Y’shua:an unfinished life
by Stephen Ingraham
Y’shua: an unfinished life
Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Ingraham
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by lightshedder press and InstantPublisher.com
Scripture taken from The Message, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America by
Second edition, revised and
For Jesus (first and foremost)
and for Carol,
and my girls
Table of Contents:
Joseph (in Bethlehem)..................................................................... 3
The Birth............................................................................................ 5
Shepherd’s Watch............................................................................ 7
Holding On (in the stable)............................................................... 8
Who Is Your Father Anyway...................................................... 13
The Coin.......................................................................................... 15
Rabbi Benyoseph: One................................................................ 17
The Shepherd................................................................................. 19
The Temple..................................................................................... 22
Rabbi Benyoseph: Two................................................................ 28
The Carpenter................................................................................ 30
Cana Wedding............................................................................... 36
New Wine........................................................................................ 41
The Deputation.............................................................................. 45
Born Again...................................................................................... 49
The Storm....................................................................................... 51
Woman By The Well.................................................................... 54
A Disciple of John.......................................................................... 60
A Sword........................................................................................... 64
Sick Ester......................................................................................... 71
Jairus 2............................................................................................. 73
Talitha Koum................................................................................. 76
Loaves and Fishes......................................................................... 76
Who Do They Say I Am............................................................... 79
On the Water.................................................................................. 82
On the Water 2............................................................................... 84
The Word........................................................................................ 87
Little Dogs....................................................................................... 90
Sons of Thunder............................................................................ 93
Like a Child.................................................................................... 94
The Jericho Gate............................................................................ 95
The Colt........................................................................................ 101
The Fig Tree.................................................................................. 103
The Cleansing.............................................................................. 105
The Spy......................................................................................... 107
“Yes” and “No”........................................................................... 111
The Kiss........................................................................................ 114
Door Sill......................................................................................... 117
The Cross...................................................................................... 119
The Tomb..................................................................................... 123
After (Mary Magdalene)............................................................ 132
After (Peter).................................................................................. 133
After (Mary, his mother)............................................................ 135
After (John).................................................................................. 135
Afterword: Decision.................................................................... 139
“How do these stories come to you?” my daughter asked me, recently, after hearing “Shepherd’s Watch” for the first time. The first Y’shua story (“Cana Wedding”) was written over 10 years ago now. I might go a year or more between sections, and then write two or three in the period of as many months (or even weeks). Whatever else I am writing in the meantime, I have considered, for several years now, the Y’shua stories to be my real work. “Do you just make up all the details? How do you figure out what to have the characters say—what they are all doing and going to do, and all that?”
Good questions. Considering the importance of Jesus in so many lives, and indeed, in the history of our culture, they are questions that must be asked. After all, how dare I!
While the stories are, for the most part, based on Jesus’ life as told in the Gospels (and on the stories Jesus told) they come to me almost like memories. I hear the people talking. I see what they are doing. At the same time I know that the Y’shua stories are works of pure imagination. I can only hope that the Holy Spirit has renewed my imagination along with the rest of me in Christ. I hope that the Y’shua stories are instances of what Jesus promised when he said “But when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16, 13 and 14, NIV) The best I can say is that the stories seem true to me, and if they seem true to you, then maybe they are true at least to the living spirit of Jesus, as he speaks to us today.
Y’shua’s life is, after all, most miraculously, an unfinished life. He not only lived: He lives. If he lives and speaks in these stories, all praise and glory be to God our Father, who first conceived the Son to save us, to give us new birth, and restore us to fellowship in the Holy Spirit. All praise be to the Father who dares to live in us in Jesus Christ.
And, of course, this is an unfinished work. What you hold, is, God willing, only the first 60 stories. As God gives me grace I will always be telling the story of my master and my friend, my life and my hope, of Y’shua, the Son of God. This is just a start, just a down payment, on the unfinished story.
Thank you my Father, thank you Y’shua, thank you my Friend.
A Note on the order of the stories: The stories are arranged in rough chronological order, based on the life of Jesus as it is told in the gospels, not on the order in which they were written.
“Y’shua” is my own transliteration of the Hebrew name which is translated “Jesus” in Greek and English. It is “Joshua” in the Old Testament. It means “God saves.”
So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7 NIV)
It was nights like this, of course, when he had to remind himself, often, why he was doing this.
Every door shut against them. No room. No room. No room at the inn. And he had to wonder, if it was an obviously unwed mother-to-be and the man hauling her around on a donkey that they had no room for...or if it was just that they didn’t want responsibility for a birth on their premises, the fuss and bother, the hot water and midwives to be fetched, the blood and the mess in their second best beds...or if, maybe, they just didn’t like carpenters from Nazareth.
And Mary, patient and frantic by fits and starts, there on the donkey, always withdrawn, always somewhere he could not follow, these days, so wrapped up in the growing baby in her womb that sometimes he felt like a mere convenience—someone to wait on her, someone to load her on to the donkey, someone to build the fire and warm the food, and fetch her water.
And it was not as if it were his child. Always, right there in his face.
It was not as if this joy of the first born son would ever be his now, and how could he feel if not robbed, cheated, betrayed?
He replayed the message of the angel in his vision—in his, it might be, dream—over and over, drawing assurance from an increasingly narrow and empty well.
“This child is God’s. I have been told so. God’s child by the Holy Spirit. God’s child and I have nothing to fear.”
But it was hard. It was very hard.
It was always between them. It was in the way Mary looked at him, challenging him to doubt, to fail her in this, to let her down, to come at her with blame...and in her own moments of doubt, when the irrational guilt was high in her, it came at him in anger, her anger, as though it was his fault for agreeing to marry her anyway, as though his sacrifice of manhood in this had diminished him forever in her eyes—as though she had wanted, after all, to be put aside.
It was between them when the growing tenderness made him reach out and caress her in her sleep.
It was between them when her fear drove her into his arms in the night, weeping, seeking a comfort he could barely afford, testing him all but beyond what he could, as a man, endure.
She was so young, and so alone in this. How could he not love her? How could he not respond to her need?
And then there was God.
God invading his dreams. God asking this of him!!! God asking him to rear his child (oh he had to believe that...he had to believe...) to take this child as his own, to be a father to one he had not fathered.
It was hard.
It was not like he had asked for any of this. It was not like he had agreed to this, had, remotely, bargained for this, when he took Mary as his betrothed.
All he had wanted was a wife. Someone to be there in the house when he turned to it from the shop, someone to bear him children, (“Oh God, how could you do this to me!”) someone to love him and be by him even in age, to make a life with, to share his bed, to share his home, to share all he was and all he might become.
It was his duty! To get children for the Lord. He would not be a man until he had.
And now this.
This night in a town strange to him by long absence, this going from inn to inn while Mary panted on the donkey with each contraction, while sweat beaded on her brow and her hands turned white where they gripped the saddle. This hopeless, this endless, seeking of a place for the child (not his child) to be born.
It was hard.
And then there was the stable. Finally, a kindness, even in condescension. A stable. It might be worse.
Straw to fetch. A fire to build. Water to get and heat. Donkey dung and cow manure to shovel out of the way. Cloths to be gathered for the manger, to be ready for the child, for the baby, for the birth.
And he felt as alone as she must, and as inadequate, and as afraid.
But somehow they got through it.
The peace of God descended on them in the final moments, and, when he first held the child, when he wrapped him in the cloths, when he held him up to the Lord for blessing and, bringing him back down, caught, was caught and captured by those eyes, his eyes, already open and unnaturally aware, he knew, right then, that it was so...
This was, no matter what else was true, the Son of God. This was Y’shua, the Emmanuel, God with us, the God who saves.
This child was God’s, this child was his, this child was Mary’s, his wife’s, this child belonged to the world and had come to set mankind free. It was there in the eyes, it was there in his own heart. It was there in the sudden, irresistible swelling of love in him...and he wondered, “Is it always like this...
Is this what it always means to be a father, to be given the Son or the Daughter of God to rear? Am I blessed above all others in this birth?”
And he knew he was...and he knew he wasn’t.
So, when the shepherds came, impossibly, ready to worship the newborn babe, he was, as much as any man can be, ready for them.
But when the time arrived that was sent by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, Papa! Father! (Galatians 4:4-6 The Message)
Mary dozed along on the donkey, swaying and sweating under layers of wool and the relentless sun, brooding over the life within by day, rolling beneath the stars and ripe baby weight by night, seeking comfort, and taking it in the touch of Joseph’s hand, the crook of his elbow beneath her head…in the memory and the promise that echoed down the starry dome.
He had not known…He, even he, could not have imagined how heavy the flesh would be…how close…how it caught you in its fabric and wrapped you, how the All grew distant in the bubble and gurgle of moments and the face of love faded behind the roar of blood, the thump and thud of hammer heart, the thrust of fist, the jar of heel…
He was no longer sure whether the all-embracing presence he remembered wasn’t a confused shadow cast by the day-warm, blood stained, glow that came and went to a rhythm he did not understand…whether the dream of urgency, of sending certainty, of love, wasn’t a distorted echo of the heart’s intent that beat above him…whether that feeling that he had once touched it all, tasted it all, known every instance of all life in the fullness of knowing, shared it, held it all in sure communion, with the One…whether that feeling or this swimming, surging, blind grope toward being was reality.
Joseph burst out laughing feeding the donkey there in the stable. Mary turned preoccupied eyes up and questioned.
“I was thinking, sorry, that this is not exactly the place I would have chosen for the birthing of the promised one…the coming king…the savior of our race…”
The donkey shifted under Joseph’s hand and nosed the feed bag.
Joseph poured the grain in a silver moon-stream into the trough. “And I was thinking what a good thing it was I didn’t have the choosing!”
These last cycles, the flesh had became so much more present, the ear heard, the mind sorted and recorded, marking, unknowing, the pattern of voices, bells, bird song, well buckets, donkey braying, blanket rustle…the skin tingled with the touch of the heart’s hand through the muscle veil, so different from that other, the work-rough caress…arms and legs tensed and clenched to counter donkey sway…the eye struggled to make sense of the blood rich shadows behind closed lids…while the other, the embracing purpose, the timeless intent, slipped away, floated further, receded into the silent center of himself…
Joseph knelt in the straw by her side.
