they read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and the young man, during the reading, explained about whom it was talking. The aged Jew did not contradict, and they parted in grave silence.