The Red Heel

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
~ Matthew 23:27

A modern parable

They called her Agatha. Agatha Helena. She was an only child, born to her parents in their middle-age years. They were married young and had accepted the fact they would never have children. Surprise! Along came Agatha.

Her family had been vintners for generations and her great-grandparents had settled in Napa Valley. It reminded them of their ancestral Mediterranean homes. Her parents were the last remaining of the family line. They had hoped for a son for years to carry on the family name, but a son never came. No children came. When Agatha came at last, they were thankful for a daughter.

The winery was usually busy during the green harvest and closed to visitors. Agatha noticed a handful of people going about with her father. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her father personally guiding a tour.

“Ah, Agatha. There you are. I have someone here who wants to meet you.”

Her father approached with the group trailing behind him.

“I’m Thom.”

An impeccably dressed man had stepped forward with an effortless sophistication to shake her hand. Agatha glanced at her father, looked up at the man, and shook his hand. Her father stepped beside her and placed his arm around her shoulders.

“Let’s go into the conference room. Thom has a business proposal I think you should hear.”

Everyone settled into chairs as Thom leaned against a counter with his index fingers tepeed and pressed into his lips. Agatha glanced around without moving her head. She could hear the muffled buzzing of muted phones and the swishing of clothes as people reached for their pockets and bags. She scratched her heel. Thom did not break his gaze as he began talking to Agatha.

“As I said earlier, I am Thom. I suppose you don’t know who I am. I am the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world. We do beauty culture and aesthetics. We do lifestyle, not cosmetic products. I was on a retreat with my team several months ago and we toured this winery. I saw you then. We all saw you. I met your father and we have been talking these last few months. Negotiating. Agatha, I understand you do not wear any cosmetics at all and never have. You are the most remarkable natural beauty any of us have ever seen.”

Agatha’s eyes narrowed and she looked at her father. He kept smiling and patted her hand. It almost made her feel like a child again, but she was unsure where this was going. Thom continued.

“Agatha, women would pay dearly for a natural aesthetic. Natural aesthetics is the next thing. That’s where it’s at. We have developed a plan for a lifestyle line of natural aesthetic products, a full line of cosmetic products that simulate the natural look. Think: makeup that doesn’t look like makeup.”

Her father was on the edge of his seat. Agatha leaned toward him.

“This is a good opportunity, my daughter. Listen.”

Thom stood upright and stepped forward from the counter.

“We have been working on this line for a long time, but hadn’t figured out the marketing. We want you to be the brand ambassador. You will be the face, the life of this campaign. We can talk numbers in a minute. I think you will like what we have to say. Agatha, you’re not on social media at all. You are completely unknown. We have to make you known, but our typical media package will not work for this. We are promoting a natural aesthetic lifestyle and people always think media is edited in this business. You have to do a live, in-person tour. We want you to go to the world, all the famous cities. People have to see you in person and the people will share you with everyone else on social media.”

The team nodded and her father couldn’t smile any more than he was. The meeting lasted for a few hours. She was introduced to her father’s attorney. She felt overwhelmed, but ended up signing the contract. She was given the itinerary for the tour. Soon, she would leave to go to all the world and she had never been away from home in her twenty years of life.

***

Agatha walked through streets from city to city on tour. The crowds grew larger as word spread. She was trending on the major social sites. She was getting press coverage, where she was described by such phrases as, “Beautiful,” “Simply elegant,” “Graceful,” and, “A real natural.” The product line was selling out and production had to be stepped up. Other companies scrambled to figure out how to get in on this trend and Agatha had lost track of where she was and even what day it was.

Early one morning, Thom’s phone lit up as he was eating breakfast in his suite. His assistant was on her way to his room. He texted her that the door would be open and he finished his espresso. She walked in and closed the door.

“Thom, have you seen this?”

She shoved her phone in his face. Thom fumbled for his glasses. He couldn’t find them so he pushed the screen back to where he could focus on it.

“What am I looking at?”

“That’s Agatha’s heel.”

“Okay, does it have something on it?”

“That’s blood, Thom.”

“All right. So she has a cut or a blister or something.”

He tilted his head a little.

“I see the problem. We will have to get it treated, but it has to be discreet. There can be no visible signs of treatment or bandage or anything. She has to be flawless.”

The assistant sat down and tapped on her phone. She looked up at Thom.

“No, she needs rest. We have to get her away immediately.”

“We need to finish this leg of the tour. We have to get her back out there. We can’t have her last public appearance be with a bloody heel.”

“It’s not just the heel.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t seen her for a while. She’s … not … looking well. She’s lost weight. Her cheeks are sunken in. Her eyes …”

“What?”

“Thom. She’s getting … a … belly. Pic collages are being made and shared online. Before and after type pics. We don’t know if the photos are being touched at all. Some of them are subtle and some are not.”

