The One Who Is to Come: A Parable of the Old West
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue led the following oratory as a sermon at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church
in Pooler, Georgia on December 12, 2010. With members of trhe congregation playing the other parts.
The One Who Is to Come: A Parable of the Old West
Narrator: At some point, we all have to decide what we can trust in and where we place our hope. Is this the thing I trust or a person I can trust? What gives me a reason to hope for a better future? These are questions worth asking. Consider this story of a wind-blown Texas town in the decade after the Civil War. It’s a once upon a time kind of story, but the lesson is one that is both true and timeless.
Buffalo Ford was hardly a wide spot in the road. If it weren’t for the dependable means it offered of crossing the Brazos River, there would have been no reason to pass through this part of the Texas prairie. But the ford was reliable and the Brazos needed crossing and so a town developed.
Among the couple of hundred residents were the usual array of a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a livery, a tailor, a saddle maker who also cobbled shoes, a butcher, some hide dressers, a hotel keeper, a couple of saloon keepers who kept rooms above for women of questionable virtue, a preacher, a school teacher and the rest of hangers on who kept coming. The big rush for Buffalo hides that hit in the mid-1870s brought a lot of money and more than the usual share of vices with more gamblers, whiskey peddlers and prostitutes choosing to stay rather than pass through.
The once quiet river ford town would hit peaks when buffalo hunters would end a spree with a drunken night on the town.
Townie 1: By morning you could cross the main street stepping on one passed out drunk after another without dirtying your feet by stepping on the road.
Narrator: One day a hot summer wind blew in with it one of the more unique individuals in a town that seemed to be made up solely of unusual characters. Jack was a wild-eyed apocalyptic preacher whose favorite word was “repent.” But he didn’t just say, “repent.” He said it:
Jack: “REPENT! Change your evil-livin’ ways while there’s still time.”
Narrator: Dressed in his rough buffalo hides, with long wild and wooly hair, he looked like a figure who had survived the apocalypse and staggered back to warn the rest of us. Jack took to blasting away at passers by from the river bank down on the Brazos edge of town. He shouted at everyone coming and going with a warning of a hanging judge on the way and little time left for change.
Jack: “Judgment is coming and it will be swift and sure when it arrives.”
Narrator: Most everybody knew that the Buffalo Ford couldn’t continue on the path it was on and a lot of folks began to listen. The preacher didn’t like his flock being stolen sheep by sheep, but there wasn’t much he could do. A conscious is hard to run away from for long and a lot of people were feeling the guilt that came with so many mornings after. Many of them waded out in the Brazos for Jack to dunk them in what he promised to be cleansing water, despite the fact that the river was muddy brown.
When the hanging judge came, everything would be different. That’s the way that Jack told it and a lot of folks believed him. Of course, many people kept right on with their riotous living. Some of the decent folk just minded their own business and left Jack and the fanatics to the edge of town. What did it matter if they profited from the drinking, gambling and carousing. They weren’t doing anything wrong.
Then the promised day arrived. Except it wasn’t like anyone imagined. Manuel came to town and no one likely would have noticed him at all if it weren’t for Jack. He was a nice enough fellow, but not imposing. He wasn’t handsome in a way that made you notice him, or tough enough to stand out in a town like this one.
He passed straight between the cedar plank buildings, walked down to the river and right up to Jack, who was just setting fire to the brimstone of his sermon. Jack saw Manuel wade out into the water. He stopped his harangue mid-sentence, and just stared. Something passed between them that no one on the bank could quite make out and then Jack baptized Manuel.
Later, after Manuel had disappeared on the far side of the river, Jack began to warn that the hanging judge long promised was finally here.
Jack: “The end is coming any time now. You better repent while there’s still time.”
Narrator: Then Jack moved south along the river to other towns where the river ran smooth and the saloons were rough.
More than a month passed and Manuel resurfaced. He taught too, but in a gentle way. Unlike Jack’s rough words of judgment, Manuel brought words of change that sounded, well, loving. Manuel seemed less concerned with smashing up the saloons and clearing out the cat houses. He wanted to lift up the lowly and he did it. It was miraculous the way some people quit the booze for good. Others stopped wasting their little money on trying to outwit the professional card players. Here and there some people started to change, for good.
There was that awful scene one day where the preacher drug that poor young girl out of Mabel’s Place and threw her into the mud right in front of Manuel.