Her hand came up and out to grip his left, burying the pain in his carpenter’s calluses, while he brushed, with the other, the hair from her cheek where it clung in the sweat and the tears.
He smiled despite himself, and between times, so did she.
And now, what was this massive thrusting constriction that threatened to rip him from the root of himself…this headlong, bone-bending, body bruising, surge and swell that beat about him, insistent, irresistible, plunging him through a passage that would surely strip him of the final shreds of knowing…
The blast of naked light…the bawl of uncloaked sound…the heat of hands on naked flesh…the cold of cloth that caught him, wrapped close the struggling arms.
He wailed in the sudden absence.
And then the nipple brushed his cheek, he turned, blind butted, opened, and was swallowed by the warm sweet certainty of mother’s milk.
“Y’shua…” Mary murmured.
“God saves us…” Joseph stroked the downy cheek.
And the shepherds found them so…believed the miracle, and worshiped...
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over the flocks by night. (Luke 2:8 NIV)
You have never seen such a sheepish bunch of shepherds as they were that morning when Miriam found them, in the street, trailing back from the inn, from the stables, if truth were to be told—straw in their hair, more than one with manure stains where they had kneeled in the night, red eyed with weeping and with wonder, already now, in the cold light of dawn, a little guilty at leaving the sheep. They were shepherds, after all, and the enormity of what they had done, their utter dereliction of duty, was bound to catch up with them sooner or later...
And here was Miriam, the most vocal among the owners, ready to beat them about the head with it right now: “Look at you! Louts! Drunkards! Villains! How long were my sheep alone, unguarded, in the night, while you...”she sputtered and strutted, silenced by her own anger for a breath or two, “Where did you sleep it off, in a stable? You dare come creeping up to my door without the sheep in the dawn smelling of cow and donkey dung, and you call yourselves shepherds...sheep men? I ask you?”
And they had hung their heads and taken it, not knowing where to begin, how to explain...
“But you see,” said Ben, at last, compelled to tell the wonder. He was the youngest of them, barely fourteen, and knew no better than to try: “there was this great light in the sky, shimmering curtains of wonderful color, speaking and such singing...”
A few of the others cut their eyes sideways at Benjamin, encouraging him, silently, to go on, since he seemed willing to speak for them.
“And they were saying about peace on earth and God’s will...”
And here Judah, oldest, and still a shepherd at forty, nudged him from behind, “Good will. It was ‘good will,’ and don’t forget the glory part... ‘Glory to God in the highest,’ they said...”
“And they said,” piped simple Nate, “a king was born, and we would find him in a manger, in a manger, wrapped in cloth, they said, in David’s city, and we had to go and see, didn’t we? A baby king. In a manger!”
“They told us,” added Jeremiah the joker, from the back, “not to be afraid, though by then I had nearly wet myself, the light all around and the voices out of the sky, it was enough to frighten a stone I tell you...”
And now it was coming back to them all, the awe of it, the mind and heart bursting splendor of that heavenly choir, the compulsion to get up and find this baby, to bow down, to worship, “and so,” Benjamin continued, “we went, all of us, not a thought for the sheep...”
They were all nodding now, eyes up, meeting Miriam's, unashamed, pleading for her understanding without expecting it.
“We couldn’t help it. A chance to see a king born in a manger and all, we had to go, and we did.”
Miriam snorted, but she was just a bit daunted by their assurance, by their willingness to meet her eye in this, where they should have been, rightfully, groveling before her, destroyed by their own guilt.
“And we found him, right there where the angels said…”
And so Benjamin became the first to speak out loud what they had all been thinking. “Angels.” “Angels, yes angels!” ran through them all like dawn…
“…in a manger in a stable back of Josiah’s father’s inn, down on Straight Street, the one at the east end, not the west...and there he was, just a baby, but the light about him, the love, I tell you it brought us to our knees right there in the straw, all of us, as though the layers of sheep grime and rough living had been stripped away in a moment, and we were naked (“and clean,” this from Judah again) there in the presence of God, better than any temple it was, that stable, and I for one,” and he cast his eyes around his fellows, “we all really, just fell on our faces and cried and cried, and then I crawled right up and touched the tiny hand. His mother held him up and I saw his eyes looking right through me to my soul, and I swear he smiled—the little lamb of God—and I put my rough hand up and stroked his cheek, and it was like touching God, I tell you, it ripped the soul right out of me with love, and I don’t think I will ever be the same...”
“The world will never be the same...” And Judah stepped forward and looked Miriam in the eye. “He’s the great shepherd come at last, and your sheep are safe without us or anyone to watch them. That’s what they said. ‘Peace on earth. The season of God’s favor.’ and I believe them! I know it is him. He’s come! And the world had just better look out!”
He stepped back into the group and turned, and they followed him, out to the fields to fold blankets and fill water skins, to take up their shepherd’s duty once again...
But you had better believe they watched the sky by night with new eyes...as they waited now, for what the few short years of childhood would certainly release into the waiting world.
...the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great, be called “Son of the Highest.” (Luke 1:30-32 The Message)
Mary woke from a restless sleep, head shifted slightly off the robes and blankets, straw drawing lines across her cheek, sticking so she had to pick it away with half awake hand.
Above her, too close certainly, loomed the stomach and udder of a cow, and for a moment she could not think where or why she was—a stable, surely, but what was she doing on the floor of stable? She hitched the cloak beneath her head back up and rolled to her side again, drew up her knees over the unaccustomed absence, the pain and bone-deep weariness...and remembered.
She sat up, pushed the cow over with an urgent hand, clutched her robes about her and rolled to her knees.
And Joseph was there, hurrying to her side, drawn by even that little noise, a bundle in his arms, the baby in his arms, held as he must have held lambs in his shepherd days, as tender as she might want, and she sank back down to receive that little weight, more blanket and cloth than flesh, to dig in, to unwrap, to find the face, to uncover the eyes, the tiny hands, of the miracle, and one hand caught and held her little finger, gripped the root of her heart, and she fell forward into those eyes, even as she lifted the mouth to her breast, and he didn’t let go of her finger, but held her fast, as he would, she knew, hold her the rest of her life: first born, born of God, a miracle, God’s son, her baby, her baby, her child. Y’shua. God saves. “Oh,” she sighed, “save me from this love, from drowning in this tenderness, in this living water of wonder. I will lose myself gladly in these eyes. My son...”
And then she looked up to see Joseph’s puzzled smile, and around to take in the shepherds talking quietly in their corner, glancing nervously at her, at the babe, trying not to stare, and suddenly the world was there again, stretching hungry, ravenous, hurting, centered unknowing on this moment, reaching away to the limits of her imagination, and she felt the pull, the demand, the need, plucking at her child, pulling him away already.
It was a though God had reached down and touched the surface of the waters in this child, and already ripples ran to the horizon, ripples that would build to waves, waves into a flood, a second flood, and this the ark with its few animals, a man, his wife, a child, these dusty shepherds who had come, who had answered the first call of the heavens?
“Peace on earth” they had said. “Peace at what price?” her heart demanded.
And she wanted to sink down below the floor of the stable, to root herself in earth, to find a safe hole to hide from the coming flood, the second cleansing, to hide the baby, her son, for she feared already, this flood would be one of blood (his blood?) to wash the world.
Only the grip of his hand, so tight on her finger, the look in his eye, so calm, so trusting, kept her from leaping up and running as far and as fast as she could.
And then Joseph was there, close, his hand on her back, her face, brushing back her hair, stroking the tiny cheek at the breast, and it was all ordinary again. An ordinary miracle. A new baby. Her baby. Ordinary wonder.
And something in her bowed and worshiped.
Her free hand reached and caught Joseph’s little finger, their eyes met, and she held on tight.
There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. (Matthew 6:...25-26 The Message)
Mary punched the dough down hard, kneading out her frustrations, bruising fingers, brushing hair back and streaking her face with flour.
“You must talk to him Joseph...four years he is, and already I can say nothing to him. “‘Eat your crust,’ I say to his brother, ‘you don't know where your next loaf is coming from...’and Y'shua says, all innocence, ‘But mother, you must not worry, the bread comes from my father.’
“‘Your father works hard,’ I say, long hours bent over plane and chisel, to buy you bread, and don't you forget it.’
“‘No,’ he says, ‘my father God gives it...We make him glad. He loves us.’
“‘Oh, I am forgetting,’ I say, ‘with God for a father you don't have to worry…your belly will always be full...’”
Her breath caught and held on the serrated edge between laugh and sob.
She turned from the work, whipping hands on apron as she came, halting, to the far shadowed end of the table to take the stool across from Joseph and sit, hands loose in her lap, eyes half way to wonder from worry.
“I do forget, Joseph, the way of it even, the why of it I have never understood, but I forget whole days at a time that he is not ours...I don't know what to say to him. How will he live?”
Joseph swirled the last sediment-laden swallow of wine in his cup seeking, perhaps, an answer there, before the pleading silence of his wife's concern, more wanting than his own, pulled his eyes up and the words out.
“That's maybe my fault as much as yours. The other day as we came from feeding and milking the goats, you know how he's always at my heel about the yard, he asks, ‘Abba, who feeds the birds?’
I look to see what set him off this time and there's a flock of blackbirds calling and circling off toward the waddy.
“‘Oh,’ I say, ‘God takes care of them...’I suppose I was thinking of the Psalm, toward the end there, we heard at synagogue last Sabbath.”
He laughed, lightly, self consciously, drank off the wine swirl and smiled across to her, remembering, and happy with it.
“You know the flowers there just by the path, some weedy thing I should have pulled before it got fair hold, I turned to them...‘See how he dresses the grass,’ I say, thinking of the psalms again, ‘in crowns and gowns any king, even Solomon, would be proud of...God takes care of his creatures.’”
“‘But why, Abba,’ he asks, ‘why does he care for them?’”
