The Miracle Thief

The Miracle Thief

Oct 1, 2014

The Miracle Thief

by Michael Parker


stardust and magic in your hands


I saw the woman I call the miracle thief for the first time when I was seven. She was a little kid in a bathrobe doing a fake limp across a stage to touch the hem of another kid’s white bathrobe. She was immediately cured of the limp and a stomach ache, as well. She did a somersault. All the other kids in bathrobes clapped. One of them said she had the stomach ache for twelve years. “How could she be six and have a stomach ache for…?” My dad shushed me. The kid in the white bathrobe said her faith fixed her, but it was the bathrobe. I wanted my dad to get the bathrobe so we could take it home for my mom to touch. He didn’t.


Time, for me, flies forward six decades. Her story is still right where it’s always been in the first three books of the New Testament. Two verses in Matthew 9. Nine verses in Chapter 5 of Mark. Luke 8 gives her five. Look it up. See for yourself.


I always see the road first, by itself, just before dawn. Then, she’s there, hunched and covered head to foot in dark cloth. Her head is turned. I only see her back. She waits like people wait for a bus. Only, she waits for Jesus. Why so early? She’s tried before. The crowds were too great; she too small, frail. Did she even know his route for that day? Did he?

Had he planned it out the night before? Had his handlers? Had somebody way before last night? Or, was it just “seat of your pants” evangelistic

improvisation? Sometimes stories are written that way. You start with an outline, but have to abandon it. The story goes where it goes. You follow. You had a beginning. You have an end you head toward. But the journey through the middle? That gets “dizzy.”



I write at a fast food place. I like their coffee, big windows and no TVs. I don’t like abandoning the woman before her coming appointment with Jesus, but I have one of my own with a minister. I pack up. On my way out, I notice this kid, early twenties, maybe? He’s in a booth with his hoodie pulled over his face trying to sleep. I get a warm coffee and start to leave, then turn and go back to him and offer to buy his breakfast. He says okay and starts to tell me what he wants. Sorry, I don’t deliver.

He will have to come to the counter and order himself. He does. He must be

hungry. He’s not shy about running up the tab. I run my credit card through their scanner. I don’t hear a thank you, but I tell him he’s welcome. I leave.



The minister friend tells me the woman’s condition was probably endometriosis. It was one of the maladies my mother had to deal with. My dad called it a “woman problem.” He was a truck driver who wasn’t home much and that’s pretty much as articulate as he ever got on anything, especially my mother’s various moods and depressions. He observed them and loved her. My sisters and I received and understood them in our different ways.



The woman has heard stories about healings. She needs one;

a private one, but she’s not alone anymore. More people wait,

or conduct their various businesses around her. Her name? Not

important enough to have one. Could be she’s just a prop placed there for Jesus to heal to establish “street cred” for his claim to be God. No, this story’s too spontaneous. His name? Does it matter? He wears the robe. That’s what she’s come for; the hem of the robe. When he arrives, she can’t see him. He’s surrounded. Dozens of people all moving in the same direction. He doesn’t see her. It’s all a blur. He’s moving quickly toward a really important miracle. A mother and father want their child’s life back.



My wife is praying for the healing of a little three year old girl who has cancer. She was probably born with it. The whole church is either praying or supplying food, or money, or gifts to make Christmas special. I’m enlisted to put on a Santa suit and deliver presents and food to the family. The little girl is terrified and won’t come near the gifts or me. She can’t stop crying. I finally leave. If a kid fights a monster like cancer, it’s difficult to trust a red-suited gifter.



Jesus is surrounded. In moments, the woman is surrounded, as well, by people trying to get to him. It’s too much, the chaos. He, his entourage, pass. He’s being pushed forward. She gets pushed forward and falls. She can’t get back up. She crawls. She reaches.She can’t breathe. She sees hundreds of robes. Twice as many feet.


The hem. That’s all she remembers. It’s what she came to touch. Crawl, reach, lurch forward, flail. And suddenly, the pain’s gone. Endorphins? Everything stops. People move away. It’s just her andthe guy who wears the robe looking down at her.


“Who touched me?” Everybody’s been touching him.

Why her touch?


“So many doctors in my twelve years.” she tells him.


“Your faith has made you well.”


She’s won God’s lottery. The pain that pushed her to the side

of the road is gone. After less than two minutes, Jesus is gone too. What is there to show for it? It’s not a “wow” miracle is it? Why bother? It’s so small? Because that’s where most miracles reside…too small to be seen. We get only darting glimpses. There’s no vocabulary. Words wreck the moment.


What makes this story so interesting for me is that God gets

to be a believer, too! He gets to be surprised. He, who knows beginning and end, gets to have his pocket picked by acommon miracle thief. Miracle not given. Miracle taken. I’d like to hear him tell this story.


“I met a thief on the road; a woman.”


He made her story about her faith. He knew who he was. When you know who you are you don’t have to tell peoplewho you are. They see it. If they don’t, you’re still who you are, aren’t you?



It’s easy to write in the morning before dawn. My head is

always clear. The kid from the day before shows up around 6:30. I ignore him. He does the same for me. It’s cold outside. He sits in his same booth and goes to sleep. I get up for a coffee refill. On the way, I wake him up and ask him if he wants breakfast. He says no, then yes and follows me to the counter. I pay for his breakfast and go back to my story. He eats and falls asleep.



The woman, now alone, is no longer anonymous. She’s the object of passing curiosity. There will be those who will call her “unclean” and point her out for defiling God. Others might say that somebody who says he’s God proved he wasn’t by defiling himself with a “woman’s problem” in the first place. In a little piece of street theater, a very private infirmity is now, not very public, but public just the same. Necessary, I suppose. You take miracles where you get them. People are going to repeat the story from their various points of view. Matthew, Mark, and Luke will have to tell her story like guys leaning in to hear the real conversation, and remember it correctly until it’s written down. Jesus moves on. The woman goes home and disappears back into her life. She hasn’t felt this way for twelve years. Maybe she never has.