“You don’t mean …”

“There are lots of rumors. We have to get her somewhere private. She needs rest. We have to cancel the tour.”

“Postpone, you mean. We have to get her back out there.”

The assistant stared and Thom looked around the room as though he expected to find an idea or the answer written on the wall.

“I’m not going to be back for a while. Get her somewhere away from reporters and fans. Get a conference set up with the team and message me the details. I will be there.”

***

“Agatha is resting. We have to do something. We’re going to lose momentum on this campaign, and that means money.”

Thom stared at his assistant and then looked at the team one by one. The conference room was awkwardly quiet.

“When we will she be rested? When will she be ready to go?”

His assistant finished typing a text and looked up.

“I don’t know. She’s in the suite we got for her, but she refuses to see anyone. We have no communication right now.”

Thom sighed.

“We’ll have to get back to that in a minute. Any ideas on how to keep this campaign going? We have lost momentum.”

The room had a lot of coughs and tapping on the table. The head of marketing cleared her throat.

“You’re going to think this dumb, but it’s all we’ve come up with.”

Thom tilted his head back.

“Dumb or not, what is it?”

She cleared her throat again.

“Well, we have a show coming this weekend where we are featuring the Mimos natural line. What if we add something to the models?”

Thom was impatient but also interested.

“Add what to them?”

“You know there’s been a lot of speculation about Agatha. Pictures of her bloody heel from her last city are all over the net. We haven’t given any official information out. Maybe we could spin it.”

Thom scratched his head and frowned.

“Could you hurry this up. What’s the idea?”

“You know we have that Lip Tar in Syrah. It’s never been a big seller, except sometimes around Halloween. Customer feedback says it looks too much like dried blood. So, what if we apply it to our models’ right heels. We could re-package it and add it to the natural line to sell.”

Thom looked up at the ceiling.

“Are you serious?”

The head of marketing had started cold, but she was warming to her subject. She laughed.

“Girls are already doing it. Pics from all over the world are being posted online with girls with red heels. There are industry rumors that companies are racing to get product to the market.”

Thom crashed forward in his chair.

“Get on it! We have to get in front of this.”

His assistant shrieked and that guy from accounting knocked his coffee over and people started grabbing stuff of the conference table. Thom’s longtime assistant looked like a whitewashed fence.

“Thom! Agatha is dead.”

“What?” Thom said.

“I just got this text from the team. She hadn’t been out of her room in days and wasn’t responding in any way. They got security to let them in her room and they found her.”

“What happened?” Thom asked.

“The doctor said it’s too early to know for sure, but the doctor said it most likely from an infection. Her wound had never healed. The doctor said her body was too weak to fight it because of malnutrition from starvation.”

Thom buried his head in hands on the conference table.

“Her heel. That ugly heel.”

God Can Do Anything … But Fail

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
~ Mark 9:23

Can we limit God?

Nazareth was a rural, isolated community in lower Galilee on the southern border of Zebulun. It set on a high hill over 1,600 feet above sea level on the western side of a valley. It was somewhere around 400 feet above the valley floor, with a commanding view of the surrounding plain. Proximity to trade routes gave the Nazarenes some contact with the outside world, but they were mostly aloof from the main life of Israel and despised by them (John 1:44-46).

Jesus grew up in Nazareth and lived there for around 30 years before he began his public ministry (Luke 2:39). There he learned and plied his trade as a carpenter. Given the small size of the community and the nature of the family business, Jesus and his family were generally known in Nazareth. Their familiarity with Jesus and his family proved to be a stumblingblock to the people of Nazareth.

Jesus left Nazareth, was baptized by John in the Jordan, spent 40 days in the wilderness, and embarked on an itinerant, public ministry of preaching the kingdom of God and performing kingdom sign miracles. It seems he was gone from Nazareth for at least a year, perhaps longer. His fame quickly spread as he began his ministry in Galilee and multitudes of people came to see him from all regions round about.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus returning to Nazareth and going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. His fame had preceded him, particularly from Capernaum, which served as a home base for his Galilean tour. The Gospel accounts all end with the Nazarenes rejecting Jesus and Luke adds how they took him out of town and wanted to thrown him down the escarpment to the valley floor, hundreds of feet below. Of course, this was not the predetermined counsel of God and he simply passed through their midst.

Reflecting on the unbelief of the Nazarenes, Mark makes a shocking statement. He wrote of Jesus, “And he could there do no mighty work” (Mark 6:5). He “could do no,” as in, he could not? How can that be true, if all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; 14:36)?