“‘Because,’ I say, and I don't know what made me say it, ‘he loves them. The birds sing his glory morning and evening, day-long, and the flowers reflect all the colors of his invisible robes. It makes him glad. He loves them.’”
“‘And are we his creatures too?’ he pipes, and I can't help laughing at the seriousness of him, but he deserves a serious answer, and I try.
“‘Say his children, rather, more than creatures surely, it is written, his chosen people.’”
“He gets that far off look of his, standing there fingering a flower.
‘And are we more to him than the birds and grasses then?’”
“‘Surely,’ I say, and his face lights.”
“‘Then I will be just like them and make him glad.’ and off he goes, running up the path as though the whole thing was a great load off his mind.”
Mary stood and moved the circle of her distraction to the floured end of the table to idle, unseeing, before the loaf.
Joseph circled in turn behind, “He'll do it too...”He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to him. “Or I don't know him. You watch...he'll never know an anxious day...”
He kissed her brow where the wrinkles brooded like the spirit over the unformed substance of the first day, then pushed her out to arms length to catch her eye and smile once more.
“Nor should we. He is who he is. How could God be anything but glad?”
And he was off himself, back to the shop, to the wood and tools, the smell of shavings, the work, whistling, the whole thing a great load off his mind.
Mary moved her hands into the dough, listening to the babble of children’s voices from the yard outside Y’shua’s among them as full of joy, as full of glory, as any bird’s.
Slowly, of themselves, her fingers began the kneading, kneaded slowly harder, and slowly harder still.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45 NIV)
Mary looked in wonder on her first born son, now seven years, where he played in the dust with his brothers by the door. Only a week before they had seen their first soldier, a Roman parading, guarding a puppet of the puppet king with some proclamation (and a new tax) to the provinces, and had had to have “King” and “rule” and “reign” and “tax” and “Rome” explained a thousand times, until their young ears were somehow satisfied (and Joseph thoroughly tired of the subject) and now…it was a game.
“Y’shua be king. Y’shua be king.” chanted the younger sons, holding up a cloth scrap cape and a crown woven of brittle vines.
(Mary had to restrain herself at the sight of the rough crown…what impulse was this..? to snatch and crush and burn..? What pain the simple sight of a child’s toy could bring. She put a hand to her head and one to her heart and wondered, not for the first time, if she might be mad.)
Y’shua squatted eye to eye with his younger brother, James. “I cannot be king.”
“But you are the oldest…you’re the first born…you must be king.”
Y’shua shook his head and smiled, “I am oldest…but you,” he tugged affectionately on his five-year-old brother’s robe, “are first born son of our father Joseph…my father is God.”
James pulled impatiently away. He had heard this story before.
“Y’shua, you be king.” Stubborn, he held up cape and crown. “God’s son can be king. James will collect the tax.”
Y’shua laughed. “God’s son is your servant…he cannot be king.”
Instantly, the humor was gone from Y’shua’s face. He listened intently, sank back on his heels and into thought.
It was a posture Mary had come to recognize, but not to love…this slipping away to silence…this withdrawal to communion with an unseen other…from which Y’shua always returned trailing glory and full of ideas far too old for his age.
(Oh, she knew where he went—knew, too, the voice he listened to (for voices had spoken to her in her time) but she could not repress a mother’s jealousy, a mother’s fear…her first born would be snatched away too soon. Could not God leave a mother her joy for these few years?)
Y’shua reached absently for the woven crown, turned it in his fingers, tightened loose vine ends, while his words came up from the quiet distance of his heart.
“God is king…but not king like the puppet of Rome. His crown is kindness. He wears a cape of mercy lined with forgiveness. He needs no soldiers to protect his holiness. His kingdom is hearts and his only tax is love. We are all his children and his delight is to serve us…”
Y’shua focused finally on his brother’s face. “And I am his son.”
He stood and dusted his hands and placed the woven crown on his brother’s head. James snatched it off and frowned…the younger sons’ faces crumpled, lips trembling, toward a wail.
“All right…all right…I will be your king…” Y’shua laughed, then serious again, “but you don’t know what you ask. You do not know what it is to serve a servant king.”
Y’shua draped himself in the tattered cape, put on the woven crown, walked resolutely into the merciless sun of the street trailing his crowd of brothers (already squabbling over who would be captain of the guard).
Mary shuddered from the roots of her soul and all but cried out loud.
She knew, she feared, in the silent center of herself, exactly what it meant to serve a servant king…
She saw, with a mother’s eyes, the blood and thorns in the woven crown.
“At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I come down from heaven’?” (John 6: 41-2 NIV)
Y'shua at ten shuffled dust in the shade of the house walls, bare footed, bringing home a loaf of gift bread from a neighbor to his mother, hiking up his hem, leaping bars of brilliance that leaked from narrow alleys, kindled the sand, laid fiery red sea crossings, all down the street toward home.
His thirsty eyes drank the dry noon, the shimmer of heated air, the half hearted complaints of sheep sheltering in sparse shade, the lazy squabble of sparrows after scanty crumbs.
Under his breath he wove the too bright day into a psalm, praising God his Father in the silence of the heat of noon…words of wonder shimmering up in him, rising, waves drawn by the overawing sun.
As he neared the blazing patch of empty space around the village well that edged his way, the silence was suddenly stained with mocking laughter, the sun waves colored by a whimper of despair.
Y'shua slid his head around the corner, holding the bread tight to his body, blinking in the fierce light, flicking back the hair that swung beyond his forelock braids to see.
Beside the well a ragged muffin of a child scrambled for a leather water jar, its contents fast fading under the voracious tongue of the sun in the dust where they had spilled. Five boys, twelve to fifteen, kicked the empty bladder like a ball from foot to foot, making a cruel game of keeping it instants ahead of the child's frantic hands.
A rage of righteous indignation (all out of proportion to his age) rose in Y'shua, hot as the searing noon, and he stepped out and pushed through the standing sun until he stood just outside the jeering circle of older boys.
The boys, all bluster, sweat dripping down their braids, turned to see what new sport had come their way.
“My Father doesn't like that!”
Why (their eyes said in sly sidelong glances) it's nothing but a barefoot, unclipped, bread-carrying brat looking lightning at us with his scowl.
They laughed. They knew this Y'shua.
Daniel, son of a carter whose axles Joseph the carpenter had often turned, stepped forward and reached for Y'shua's forelock braid. "Here you little bastard, born in sin, what do you say?"
Y'shua stepped away from the reaching hand. "My Father doesn't like what you do."
His eyes still blazed but he bit at his lower lip, shifted the bread to the crook of his elbow, felt behind with a bare foot in case he had to run.
"Ha!" mocked the carter's son as the rest crowed up around Y'shua,
"His father, he says…as though the bastard knew…"
Like crows at a fresh kill, they all cackled over that.
(The muffin child, seeing his chance, had long since grabbed the bottle and run. Y'shua hoped him safely home and offered silent prayer that his parents would forgive him the empty jug.)
"Does the Lord love to see any captive on earth crushed under foot, that defiance of the most high God which cheats a man of his rights, or anyone treated unjustly…?"
Y'shua spoke the words of scripture from memory. They trembled, alive on his tongue. He was inwardly amazed at his own calm.
"Let us search out and test our ways and turn back to the Lord. Let us raise our hearts with our hands to God in Heaven."
And he suited action to his words, raising the hand that was free of the bread, slowly above his head, open palmed and pleading.
Daniel's own hand whipped forward like a striking snake to seize the upraised wrist and the others surged ahead to grab.
Y'shua spun and ran, hearing the heavy footfalls behind him, diving into the dark shadow of his home street beyond the well.
The boys came up short at the shadow's edge. "Hey Y'shua, born in sin…" they yelled, "who is your father?"
Laughter, brittle and sharp as pot shards, scared his fleeing feet.
He turned, his hand on the door frame of home, the bread still tight clutched beneath his elbow, breath ragged, and looked back up the street.
The boys stood shimmering, shrunk, foreshortened in the vertical sun on the far side of shadow.
"Hay Y'shua, who is your father, anyway?" echoed in the heated air all down the noon.
Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one...” Luke 15:8 NIV
One day, when he was nine years old he went next door to the widow’s, as was already his habit, to ask if he could be any help. How often had he heard his mother: “Such a shame, that son of hers never comes, and I don’t even know what the daughter-in-law looks like"? They live in Capernaum. She might as well be all alone, sonless, as to have mothered such a one.”
So he made it his business, in his good boy’s way, to be somewhat of a grandson to her, to poke his head in once a day, and see what she was doing.
Often, almost always these days, she was baking, or had just baked, some sweet thing, and had goat’s milk in a jug in the cool corner of the room, and was just about to sit down to a bite, just something to keep her strength, and wouldn’t he like to join her?
And then, after, there might be wood to carry in, or water from the well...she liked the water from two streets over, and had gone to that spring faithfully each day until her knees gave out...or it might be the goat had not been milked, or the milk skimmed, or a loose hinge on the door to be retied, or something in the rafters to be brought down, or quail eggs to gather, a bit of weeding...some little thing a boy could do, that a son would, if he ever came...and then, most days, that something sweet to finish (“It will only go stale if it sits there...”) and then home.
But this day, when he reached the door he was astounded to find the whole house turned upside down. Clothes from a chest were over everything, jars and jugs from the very backs of cupboards, jars and jugs he’d never seen before, stood on the table, the spare bedding was in a pile on the bed, and the widow was down on hands and knees with the lamp, following a crack across the floor.
“Oh Y’shua”, she said as soon as his shadow crossed her path, “come help me. I’ve lost a coin.”
Y’shua looked to the table where there were two piles of shekels, one just slightly taller than the other. “Is it not there on the table?” he asked.
“No, no...” she said, glancing up abstractedly and pushing the hair back behind her scarf, “there were ten, all my savings for the tax...ten, and now only nine. Where could it have gone? Where could it be hiding?”