Townie 2: “We all knew what kind of girl she was. We wanted to see what Manuel would do about it. That should’ve been good.”
Narrator: But Manuel didn’t want to be brought into the fuss until the preacher started shouting,
Preacher: “She’s worthless! Lynching is too good for her kind.”
Girl: “I just lay crumpled in the mud. I was so ashamed, I didn’t dare look up.”
Narrator: Manuel shouted to the crowd,
Manuel: “Who here is not guilty of greater sin than this daughter of the Texas prairies?”
Narrator: People just kind of looked the other way all awkward like and walked on, minding their own business. When the street cleared he leaned down, told her that God valued her far more than this town knew how to.
Girl: “I couldn’t believe it. He helped me up with this look in his eyes….like he loved me…really loved me.”
Manuel: “No one here condemns you. Go be the woman God made you to be.”
Narrator: Well, that sort of talk isn’t good for business. People got angry. People with the power that is. But Jack had always been the louder, brasher preacher of the pair and landed in jail down in Young’s Fort long before Manuel got into trouble. The fort was bringing in a hanging judge just to silence Jack’s talk of change.
Jack looked out from the iron bars of the little jail, watching the thunderheads build out over the prairie. He got to thinking. He had been so sure that day at Buffalo Ford. Manuel had stepped out of the crowd and it was as if God almighty was shouting in his ear, “This was the hope for all mankind.” But time had passed. Manuel hadn’t cleaned out that one town, much less the Brazos River valley. There was talk of miracles, healings and the like. But, nothing had changed. Not really.
Townie 1: “Things were just as hopeless as ever.”
Narrator: Zachary was a man Jack had baptized who visited with him while he was in jail. The two spoke between the bars. With his own Day of Judgment looming, Jack said to Zach,
Jack: “Go to Manuel for me….Ask him for me if he’s The One we were looking for….The One to bring justice.”
Narrator: Zach first went looking for Henry, the friend who had brought him down to the river to hear Jack. Zach and Henry had both been baptized and started trying to live right. Now the two went to find out for Jack if Manuel was going to be the hanging judge or not. The pair found Manuel talking out front of a saloon, telling people how they should care for the folks who didn’t have anyone to look out after them. When he finished up, Zach said straight out,
Zachary: “Jack wants to know if you’re him.”
Narrator: He didn’t add that he was thinking, “‘cause if you’re not, it looks like Jack’s about to face the rope for nothing.”
After Zach asked if he was The One, Manuel paused and looked at Zach and Henry long and hard with the kindest look in his eyes.
Manuel: “The kingdom he is waiting for has already come. Go back and tell Jack that the sick are being made well, needy folks are being taken care of, and these lost souls of the prairie are learning about the Good News that God loves them.”
Narrator: Zach and Henry headed back south to wondering if the news would be enough. Jack was facing a hangman for sure and he had so little to pin his hope on. About one thing, they agreed had to agree. Change was coming. It was as if little bits of cool, clean air were breaking into the choking dust of the prairie. Some folks were breathing easier already. But it was nothing like the End of Times that Jack had told them to expect. What would happen now? How could Jack know that everything would be all right? How could Zach or Henry know?
They had all expected The One to call down fire from heaven and Manuel had only called down forgiveness. It was raining forgiveness now, flooding forgiveness. There was doubt about that. Just ask the girl who was crying in the dirt out front of Mabel’s that day when Manuel refused to condemn her.
Townie 2: “But what about judgment? When would that come? Didn’t we deserve justice?”
Narrator: Manuel said judging was God’s business and it wasn’t time yet. But there’s evil out on the prairie. As for the time for justice, Manuel didn’t seem to know.
Thing is, Zach and Henry knew deep down that they were glad that forgiveness had been offered long enough for them to take a dip in river and wash away all the grime of a life lived wrong. Neither of them would have wanted to die still caught up in that cycle of trying to scrape up a few hard earned coins to try to buy some happiness.
So, maybe a hangin’ judge wasn’t needed just yet. ‘Cause if Manuel was right, then more people had something to hope for. They could still hope to get things turned around before it was too late. As they made their way back to the Young’s Fort Jail, Zach and Henry weren’t sure if it would sound like good news to Jack. But they both knew of lots of people scattered across the prairie, who were still in need of that hope.