I peck away at the writing. More coffee. I stop at the kid’s booth. I wake him up to ask him if he’ll keep an eye on my booth? My laptop and jacket are laying on the table. He sits up.


“Yea, sure.”


“More coffee?”


“Yea, sure.”


I splash water on my face in the bathroom and pick up the coffees on my way back to his table. He surprised me. He stayed awake and didn’t steal my stuff. I give him his coffee and sit across from him.


“What’s your name?” I ask.


“Arthur,” he answers.


“Like the king and his knights of the round table, I quip.” Arthur smiles, puzzled. Racial slurs and swear words are tattooed on both hands and wrists.


“You got a plan?” I ask.


“What kind’a plan?”


“A plan for not sleeping in a fast food place forever.”


“I own a house, but hit my head when I fell out of bed and can’t remember where it is.”


“You on a medication or doing drugs?


“Not anymore, but I don’t hurt anybody so people should just leave me alone.”


“The food manager wants me to tell you she’s not running a bed and breakfast.”


“I know,” he says.


I go back to my writing. He goes back to sleep. We both like being left alone.



I know what happened to Jesus after his encounter with the miracle thief. I don’t know what happened to her. I have wondered if she made it to the side of the road that took him to Golgotha? Did she bring

a husband who wanted to thank the physician, or

magician, or blasphemer, or God with hands and feet, who finally fixed her so she wasn’t in such distress all the time? Did she see him carrying his cross with no crowds around him in his ascension toward criminal death? His robe no longer has its healing hem. It gave her a miracle. Why wasn’t it a miracle for him? Did he see her standing among the many? Did she know that he was on his way to the real

miracle, the one he’d been headed for from “In the beginning?” In three days and a few hours she will hear. Will she understand what his journey was

really about? Will “it is finished” mean a new

“beginning” for her?



I’m written out for the day. Arthur is still in his booth. My wife has called me to tell me the little girl’s cancer is no longer in remission, more chemo. Everybody’s devastated. I pack up and head home to real life. When I get to the car, I notice I have one “manna bag” left on the floor in the back seat. It’s been covered by my grand daughter’s jacket.


Manna bags are one gallon zip locks with granola bar, dry cereal, soap, a washcloth, socks, toothpaste and toothbrush, and finally, a small New Testament. We put them together at church. I take it back to Arthur in the booth. He says thank you.


“Is it okay to write about him and use his name?” I ask.


“Yea, sure. What is it?” he asks.


“The story?”


“My name?”


“Arthur. Remember? Roundtable. Knight’s of.” He smiles. I never see him again.


Next morning on my way in to get coffee I notice the manna bag tossed in one of the bushes that line the parking lot. Food stuff and toothpaste gone. Toothbrush, washcloth, socks, and New Testament are still in the zip lock. I’ve met these kids before. They are called floaters. I always ask them if they have a plan. They don’t. I tell them Jesus has one. They always say, yea sure. They travel light. Plans are heavy. Maybe later. Maybe never. They want what they can eat or put in their pocket. They want what’s immediate.



Besides being facinated by the woman who fought for her miracle and how Jesus had to look back to find her, I don’t know exactly what I wanted to say or who I wanted to say it to when I began writing this piece. I thought it might be about my mother who struggled her whole life with various afflictions of mind and body that visited themselves upon her. She never found complete healing. But, she never stopped getting to the side of the road and reaching for Jesus.


A miracle thief doesn’t wait for God to give it. They take it and believe in it and treat it like it’s found a home. Their faith makes them well. They know Jesus is the miracle.


I thought this might be about my wife. I’m her only affliction. She’s a miracle thief, as well. 1 see her daily, praying and believing Jesus will break into the life of some specific somebody who needs his intervention badly. I see other miracle thieves in our church.


But, I’m not writing about them, or to them. They’re the choir. This is a message in a bottle. It’s for you, a nameless who? You’re headed to the side of some road, or maybe a ledge, or companionship with some dark thing. The Bible is about people who find themselves at the end of whoever they are. So, maybe you’re like Arthur? You’re a floater. You don’t have to be a homeless floater. You can be a highly successful floater. I’m not telling you not to be a floater. Be one till your not? Jesus will still be who he is when you decide to reach.



I thought I was finished, I’m not. The little girl’s cancer has come roaring back. She’s given two weeks. It’s everywhere in her body. They carried her home in a sheet because her little body is in so much pain. Hospice is involved. Everyone is praying: some for complete recovery; some for final release. If you’ve past, Jesus, we tumble toward your hem. What choice do we have? Steal a miracle. But, you have to be there to take it from. I wish there really was a magic bathrobe her parents could wrap her in. She doesn’t have a faith to make her well. We have to have it for her. I know you’re not Santa Claus, but we need something immediate. This isn’t logical. It makes no sense. Dear Father, don’t shush me.



The little girl with cancer has a name. It’s Rylee Sweet. She died in the afternoon on the 25th day of March, 2014. She was a miracle thief. She wasn’t really three, but she did manage to steal two years and six months. She didn’t get the final two weeks. She did steal a final day and a few hours for her parents. She slept through those. I close my eyes to pray. It’s all darkness. I can’t pray to darkness. So, I pray to Jesus, who stands beyond the darkness. He has a plan. He has to. Rylee Sweet’s there with him. She’s doing somersaults.



The funeral? A stiff wind from the west carries thirty pink balloons east. Cars on the interstate head north and south; seventy miles per hour. People cry, then turn away, back toward life.


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