So he had gotten down with her, and run his eyes and hands over the hard packed floor, poked into cracks, fetched a sliver from the woodpile to explore the deeper shadows, unstacked and restacked the bowls, turned over the clothing chest once more as she muttered around him, often doing what he had just finished all over again, as he must, he knew, be researching where she had already searched a dozen times. Finally, dusty and worn, they both flopped down at the table.
She put her elbows on the worn wood with a strange bump and propped her head in her hands. “Gone.” and she clucked her tongue, rubbing her eyes, her back, reaching for the lamp to put it out.
“You shouldn’t worry Grandmother,” Y’shua said, “Our Father will take care of you. He has many coins. He won’t count one short against you.”
And there it was again. As her elbows came to rest on the table to lift the lamp, the table rocked, just a fraction, just a little bump. And Y’shua was up.
“Grandmother, wasn’t this table steady yesterday?”
She looked up at him, but her eyes were inward. “Was it?”
“Has anyone moved the table?”
And a smile spread across her face. ” That goat! Last evening, when I first counted coins, that goat got in here, he’s always after scraps, and the door hinge needs tightening again, and he was all over the kitchen as I tried to shoo him out with my apron.”
And both of them were down on hands and knees again looking at the table leg nearest the pile of coins.
“Lift it can’t you?” the widow said, as she poked with the sliver under the leg.
Y’shua stood and braced his hands beneath the table top and pushed, his face screwed up with the effort and a grunt driven out, but the table shifted, the piles of shekels slithered over, and he heard her cry.
“Ahaa... there you are!” And she stood, the coin held up, caught between thumb and finger, and then she carefully restacked the shekels, two piles, and placed the lost coin on the shorter.
“God is good!” She exclaimed.
“God is good!” Y'shua replied.
“Haah, that's better!” she said, dusting her hands and putting the coins back in their jar. “I must go tell Ruth and Jessie.” She bustled around the one room, tidying away the clutter. “I’ve found the coin. There is sweet bread in that cupboard, boy, and milk from the goat in the corner. I’ll bring them back to see. Go get your mother and your brothers and sister. We will celebrate. We will rejoice. I have found the coin!
God is good!”
It was quite an evening by the end, with neighbors coming by, and some returning with sweets of their own, even a small jug of wine... it turned into a minor feast, a night of laughter and tales of loosing and unexpected finding, a spontaneous neighborhood celebration, a day to remember the goodness of God.
The day the widow found her coin. Such simple rejoicing. Such an unlooked-for, glad-hearted celebration. A bench mark experience. The heavenly, unmistakable, taste of restoration. Y’shua would remember. In the loosing, and especially in the finding, God is good.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
Locusts buzzed and boys squirmed in the shade of the synagogue wall.
Rabbi Benyoseph, white haired, tired, crumpled over arthritic knees, slapped reflexively at a circling fly between Atonah and Adoni.
The drone of thousands of young voices, past and present, intoning the sacred script, floated him like a blown glass ball at the edge of a fisherman’s net.
Buoyant, he felt, none the less, the incessant pull, the peculiar weight of his particular strand of the eternal net, cast by the creator into the teaming sea of boyhood, threatening, as always, to pull him under.
His whole soul yearned unknowing to feel the hand of the fisherman finally take hold and lift him bodily into free air: The strain of the net transformed to dripping sun-fired splendor as the catch rose shining to the surface…the blown glass float become at last a trembling silver bell on the hem of the robe of God.
Goat bells, brassy, drifting from the hills behind the synagogue, drew him back… that and the insistent (if gentle) voice of Y’shua. “Rabboni…we are finished.”
The Rabbi frowned. That one should have been of Aaron or Levi instead of David. He was a priest born if not bred.
Benyoseph had known the like before…these boys with fisherman’s hands and eyes…always finding the tear in the net. They came to no good. Disqualified by the accident of parentage from service in synagogue and temple…they carried their God-mindedness into the market place. Voices crying in the wilderness…they were like the wind whipping the calm surface of the sea into chops and foam, tossing the floats wildly about, always threatening to spill the whole net in a sea-surge of popular holiness.
They came to no good!
Dying as young hotheads or broken old men, huddled around the last embers of the fire still burning behind their eyes.
He sighed. “Yes Y’shua, I know you are done.”
He fingered the sacred scroll of the law in his lap, the parchment beginning to stiffen (like his knees) from age, the edges brown from the uncounted fingers of village boys who had passed it hand to hand, puzzling out the Word of their God in tentative voices, voices better suited to sheep calling and game babble squabbling in the well square.
“Jeremiah, you are first today.”
The uncomfortable, untidy, rustle of boys unfolding, the hesitant hands reaching, the scroll rising.
Benyoseph had, as always, the split-second impulse to snatch the scroll back, to shelter it from these grubby hands and clumsy eyes, but he let it go. How else could they learn?
“No Jeremiah, watch my lips…”
Corrections, by long habit, came automatically, without the conscious intervention of his spirit. Flies hovered. The sand beyond the wall popped in the oven sun.
That Y’shua…Joseph the carpenter undoubtedly spoiled him, treating him like his own, defending him before the elders, when the boy’s precocious ways brought trouble…and that Mary…filling the child’s head with this “God’s son” talk.
“And why not?” Joseph said, “Aren’t we all children of God? Who are we to say no?”
And always the haunting behind the old carpenter’s eyes…though he never spoke of it, a man who talks with angels can not wholly hide the mark of it on his soul, can not keep the creeping wonder from his face.
“Y’shua is God’s child…he certainly is not mine. You know me, Benyoseph. You know my other sons. Could I have fathered such a one? Mary has it right. Though I love Y’shua and he loves me, he knows only one father…and that is God.”
Benyoseph shook his head, trying, unsuccessfully, to dislodge the memory.
“Benjamin…you would do better to keep your mind, and your eyes, on what you are reading.”
He remembered all too clearly…Joseph, an arm around his little wife and a hand on Y’shua’s head, turning back to say: “Who knows, Rabboni, but we would all be better off if we could say the same of ourselves?”
There was a hushed silence in Benyoseph’s mind, matching the stillness of the afternoon, as boy passed scroll to boy.
Y’shua’s voice reading the words of scripture in front of him blended with the memory voice of the child drifting back around a corner, lifted in anticipation, filled with awe. “My Father says I will teach them. They will call him father as I do, and be better for it.”
The carpenter’s booming craftsman’s laugh had echoed between the sun-baked buildings of the village street, and then…Mary’s voice, urgent and angular with a touch of naked fear, pleading, just at the edge of his hearing…
“Not yet! Oh, not yet, my son!”
It was the fear in the voice that found echo in Benyoseph’s own soul, that kept the memory sharp enough to cut even after a year.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15: 3-7 NIV)
They were waiting, his brothers, the other boys his age, four hundred yards from the last house of the village in the dark, set for ambush where the track wound among the standing stones.
They leaped out, circling like a pack of dogs, driving him on, stumbling…
“Hey! Y’shua!” “Bastard boy…” “Where’ve you been?” “Looking for his father in a bush, I bet.” “A burning bush…” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.” “Left the sheep to straggle home alone.” “Some shepherd…” “Dragging in after dark, ashamed of daylight he is.” “Did you lose something Y’shua?” “Fell asleep, didn’t you?” “Listening to the angels sing again?” “He’s been with his father up in the clouds; see the raindrops in his eyes…” “Yeah. There’s mud on his cheeks where they ran down.” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.”
Y’shua clutched the lamb tighter to his chest and, with a short run that tore his tired lungs, pushed through the ring of laughter and turned.
He caught the eye of each tormenter, moving silent from face to face in the starlight until each dropped his own eyes; they let him go…
His brother James came from the back edge of the circle, his face set with shame and anger, and fell in beside, half lopping to keep up with his brother’s longer stride.
“You’re in for it now, you know…They’re all there at the fold waiting: Uncle Samuel, Benjamin, the widow Miriam old Saul…all of them! They’re mad about the sheep, saying they never should have trusted you with a shepherd’s turn.
“Father…he just sits smiling, telling them the sheep are safe home, at least, making them all madder.
“And the women…they’re all at mother, old crows…‘A wolf has taken him…’ they say, ‘or a lion.’ ‘He hasn’t sense enough to protect himself…what are they thinking sending him out with sheep…and lambing time too!’”
“Y’shua…” he grabbed his brother by the sleeve and tugged him round, “Say something!”
“Baaaaaaaaaaat” the lamb felt the boy’s hold falter as he turned. Y’shua hitched the woolly bundle up higher in his arms, feeling the heart race, the breath rasp. He bent and whispered in the twitching ear before answering his brother.
“The lamb was lost…”
James, for the first time it seemed, noticed the bundle of legs, bright eyes and ears, heard the exhaustion in his brother’s voice, saw the ripped hem and the dirt on his robe.
“A lamb?” He stood and shook his head. Y’shua walked on alone.
The boys circled round through the houses of the village (once Y’shua’s eye was off them) and clustered at the edge of torch-light at the fold.
They saw Y’shua come along behind the houses, saw the elders fall silent, the storm of their anger taking aim, saw Y’shua walk through them to the fold gate and slip the lamb inside, heard the bleat and blat chorus as lamb found dam and ewe her lost one.
There was a humphing and a stir among the elders when they saw the lamb, a general swallowing of words already half spoken, a shuffling of feet and shifting of eyes. Old Saul finally spoke…“Ah…Y’shua…the sheep came home alone…”
Miriam, never one to be done out of a good harangue, pushed forward, caught hold of the rags of her rage, and spit…“You left them in the hills! With lions! With bears!”
“I left them,” Y’shua said, “with my father, who rides the thunderheads and sets limits on the sea, who feeds the lions and the bears and the monsters of the deep, who keeps the sheep he gives us…keeping both them and us, in the hollow of his hand, in the center of his heart…while I, I went to find that one lost lamb.”
He looked again from face to face, seeing the young shepherds’ eyes behind the white beards and the grizzled forelock braids, seeing the goat-maid, windblown and sun-brown, still harbored within the widow.
