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Living like we have been forgiven much

Maki was a tramp. Born in the southern part of Japan in the 1920s he followed the footsteps of his father into the coal mines where he eked out a living until the Second 

World War turned his life upside down.

Conscription into the Imperial Japanese Infantry Forces took him away from his wife and two young children and into a nightmare tramp around Asia, where he was beaten, half-starved and abused.

In fact, he was probably traumatised on his return to Japan, but that was a time when no one understood or cared about the welfare of an enlisted man.

He returned to the mines, but they were already in the process of closing down. His long absence and his erratic psychological condition had alienated him from his family.

He bought a little cart and, early each morning, went to the markets before plying the village streets selling his fruit and vegetables at household doors.

Motor transport killed this industry, so he took to the roads spending the remainder of his days wandering the highways and byways as a beggar, a tramp, or an unwanted eyesore.

Living off his wits, he became a great showman, learning to tell stories to entertain sufficiently to solicit some food, old clothes, a bit of money or occasionally shelter.

Every month he came to the church and polished the vast wooden floor—a job at which he was expert and took pride in. In return, he received three nights accommodation, food and some pocket money. He asked for a bible and read it. He loved the parables and often spoke of the Prodigal Son—a character with whom he publicly identified himself.

He would entertain the parishioners with stories of his waywardness and search for forgiveness.

We liked to hear him say things that cast us in a good light. We were far from the irresponsibility that characterised his life and took comfort in the image of the all-forgiving God he spoke of.

However, Maki never spoke of the other important player in the story, the prodigal’s older brother. Dour, angry, petty, jealous and self-righteous he would never betray his father in the manner of his younger brother. Through him, the parable speaks directly to us who enjoy conveniences and privileges, but complain and whine when our expectations are not
met.

Maybe even worse, we expect rewards for the good we have done and prescribe punishments for
those we deem wayward. In this way we can isolate ourselves to the point of blocking God’s saving act of love.

Maki was too cute to speak openly in this way, but I am sure he understood. In his final days he was baptised and the parish adopted him, giving him care in sickness and company in loneliness.

The bright, shining floor of the church is not the only memory of Maki that lives on in the hearts and memories of that community. Nevertheless, he was a man who believed he had been forgiven much and he lived that way.