Jesus Could Not

Mark uses the Greek word dunato, which means to be able, or capable. Mark really did write that Jesus was not able to do “mighty work,” or miracles, in Nazareth. If you begin reading Mark’s Gospel from the start and read to Mark 6:5, you will have read demonstration after demonstration of Jesus’ power to do great miracles. He commanded an unclean spirit in Capernaum and that spirit obeyed him. He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and cured her of a disease. He healed and cast devils out of multitudes of people. He healed a leper, a paralytic, a man’s withered hand, rebuked the wind with his words so the sea became calm, cast a legion of demons out a man, healed a woman with an incurable bleeding disorder, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. After this, he came to Nazareth and could not do mighty work there.

All the accounts reflect the unbelief of the people of Nazareth. Matthew attributes the limitation of miracles to their unbelief (Matthew 13:58), and Mark concludes the same in reflection (Mark 6:6). Luke does not mention the limiting of miracles, but does recount how their unbelief was manifested in their wrath against Jesus and their attempt to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29). Luke also records Jesus’ explanation to the unbelieving Nazarenes why he would not do miracles among them, though they wanted him to (Luke 4:23-27).

Did the Nazarenes limit God and render Jesus incapable of doing miracles? Does unbelief limit God and restrain him from acting? It certainly didn’t in Egypt (Exodus 5:2). Who or what is limited by unbelief? And, in what way was Jesus not able?

A Statute of Limitations

Matthew, Mark, and Jesus’ words in Luke point to some limitation due to unbelief. If we look back in Mark, we find an explanation of unbelief being limiting. Faith, or belief, is the key to understanding parables and is put as having ears to hear (Mark 4:9). When Jesus explained the parables for the disciples, he explained how those who have (ears to hear/faith) will receive more, and those who have not (ears to hear/faith) will not receive more. In fact, those who do not have faith will have what they have received taken from them (Mark 4:10-12, 24-25). That’s the limitation of unbelief. It limits what those who are unbelieving receive. If we consider various accounts of miracles, Jesus emphasized faith was the key for them to receive (Mark 2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36). Unbelief constrains us. It limits us and what we can receive. It does not limit God’s ability nor render Jesus incapable (Luke 17:11-19).

The text in Mark said Jesus was unable. In what way was Jesus unable to perform miracles? Jesus was not limited in power and he demonstrated that on many more occasions than we have record of (John 21:25). In Mark’s Gospel, he had just raised a girl from the dead. He had the power. Jesus was not able to do mighty works in Nazareth, not because he did not have the power to do it, but because he did not have the will to do it.

Jesus expressed his sovereign will, the will of the Father, in healing a leper in Mark 1:40-41. Mark repeatedly demonstrates Jesus acting according to will and not the dictates or limitations of men. He spoke words of command to wind, water, demons, disease, and death, and all obeyed. He healed whom he willed to heal and even in the calling of his apostles, he demonstrated his sovereign choice to call whom he would. He was not at the disposal of the clamoring crowds (Mark 1:35-38), but acted according to predetermined will.

He shows the signs of the kingdom to those who receive the kingdom in faith, not to those who unbelievingly clamor for a sign in Nazareth (Luke 4:23) or in Capernaum (John 6:26-27, 35-36). Those clamoring in Nazareth and Capernaum were not doubting the presence and power of miracles. However, they did not believe in the Messiah and thereby rejected his kingdom. They were part of an evil generation seeking a sign (Luke 11:29). Jesus reinforces this message in the synagogue in Nazareth when he describes God’s sovereign acts of miracles to Gentiles rather than Israel in the cases of Elijah and the widow of Sarepta and Elisha and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).

Oh, the Irony!

It’s somewhat ironic that the only miracle he performed for the angry Nazarenes that day was passing through their midst without them being able to grab him. Something tells me they didn’t appreciate that sign though, the sign of Jesus departing.

The Open Concept

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
~ Matthew 15:11

A modern parable of an old problem.

Pasqual rubbed the crown of his head and closed the upper cabinet door. He looked at his fingers, but saw no blood. He pulled the door back open and tried to move it up and down. It was not loose. The travel mug he had removed from the dishwasher a few moments earlier was still in his other hand. He set it on the counter, filled it, put the lid on, picked it up, and went to the door. He listened but heard nothing. His loud cursing a moment ago had not awakened his wife Madeira. She was a heavy sleeper.

***

Pasqual had swam across the Rio Grande as a young boy and had never crossed back. For years he had tagged along with his cousins working on farms and getting by however he could. He had become separated from them and decided he liked stealing better than working. Of course, he started small, pinching this and that to get by.

The life of a thief is necessarily nomadic. You stay in one place too long, things go missing, people get suspicious, and you begin to get the eye. It gets harder to unload your goods and liquefy your assets. While the promise of three hots and a cot can be appealing when you’re shivering and the stomach is growling, it’s a bit confining to the freedom loving men among us. Pasqual embraced the role of wayfaring stranger and drifted about.