He remembered the anguish of the search, the wrenching panic when, as hour by hour the light drained from the sky, he could not find that single lamb…
He heard again, echoing among the rocks, the pathetic, life-lost, bleat that pulled him at last to the high ledge. He felt the bite of the stone again, sharp beneath his hand, heard the slither as the slope gave beneath his sandaled foot, smelled the bruised herbage and the urine fear of the lamb mingled with his own too-sweet sweat…
He remembered too, the joy that washed him when the lamb was safe in arms, the up-welling peace, warm and homily, smelling of wool and dust and life, that carried him past weariness and night-fear home.
He saw Joseph’s slow smile, and knew they knew, all of them. “And which of you would not have done the same?”
He left them grumbling, wagging heads and tongues at his boldness (at his knowing) as Joseph gathered him, arm across his shoulders, and took him home.
When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:42-43 NIV)
Only desperation drove Joseph back to the temple that day, three days into a frantic search for his son, leaving Mary hollow-eyed in the porch, pulling, finally, out of her hard hands, leaving her reaching, alone, under the hooded eyes of the widows and wives who gathered there, who spent their days huddled on this far shore, camped on the beach of God’s awareness, forbidden to enter the sea.
He pulled away and into the cool male shade of the inner courts, the quiet, the undersea calm, guilty to have escaped, and guilty to feel his escape, from her panic her hysteria, the fear that, moment by moment, mounted and made her into a stranger.
“Excuse me, Rabboni, have you seen a boy, so high, still in his festival robes...?”
Beyond the temple, Jerusalem simmered, huge and hungry, strange, full of unknown faces, piecing itself back together after the exit of the pilgrims. Each day that passed the city closed itself more completely to them, until Joseph wanted to take it by the throat and shake it until his son, like Jonah, fell out, but who could get hands on this whale.
He was apparently invisible here, wearing the dust of three days and nights in the street in this sea washed place of the white robes and shifting currents, wearing his need, carrying no sacrifice. He wondered if he should have stopped to buy a dove?
He plucked at a passing robe. “Rabboni, a boy, twelve years old, five days ago we were here with the pilgrims—a man I should say, his first sacrifice, it made an impression, I could tell, maybe he came back, maybe he is here?”
But the priest only gave him a cold stare and passed on.
“Can you help me? Can someone, anyone, please help me find my son?”
And so he wandered deeper, rounding corners and the light from the surface fell upward above him, and he wanted to just stop and let himself sink, sink finally under the sea-weight into the stone.
And then, finally around a corner no different than any other, a shaft of sun lit an inner courtyard and a cluster of men on rising steps around. He heard laughter, shattering the quiet of the temple, voices contending, echoing, full of sharp thrust and parry, full of the sound of splashing self-importance, as the scholars played in the shallows at the edge of the sea, and knew he had found the teachers of the law.
He almost passed right by, only caught, in the corner of his eye, the tousled head among them, only heard with a father’s ear the unfinished voice, and the questions... those questions...
“But wasn’t the Sabbath made for man? Why do you tie up God’s gift with so many ropes, so many rules, only the rich can get at it?”
That could only be Y’shua... Like a swimmer come at last to shore, Joseph felt bottom and stood, head above water for the first time in three days, and breathed.
His son, when Joseph edged closer, sat cross-legged in the center of the court, scrolls of the law scattered about him, and the teachers ranged above him on the benches and stairs, leaning in, puzzled, slightly scandalized, a few delighted, by this bright boy, beardless, barely a man, who had come to question them on the law, who wouldn’t, for that matter, take “no” for an answer, who just kept coming back to:
“God is ‘yes,’ always ‘yes,’ never ‘no’! That is the one true test of every law!”
“God says ‘you will,’ not ‘you should,’ and never, all by itself, ‘you won’t.’ If he says ‘you won’t,’ it is because, in the hardness of our hearts, that is all we can hear. He has always already given us a ‘you will’ that should prevent us; it is impossible, or ought to be, to do the ‘will’ and the ‘won’t’ at the same time and still be one man. God is ‘yes,’ not ‘no’!”
“But...” “But...” “But...but...but...!” The teachers stammered, running over themselves with objection, angry or laughing, thoughtful or contentious.
Joseph could barely suppress his own laugh as he broke the circle to come to his son’s side and fold himself down with a hand on Y’shua’s shoulder.
“My Father is not ‘but,’ either, is he? He is all of one piece and accepts no exceptions.”
“Y’shua.” The boy turned his head slowly to meet his father’s eye with a self-conscious smile. Joseph turned to the teachers, stood and bowed. “Forgive us, masters, but this is my son who has been lost these last three days. He is only young and knows no better. His mother waits in the porch and we must go to her.”
And he pulled him up and steered him out of the court into the shadowed hallway. Joseph leaned in and whispered as they walked, as they hurried, one conspirator to another, “You must be careful my son. They did not hear the “My Father” that time, but they are not as deaf as you may think them.”
Joseph paused at the last doorway out to the porch were Mary waited. He turned Y’shua to him and looked him up and down. He sighed. “And now...your mother.”
Mary came wailing from her corner in a storm of dusty robes, sleeves and hems, hood and veil, to wrap herself around Y’shua and push him half back through the doorway. Only Joseph’s sudden hand stopped her from violating the sanctuary with her womanhood, and he pulled them both back to safety in the center of the porch.
Mary finally straightened, releasing Y’shua, stepping back, gathering herself, her relief hardening visibly into anger behind her eyes, ready to strike, but Joseph forestalled her with a hand gentle over her mouth.
“He is found.” Anger faded to pain.
“Why, my son? Didn’t you know we would miss you? Didn’t you think of our pain when we found you gone? Didn’t you know we would look and worry and fear and grieve for you? And here! To find you here! Here!”
She shuddered and almost fell, seeing again the blood among the thorns of a woven crown, snatching his hand turning the wrist as though she expected to see it pierced, rubbing the whole skin with wonder.
And with wonder he answered. “But mother, didn’t you know I would be in My Father’s house, doing his business? Where else in Jerusalem would I be? Isn’t this why we came? Why I came?”
And he turned and took it all in. The money changers, the sellers of sacrifice with their cages of doves and pens of lambs without spot or blemish, the women waiting, pressed to the screen that separated them forever from the house of God, the sinners, the unclean, clustered as close as they could come, as close as they dared, to the hope and healing they believed lay within.
And a great sadness took him, shook him, threatened to sweep him away and drown him, and he heard the sound of falling stone and smelt the dust of broken rock, the smoke of burning cedar, saw the gold vessels pool at his feet to become plunder, and shuddered to his soul, as though it were he, himself, who had been broken.
“No, I am done here…for now.”
He took his mother’s hand, and looked up to catch Joseph’s eye. “Let’s go home.”
He could not ignore the springing hope in Mary’s eyes. “For now, mother. For now.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18 NIV)
Y’shua paused on the stairs, just where his head would have crested the roof line to come in view of his parents in the summer kitchen on the roof of the house. Suddenly he was a boy again, peeking over the stair top, eavesdropping on his parents, fascinated by this mystery that was adulthood.
Joseph sat straddle on a bench, hair and beard still dripping from his ritual washing before the evening meal. Mary shaped the flat bread and tended it on a stone at the edge of the fire, shifting with the lazy evening breeze to keep, as best she could, from both smoke and heat.
“What about Hiram the tanner across the way, he has daughters the right age, have you spoken to him?”
“Ha!” Joseph bent and took a pebble from the rooftop (how did they keep getting up here?) to toss hand to hand as he talked: “To him and four others in the past week.”
The pebble arched higher and higher and his arms stretched, moving faster and faster, testing the limits of his balance, until he caught it and held it in his hand, as he turned to look at Mary. “They’ve all heard what happened with Rubin’s Sarah, how he talked her half to death with his coming kingdom until she went flying in tears to her mother; how he turned Rubin’s kitchen into a scripture debate society whenever he came, until, to hear Rubin tell it, there was no room for the ordinary business of being a family; how he camped in Rubin’s shop day after day with all the apprentices gathered about him, Rubin’s, and everyone else’s all along the street, until the Rabbi came himself and asked Rubin if he was planning to open a synagogue of his own.”
He put the pebble carefully on the bench between his legs and turned it, as though looking for its best face. “I tell you, none of them will have him, not with his God mindedness and his constant talk of God his father. It frightens them.”
He picked the pebble up again and rolled it in his open palm. “Oh, they say otherwise...they say they worry he’ll never make a living, that my shop will not survive me in his hands, and then, in the next breath, ask for his work when anything new must be made. It makes no sense, but there it is.”
Mary pushed her hair straight back from her forehead with a distracted hand. “Then what will we do? Who will he marry? He must marry. He’s seventeen already. The relatives have begun sending suggestions from Capernaum, Sixteen year old girls, eighteen even, smelling of fish every one of them, as though Y’shua needed their leavings.”
“They mean well.” Joseph leaned over and stole a piece of bread from the stone, blowing both it and his fingers before tearing it, putting a piece to his mouth and chewing. “And they don’t know what it’s like to live with him, do they? I can’t say I always understand it myself.”
He swallowed and tore the bread again. “And honestly, Mary, I don’t know if I could inflict him, as he is, on another family. I don’t know if it would be fair to the girl, to the father, and think of his poor mother-in-law, always having to mind her tongue, always with his eye upon her, always asking her to measure herself for God’s kingdom. We’re used to it, and it’s not easy for any of us.”
“But he would make such a good father.” Mary sank back on her heals and gazed out over the rooftops of the neighbors. “You’ve seen how the children are always around him, following him everywhere; how he is always telling them stories, picking them up, making them toys, how they love him.”
Joseph chuckled and waved the bread in his hand. “Oh, and he’d make a splendid shepherd too, now that the sheep have learned his voice. You should see how they cluster at his side of the fold when he passes, though he has been too old to go out with them for more than three years. That doesn’t mean he is going to keep sheep, Mary. This is Y’shua we are talking about. He will do what he thinks ‘his father’ wants him to, and I don’t mean me!”
“I worry...” Mary caught Joseph’s eye and held it. “He has no friends. Fellows. Companions. Oh yes. I see them. Followers even. That crowd would push over a cart of melons just to see the smash, but he has no one he can talk to. He is so alone.”
“There is always God...” said Joseph, “his Father is surely with him, and I worry more about the synagogue getting pushed over than a cart of melons with that crowd, but they are just young, as is he.”
Joseph threw the pebble over the roof edge, and in doing, saw Y’shua there in the stair. He winked and drew Y’shua up to the roof with a hook of his head.
“Your mother and I were just discussing your well-being. She’d like to marry you off before you’re too old to father children.”
Y’shua grinned. “And how old were you when you married, father?”
Joseph laughed. “Ah, but that was different. I was waiting for the perfect woman, and it took them that long to offer your mother.”
Suddenly serious, too serious Rubin’s Sarah would say, Y'shua sank down next to the bench and drew in dust at his feet. “Honestly, father, I’ll marry the first girl who will really have me, all of me, who will go where I have to go, and do what I have to do, who knows God as her one Father and knows no fear.”
“Well, that’s it then,” Mary slapped the bread down hard on the stone, “there will never be a woman good enough for you!”
“Not unless God gives me one.” He went and took his mother by the elbow, brushed her cheek with a kiss, bent and took a stack of bread from the fire’s edge where it warmed. “I’ll be back.”
“But where are you going? It's supper time.” Mary reached to catch him, and Joseph put out a hand to still her.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find a cart of melons to push over, just to see the splash.”
And he left. Humming a psalm.
Mary sank back to her heals.
Joseph took up another pebble. “No one ever said it would be easy to be the mother of the son of God, Mary. Especially at his age. Maybe we have it easier than we might expect. At least we know the melons are really safe and I have to believe the synagogue can take care of itself.”
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness could not put it out. (John 1:4-5 The Message)
As often as he could, Y’shua stole away with a piece of bread, a lump of cheese, a salted fish in his pocket, a flask of water, or new wine in season, to walk the hills above the village.
The shepherds saw him, for he took the sheep trails at first, tracing the familiar paths of his boyhood, but he soon outdistanced the widest ranging flocks, pushing right out into the edges of the back beyond where no one but an occasional hunter went, or a boy seeking the fate of a lost lamb, where eagles nested, where once, even in David’s time, lions laired, where snakes warmed themselves in the sun on ledges in the morning cool, and scorpions infested dark cracks in the heat of noon—where the wind out of the wilderness came untamed, untainted by the habits and habitations of man and spoke in simple words of one syllable to his heart.
In the morning he would sit bareheaded and bold as any snake on a ridge line and drink the sun. At noon he would find a narrow canyon, a cut in the stone of the hills, and a tree whose roots reached down to drink the stream that ran beneath the sand and he would sit like one of the prophets of old waiting for the voice of God.
Did he hear it in the ant that climbed his feet? In the domestic twitter of the birds that nested in the branches overhead? In the way the wind scoured and shaped the living rock, whispering mysteries too deep for human tongue?
He would dig down under the sand until he felt the water under his hands, bless his lips with the vital moisture, kiss a stone, and the overwhelming love of the creator of all would wash through him, would reach out in his own hand to touch the weathered and wise trunk of the tree behind him, to trace the edge of a leaf, to explore the tender edges of his soul where it unfolded within him, to test his mind, to temper his heart...
There were tears, the salt of his humanity to mingle with the hidden waters of the stream.
There was joy to ride the eagle’s cry, to split the sky and draw the voices out of stone.
He felt himself turned inside out, the naked nerves exposed in a harsh world, defenseless in the loving hand of his Father God, where every breath shivered him to his core, and he was glad.
Coming home at sundown he would pause on the last ridge above the town and look down to all he had known and loved.
He would sit, sometimes, for hours more as the sky faded and the dark rose up out of the ground, as the stars gathered themselves, one by one, in the sky, and, in the full dark, he would pour himself down the slope, a smoke of love to find and wind itself around every heart below so that they sang to answer the stars above...until he himself was utterly empty.
He would have had to step right outside himself to see how, in the spirit, he blazed there on the ridge, brighter than any star, bright as only the sun itself, turning spiritual night into day around him, pushing the dawn ahead with every step he took, with every breath he drew, whether the world was ready for it or not.
Who knows...if he could have seen the forces of the night arrayed against him, willing his death, willing his failure, would he have had the courage to go on breathing, being, walking into his own future?
Or would he too have known, would he have been given the grace to know, even then, that there was no power in heaven, or on earth, that could hold back this dawn.
“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (John 5:41-44 NIV)
Rabbi Benyoseph came back to himself, sitting on the edge of his bed-shelf with his outer robe bunched in his hands, though he had fully intended, he thought, to put it on.
He shook his head side to side to clear it, lifted his eyes to the low ceiling, blinked, and sighed from the root of him.
“So old. How did I get to be so old?”
His arms like withered mustard stalks; his hands like neglected leather; his feet like a chicken’s, cold skin stretched over hollow bone; legs about as trustworthy as a one legged-stool.
His mind, caught in the snares of the particular, ran backwards, it seemed, these days, so that this thing with Y’shua grew tendrils that borrowed back insatiable through the soil of his past, back to his earliest days, back beyond his first call from God, back to himself as a boy, running through every decision he had ever made, good or bad, right or wrong, until it wound him up so tightly in memory he could not move, could hardly breathe, much less speak.
He’d been there for what looked, by the carbon on the lamp, like more than an hour, lost in his past, and he was no closer to knowing what to say to the man.
“Say something,” the elders said, “It is your place. Someone has to speak to him. He can’t go on like this.
“It’s disruptive. It’s disrespectful. Surely he offends the Most High. Surely God can not approve.”
“Speak to him Benyoseph, you have been teacher here among us his whole life, surely he will listen to you, if anyone.”
Cowards. Every one of them. Putting off on an old man what none of them would dare to do.
And what, after all, was the man’s offense? Too much time studying the scriptures? Too ready a tongue telling over the wonders of God’s work with his people?
“Too literal a mind,” they said, “He takes it all too seriously, as though God really meant what he said when he called us his children, when he called us to holiness. As though the sacrifices are not enough, as though our trips, twice a year, three times even, to the temple, all that good grain, the spotless doves and the lambs without blemish, mean nothing; as though God really wants our blood, our lives, our days, our hearts; as though he would want to come out of the ark, out of his splendid tent of stone and cedar on his hill, out from behind the tablets of the law, and dwell again among us...
I ask you...in this day and age?”
“Who does he think he is?”
Benyoseph bent clumsily to fish a sandal out from under the hem of his second best robe where it hung on the wall.
“You know how he sits in the doorway of the synagogue with that stack of the old rolls of the law and prophets every evening. You’ve seen the crowd that gathers there to hear him read and turn the scripture into stories as he does, tickling the ears of every passing sinner...and the way the idle women gather at the back edge lapping it up, hanging on his every word...why every unlettered shepherd’s boy for leagues around thinks he’s going to become a scholar, spouting scripture with the best of them.
Even Simon the leper is there most evenings, in his rags, listening until the light fails and Y’shua goes home.
Do you know he carried a scroll right out to the well last night and read it by moonlight to the caravanners who crawled in from their camp at the edge of the town.
He has no sense of what is proper. No sense of what is holy. You must forbid him, Benyoseph. Take those scrolls back and put them in the chest where they belong. Tell him he’s no son of Aaron to have his hands always upon them, to have the word of God always in his mouth, to make it his own the way he does.”
Benyoseph shook his head to free it of the buzz of complaint in his inner ear. He did not dare to bring up David with them, though Y’shua could claim, through Joseph, to be David’s son, son of that scripture spouting, law loving, shepherd king.
Ha! And he called them cowards. Benyoseph struggled at last into his robe, sandaled his feet and struggled across the street to the synagogue, to fall on his knees before the altar of the Lord.
“Y’shua,” I will say, firmly but gently, “come on the Sabbath, take your turn with the rest of the men, reading the word of your God, get yourself a wife, get children, mind your father’s shop in his age, support your mother...
But don’t let the prophet’s mantle settle on you. This is the wrong time, the wrong place.”
And hearing himself say it, even in his own mind, his spirit cried out...“When, oh Lord, and where? Will I live to see the day of your deliverance?”
Like many, he would never know just how close he came.
While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like the desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” (Matthew 3:1-3 The Message)
Y’shua sat at the bench in the shop, his feet among the shavings; the half-planed board balanced on his knees, his eyes focused inward, a small smile upon his lips.
His hands, his whole body was still, balanced like the board, between the pleasure of the wood beneath his fingers, the smell, the sight, of sun on sawdust and shavings, and the sudden swell of love that caught him, lifted him just slightly above common sight and let loose the tongues of fire that lived at the heart of every (even most little) thing he saw.
Seconds passed and his hand moved, following a thought of its own, to the plane where he had left it on the bench. His focus shifted outward and with undiminished reverence he began, once more, to work the wood.
There was a sudden bustle, a buzz and rattle, in the shop-yard as James, twenty-seven and still reluctant master of the shop, returned, trailing younger sons and apprentices, from delivering a ship’s mast to Capernaum by the sea.
Y’shua rose and stood in the open doorway to the yard, leaning now on the board he planed.
In Joseph’s yard (even after a year it was still Joseph’s yard, might always be, as alive with the spirit of the old carpenter as it was cluttered with his tools) James embraced his mother, attempting, good-humoredly, to brush off the inevitable questions:
How was Esther…Had Naomi had her baby…Did Jonathan get the field…the minutiae of a housebound woman’s far reaching familial concern as he did the dust of the journey with a flick of the wrist here, a word and a nod there, clipped by honest impatience to see what the yard had been up to while he was gone.
Y’shua smiled over his board in the doorway to see them so, so engaged in the ordinary, so filled with the small wills of God’s own creatures being themselves…so busy with life and the living, and he loved them.
James turned and saw him standing there.
As always, there were shadows of unquiet thought in his brother’s eyes as he approached and embraced Y’shua.
“Well, first-born, how does it go?”