For a little while his cupboards had been bare and he needed some easy job to put him back in abundance. He easily jimmied the back door of a metal-clad building and stepped inside. In the dim light, he could make out work benches and tools. Power tools and hand tools could always be exchanged for cash. His mind began calculating and he wavered between grabbing quickly what he could carry and conducting a more protracted campaign. This place could be a golden goose for a while if he managed it right.

He was mentally crafting the mission statement for his new enterprise when a loud click and bright lights registered their objection to the proceedings. He turned to look upon a man with one hand on the light switch and the other noticeably close to a revolver on the man’s hip. This intruder, this interrupter of Pasqual’s dreams, was thick and as wide as he was tall. He owned a pair of piercing, dark eyes and Pasqual noticed he wielded them to great effect. He did not yet know it, but those eyes belonged to Ernesto of Ernesto’s Custom Cabinets. This was his shop and he seemed prepared to defend it to the last gram of sawdust.

Pasqual could not explain why, but he was broken under that gaze. He turned to a jelly and told his life story and confessed his life of crime. Ernesto listened patiently and, for reasons equally inexplicable to Pasqual, did not grip his pistol nor raise alarm for the police.

“What is your name?” He said.

“Pasqual.”

“And where are you from?”

“Juárez, but I left there when I was a boy.”

“Ciudad Juárez? Your family is there?”

“I have no family. I am an orphan. I ran away from the orphanage with some others. They said we were cousins, but I do not know.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Pasqual thought Ernesto rather monosyllabic as an orator, but after a few moments of silence, he concluded the Q&A portion of the night’s program was ended. He was unsure of himself. He thought he should perhaps raise his hands in the air, or maybe he should kneel down and put his hands on his head. He did not know what was next on the bill but he was reasonably certain it would impose certain requirements on his hands. He took no action, and, I must confess, his logic was sound. Ernesto had made no mention of the position of Pasqual’s hands nor whether his standing position was unacceptable, neither had his hand moved any closer to his pistol. Pasqual remained as he was and held the gaze.

What happened next was extraordinary and you would be enrapt to hear it, but in keeping with the spirit, if not quite the letter, of the short story genre, I shall have to get to the point sooner rather than later. In summary form, the next day began Pasqual’s career in the cabinet making industry. Ernesto put him to work and Pasqual became the son he never had. Pasqual learned quickly, worked diligently, and advanced apace with his potential.

***

Pasqual rubbed the crown of his head and stared at the open cabinet door. You will recall that a mere ten hours earlier he was in this same position. He was less concerned about the loud cursing he had expelled because the snores coming from the recliner in the living room assured him that Madeira was sleeping soundly as usual. He heaved a big sigh and marched out to his truck. He returned with a curled upper lip and a 20 volt lithium powered Dewalt drill in his hand. He moved deftly as though he were thoroughly skilled in the operation and removed each door from the upper cabinets. He hauled them to the bed of the truck and they bounced off the spare tire and clattered to rest in the same.

Time passed, as time is in habit of doing whether you are enjoying yourself or not, but Pasqual was enjoying himself in the kitchen. The lower cabinets were properly closed and sealed, and the upper cabinets were as open as the U. S./Mexico border in the 1950s. Pasqual was able to use his head for more than testing the tensile strength of wood screws and cabinet door hinges. Though he had gained rather more experience than he wanted in the occupation, it was not a future he wanted for himself.

After a while, an idea formed he considered flawless. Surely he was not the only one to stand up in a kitchen and meet the bottom corner of the upper cabinet door with the sensitive crown of his head. If he had solved his own problem by removing the doors, he could solve the same problem with the same method for other head rubbers and cabinet door cursers. The idea simply could not fail.

By this time, Ernesto was aged and what you would call, set in his ways. Pasqual pleaded with him to begin marketing and selling upper cabinets sans doors, but Ernesto would not hear of it. That was not the way things were done. Pasqual eventually made his case to other cabinet makers and you would have thought a scab crossing a picket line would meet with warmer reception. As the sun began to set on Pasqual’s own life, it looked as though his genius would be buried with him and lie undisturbed and undiscovered.

***

In Pasqual’s Abrahamic years, he had rejoiced at the birth of a son, Carlos. He cherished the boy and always called him, “Mijo Carlos.” Where Pasqual had failed to save the sensitive crowns of the world, the fruit of his loins had risen up to give his ideas the attention they deserved. Carlos had learned the cabinet making industry and excelled his own father. He opened his own shop and enjoyed great success selling people on, The Open Concept Cabinet™. Carlos had led the sensitive crowns of the world out of the wilderness of nasty knocks and into the promise land of unfettered cups and plates and safe soft heads.

As to be expected, there remained a segment of the population unconvinced. You always have the detractors and wet blankets to deflate the room of joy. Someone unexpertly observed, “Aren’t those just shelves?” What are you going to do? That’s the trouble with people. They just can’t get a grip on the new ways.

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