Y’shua tucked his chin and humphed through his nose at the now familiar gibe.
“They are all asking, over there where every other thought (and every smell) is of fish or net or wave, where is Y’shua? How is it that he has not taken the shop? Is he well?
And what do I tell them, older brother…? He is waiting for a sign from God…? Joseph, you know, was not his father…? There is no need for him to think of the business…? His mother Mary and his brothers are no concern of his…? That one, who at five planed a board so straight his father used it as a marking edge, was, apparently, not cut out to be a carpenter…? That one, who sees the shape within the wood while it is yet a tree, is waiting for another calling…?
What do I tell them Y’shua?”
Y’shua, silent, studied his hands where they rested on the board.
James walked to the far side of the door where a new-made wagon bed rested by a pile of wheels and well planed boards.
“At least you do not leave all the work to me, run off to Judea seeking a messiah like our worthless cousin John, while his father and brothers break their backs hauling the nets and breathe fish stink all the days of their lives.”
Y’shua’s head snapped up, “What is this of John?”
“Oh, the fool had just come back from the Jordan. Some madman is shouting at everyone and dipping them in river water to clean them for the coming of the Kingdom, or some such nonsense…and John is so full of it he’s leading every idle son on the shore of the sea back with him to see this new messiah and get their bath. I told him the Jordan is too muddy to do much cleansing, and if it did, the pollution from just he and his friends will kill all the fish from there to the sea.”
If James had looked he would have seen the blaze in Y’shua’s eyes.
“Did he name this prophet?”
James sobered. “That’s the strange part…it seems he is another of our cousins… another John…they are calling him the “Baptist,” ritual washer, as though souls could be washed like cups or pots.”
Mary, who had edged close to see if any crumbs of family news might be falling as her sons talked, broke in
“Not Elizabeth’s son…? Not the son of the prophecy…?”
Both James and Y’shua turned to her, though her eyes were only for Y’shua.
James continued, snorting and huffing, “Son of prophecy? If you ask me…”and he too turned to Y’shua, “there are all too many sons of prophecy in this clan. No good will come of it.” and he stomped off to take out his frustrations bullying the apprentices.
Y’shua watched him go and then turned to face his mother.
He smiled and gently brushed the tear from the corner of her eye.
“Yes,” he said, “It is time. I go.”
Jesus then appeared, arriving at the Jordan River from Galilee. He wanted John to baptize him. John objected. “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” (Matthew 3:13-14 The Message)
First the smell, riding above dust and baked bush in the dry air, running in and out of the teasing river scent…spent breath and man sweat a crowd beyond the crest.
Y’shua bent to tighten a sandal, making a spot of his own shade on the hill top, and looked down under his lifted hand.
There, where the river lapped the foot of the broken hills, where the rock ran out and pushed the current round, the eddy embraced a man to the waist.
He stood in the eye of the valley, the focus (for now), sun bright robes rose up around him, circling slowly on the red rocks, the flowing crescents and curves of the shifting mutter of crowd.
The hot air shimmered, simmered over all, boiling gently where the water vapor lifted the desert lid all down the river course.
Y’shua’s heart answered, lifting with an artesian air of its own, a springing-water reply to the river, to the man, eddy caught, where time itself circled and waited.
(Thunderheads built in the west.)
Y’shua stood slowly and stepped downhill toward the lightning and the storm… the rain / reign kingdom come flash of future that spoke already, in the crowd, in eddy-eye of time in the valley below, and in John…
For most of the morning he watched and listened, crowd lost, beneath an overhanging rock, the hood of his robe up against the glare, the eyes and ears of his spirit sifted the scene, sought the sense and substance of John, the words and works…as the river took them, one by one, and they came back dripping, laughing, lapped in light, soul-washed, solemn, bemused, awestruck, angry, resolute, these sons and daughters, seekers all, hearing the call to come, to come clean, clean! to the coming kingdom, grasping, gasping in the water bought holiness…that cost them nothing...after all.
How quickly they dried in the desert air. You could almost hear the pop as the ground sucked in each drop that fell from robe and beard and hair as though the thirst of the whole world was gathered there, in the valley, for the sparse rain of the prophet’s words.
And John knew…
How many times that morning did his eyes lift scanning the crowd, his own thirst larger than the river he stood in, as they came one by one, to the water that wasn’t enough, was never enough, could not be enough, searching for the one face on which the eddy broke, listening, with the inner ear alone, to the thunder of the coming storm where hidden fire split his mind’s sky.
Even the river breeze was beaten flat by the towering sun and the flow of penitents faltered as the people sought shade and lunch.
John himself climbed the bank and sheltered while his disciples ate.
Suddenly the cry came…“Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
The disciples started and stared, bread half-chewed.
John stood, a crossroads post, his eyes pointing along his leveled arm to the slope across the river, his breath ragged, all a-tremble in a mighty wind that none but he could feel.
“Where?” “Who?” “What?”
They strained after John’s eyes and turned back, one to another, defeated by the crowd across the way, they could, none of them, it seemed, see that far.
John himself faltered, wiped his hand across his eyes, half stumbled, (thunder rumbled beyond the crest) “The heat” he said, “the fire and the rain…I thought it flashed so, there…”
And then, from the river fringe of the crowd, Y’shua stepped into the water waded out to midstream, and stood.
John swung back, head low, slapped hand to leg, “No,” he cried, “not you to me but I to you…
He fell to his knees, and then, as one drawn, crawled across the rock and rubble to the water’s edge, and in, crawled still, until the water lapped his chin in Y’shua’s shadow.
Y’shua reached and drew him up.
“It must be done!”
John shook his head, backed a step, swayed in the current, “No…” (Thunder from beyond the hill.) John stiffened, sought the lightning in the gathered clouds, and then, at last, took Y’shua’s hand and held while he bowed beneath the water, long, breath bursting long, so long the disciples shifted foot to foot on the shore and pulled at each other’s robes.
Y’shua rose dripping and lightning ripped the fabric of the world, striking down to where he stood in the water, throwing the crowd flat against their shadows all along the shore.
In the terrible silence of the evacuated air a whisper hung…
…and then the thunder, ear splitting, mind numbing, and suddenly the air was filled with doves.
Y’shua threw his head back, mouth open, as the rain struck, lashing the river and beating it to foam, drenching the crowd where they cowered, most of them, on the shore.
Who was it who first threw off his robe and danced with the rain as it fell, slipping, beating the red clay of the shore until it ran like blood? Who was it who dove laughing from rain to river? Who first flung water up to answer the fall until the eddy ran red with the washed, bore, and was borne under, the splashing, laughing, bodies, baptized and baptizers, celebrating there at the very edge of the storm?
Time and the rain passed. They stumbled, still smiling, from the river, seeking discarded robes among their more timid fellows, but when they turned at last to look for Y’shua where the lightning struck...he was already gone running ahead with the winds of the storm.
Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. (Matthew 4: 1-2 The Message)
A dawn stroll, a turning from the unaccustomed pressure. the expectation, the speculation, that spoke now in every eye, a short walk to clear the mind, just over the hill crest in the morning, tasting of dew and the night sap and breath of spined and armored plants—the blooms too tender for the sun.
Noon found him miles beyond his intent, spirit driven, intent on the way the rocks melted in the light, the way the shadows took dimension until the world popped, unpredictably, between black on white and white on black, the way every whisper of wind turned prophet, speaking mysteries, drawing him on...
And that night, the star-burned cinder-cold air came down, pinned him, crucified him, face pressed to the naked rock, as the heat, day caught, leaked, leached, through him and away.
By morning he was cold, cleaner than he had ever been, and thirsty.
He wrung the dew, self-flavored, from his robe and walked.
By the fourth dawn the sweat stopped beading, became a silk breath in every pore, balancing him, with the dew, just at the brink of fever.
Day by day, step by step, he watched his shadow grow thinner.
Waking and sleeping lost meaning, changed places in his mind with walk and rest so quietly he hardly noticed.
Sometimes the stars spoke above him, the high and clear and distant chant of his own heartbeat, sometimes they came right down to the next hill crest so that he walked into a wave of night sky, parting it, fish like, among the sparks and bubbles of light. Sometimes the day reared up like a curtain in front of him and, like a man trapped inside a silk sack, he forced his face through it until the flesh pulled back to show the bone within.
Sometimes he woke to the dream of water to find himself soaked in dew. And, day by day, the sun burned his shadow away.
There were days, there in the middle, when everything went away but the walking, when the whole of him, all that the sun left, went into each step, and nothing left over, when the universe contracted to a black spot, a tunnel down which he half fell, putting one foot in front of the other, toward the dark at the end.
And then came the dawn he bit down on the utter cinder of himself, ground it to ash between his teeth, sipped the dew from the ragged edge of his sleeve, and spit himself out.
Did it thunder? Were there doves?
There were doves, and a tiny seep from under a rock ledge, a damp patch in the sand, a bush with blooms of fire, and the world came back with crashing cymbals, with bells, with a finger of breeze that turned the collar of his robe until he shivered, and knew he was alive.
And now he walked knowing, seeking, drinking in each moment, looking behind each rock, eager, over each hill, under every bush, walking now toward himself and not away.
Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.” (John 2:1-3 The Message)
It was in Cana in Galilee, in a fish smelling village by the sea, that Y’shua first stood to the test, taking the stubborn stuff of earth and altering it, by asking…
Because his mother asked it of him, he came out from the crowded dark of the wedding house, from the wine-strong song and laughter of the guests, to stand beneath the pole shed’s roof of woven branches in the courtyard and consider.
(His first and best friend, John, and a new met stranger, Judas, followed, but stopped short, Judas’s hand on John’s arm staying, unseen in the shadow of the doorway.)
Y’shua stood silently contemplating the rack of ewers that held the household holy water (now half empty with the ritual washing of so many wedding guests).
Servants came and went about him. He bobbed like a cork in a restless sea shifting to the insistent rhythm of their errands.
Suddenly he snagged one by the sleeve.
“Here,” he said, “get a bucket and fill these jars…”
The servant stared, then seeing something in those eyes (or remembering the mother’s instructions) he went, got help, and did it.
In the plaited shadows of the summer kitchen, Y’shua stood and hummed, like a new-made bow at first and full draw, untried, taut with promise, vibrant with purpose.
Snatches of a psalm quivered beneath his breath and he beat time to it with a hand upon his thigh as he studied with inner eye the deed he was about to do.
“Will there be anything else, master?” a pointed question put to a guest who had already exceeded his privilege.
Y’shua smiled self-consciously and appeared to address the pale patch of sky framed in courtyard walls.
He spoke a single word, placing all his questions in it…“Father?”
His eyes fell quickly. He drew a breath from the ground beneath his feet and slowly let it sigh between his lips.
The impatient servant shifted from foot to foot between Y’shua and the jars. “Master?”
Y’shua pushed the dust up in a little heap with sandaled toes and looked up shyly.
A boyish grin blossomed on his lips. “Draw some off and take it to the steward of the feast.”
The servant opened his mouth in instant protest, thought better of it, shrugged, and turned to do as he was asked.
Now, for Y’shua, time itself slowed. An eternity passed in the slow turning of the servant, in the rise of the ladle from its leather thong, in its fall.
The sound as it parted the surface of the liquid took eons to reach Y’shua’s ears.
The ladle rose from the liquid like the dawn swelling on the far horizon of the sea.
“Master…” stammered the servant with quavering wonder, “the water is red…”
But Y’shua knew already. He had come up to see the sun rise over the servant’s shoulder.
When the servant turned, still clutching the brimming ladle, it was to see a man transformed.
Y’shua stood, the psalm now a raging fire within him, a living offering of praise, his soul full-flowered, eyes closed, lips parted, translated to a pillar of ecstasy there in the courtyard by the ewers.
(Behind him in the doorway, Judas’s hand tightened on John’s arm with a sharp in-drawn breath, and John sank slowly to his knees, eyes huge with wonder.)
The frightened servant, caught between the transformed water and the transformed man, fled on flying feet to find the steward. The ladle held before him like a live coal shed drops that splashed the paving of the yard with blood and fire.
As soon as he was gone, Y’shua let loose the yet soundless spring within him in a sudden shout, laughed aloud at himself, and began to sing…lending rhythm to the slow spinning dance he did, arms raised, before the Lord.
(In the doorway John dropped his eyes and began to pray. Judas simply stared.)
Both were shouldered aside by the groom as he came, brim full of the hilarity of his own feast, belatedly to see about the wine.
Y’shua drew himself up in the deeper shadow of the roof as the groom, the errand having slipped his wine and wedding-night anticipation muddled mind, wandered aimlessly over to the rack of ewers and stood staring up at the sky.
Now, like a merchantman under full sail, the steward of the feast, all business and bustle, came beaming down upon the groom from another door, drawing the still incredulous and shaking servant in his wake.
“My good man,” said the steward in portentous tones, “most serve the sound wine first and after their guests have drunk slip in the bad…You sir, have saved the best for last.”
And he turned to supervise the drawing.
(Judas and John exchanged a meaning look while Y’shua smiled in the shade.)
The groom, no wiser, wandered back to the wedding house and closer to the object of his anticipation.
The steward set his sails and hurried off, driving the servants before him.
There was a moment of absolute silence before Y’shua left the shadow and approached the jars.
He leaned in on tiptoe, peering into the ruby surface of first one then another, chuckling softly to himself.
Looking slyly to one side then the other, he dipped his finger into the center jar and lifted it slowly to his mouth.
(John and Judas in the doorway heard the tongue cluck of satisfaction and Y’shua’s long sigh before he turned to face them.)
The boyish grin was now a full-fruited smile.
Judas stepped boldly forward. “Surely, Master, you did not doubt?”
Y’shua closed his eyes, pressed the smile until it spread across his face, and shook his head.
He laid his arm across John’s shoulders, gave him a quick wink and turned to Judas. “Tell me friend, is it doubt, then, to want to taste the miracle for yourself?”
And he went on in, drawing John with him, back to the song and laughter of the wedding house.
John would not forget.
Neither would Judas.
“Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God.” Luke 5:1 (The Message)
Oh, the stink of fish was more than he could bear!
The tangled nets, in a heap where he had thrown them, this bilge fouled boat, the open blisters on his hands from hauling wet line, the ache in his back and across his shoulders from the weight of the net, empty, empty every time, and he wanted to know what he was doing and why, why, why did he bother...
What was the use?
Years of this. Still paying off his father’s interest in the boat. Trapped in this stinking village, enslaved to the whims to this lake, to the capricious minds of, God help him, mindless fish who where never where he expected them, never where they ought to be, and this sea, as capricious as the fish with its storms, the constant threat of unreasonable weather, it was bound to drown him before it was done, and he was tired of it, he had had all he could take, and then some, and the wine jar (who could blame him) nursed all the way in, was nearly empty, and no more at home, and no catch, no cash, for more, and his family, his wife, his sons, looking at him from an empty table when he came through the door, hoping, and him without hope, without so much as a single minnow to show for a whole night’s work. What was the use?
And he threw the nets out on the sand and grabbed the sponge and cork to scrub them, as though he could rub out a lifetime of this fruitless labor, this hopeless slavery to the sea, a life of hunger, of danger, of rage...
And then this madman, this Y’shua, dragging a great crowd of fanatics behind him, came marching down the beach, or scuttling backwards at the water edge at least, the crowd was so insistent, and, calm as anything stepped into his boat, Simon's boat and said, “Stand off from shore a bit so I can speak to these people.”
And why not? What did it matter? What did anything matter? So he’d thrown in the sponge, oh yes! and taken an oar and floated out, and sat there in the new sun and, despite himself, listened.
“God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!””
And something in Simon’s heart opened to the words, like a clenched fist first relaxing... He’d seen this Y’shua before, when he and Andrew had gone down to find John and bring him home from that madness at the Jordan, that other John, the Baptist, and Andrew had come, all ablaze, and claimed he had seen the Messiah, this Y’shua, and it had been all Simon could do to get either Andrew or John back to the boat, the nets, to their duty: he didn’t get it, he didn’t understand, what did they see in this wild-eyed rabble rouser? But there was something, something about this Y’shua and his words, something that touched a part of Simon that he had thought dead and buried, something that had not stirred since Sabbath school, something he thought drowned in fish brine and wine long ago.
“Come, all you who are weary and loaded down by life’s cares or the duties of your religion, and I will give you rest. Be harnessed with me, pull with me, and you’ll learn how easy it can be, for I am a gentle and humble in heart, and even as we labor you will find your rest. The yoke I bear is easy and my load is light. Learn from me and the truth of God’s love will set you free.”
And then this Y’shua had turned and looked Simon in a way no one had ever looked at him before, as though he saw something there that no one had ever seen in Simon, some Simon even Simon didn’t know.
“Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
And Andrew, of course, was jumping ashore with a great splash and hauling the wet nets back aboard before Simon could get a word out...
“But master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught a thing, not a minnow. What do you expect?” And Y'shua had just sat there looking at him, smiling.
“Hugh”. It came out of Simon like someone had hit in the stomach. Oh, what did it matter? “But, hay, you are the master, whatever you say.”
And by now, somehow, Andrew had gotten them out to the drop off, beyond where any fisherman worth his salt would ever go for fish, and they dumped the net.
And it came alive with their hands still on the ropes. It twisted and turned as fish filled it, as fish rushed to fill it, and he could see them coming from all directions, their silver backs flashing just beneath the surface in the sun.
“Haul in!” he shouted as the net threatened to get away from them with the unexpected weight, and they hauled, hand over hand, and it was too heavy, too full of flashing impossible fish, and he called to the other boat, to John and James, and they came, and between them they got the catch aboard, more than both boats could safely hold, and Simon fell to his knees right there in the bilge and the fish, and cried out: “Master leave me! I am a sinner and this holiness will kill me. Leave me alone.”
But they got the catch in, all of them, Andrew, and John, and James, totally amazed, stunned at the impossible magnitude of it, the amazing abundance, three days catch at least, laying there on the beach in the morning sun. And Y’shua said, “Don’t worry. From now on you will be fishing for souls.”
And before he knew it, he was helping the others pull the boats up on the beach, and they turned, John and James, and Andrew, and followed this Y’shua, leaving the mound of miraculous fish right where it had fallen, and, after a moment, with a shrug, and something like hope in his heart again, so did Simon.
How could he help himself? He was a fisherman, and this Y’shua had spoken to him in fish.
As Jesus went from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NIV)
He woke with the funk of sour wine on his tongue and all but gagged on his own first breath as he rolled up to the bed side, spat, and ran his hands through what was left of his hair. He pulled his face all out of shape, trying, without much success to find his eyes, to free them from the heavy flesh of waking, to scrub off the film of self-loathing that settled, like filthy dew, out of dreams he would just as soon forget.
His feet hooked sandals out from under the bed.
In the courtyard he could hear his slave hauling water from the well and, yes, there were already buckets heated in the shadow of the door curtain. Not that hot water could do what his hands had not. Still. The slave and the hot water, the fresh bread and fruit, figs and pears, on the shelf across the room, the new wine in its jug, this house with its cedar beams and wide windows, the robes of fine cotton and linen from Egypt, were compensation, of a sort—all he had, in fact, to show for the bitter stares, the hard words, the turned eyes and faces of this neighbors who could not see him as anything, anymore, more than the tax collector for Rome: a jackal slinking behind the mangy imperial wolf. Oh he knew he was being too generous, with them and with himself. They saw him, when they would look at him at all, as a rat feeding off the remains of the jackal’s dinner, as a carrion crow, half tame, collared, wings clipped, snatching what he could from the corpse of Israel, while the indifferent Eagle, the great scavenger himself, stood guard.
Not for the first time he wondered how it had come to this.
How had all his training, his mother’s hopes, his father’s pride, produced this travesty?
When had he made the choice to sell himself to Rome? He could not remember the day or hour. He could not remember ever being asked to choose. It had just happened. A scribe needed: someone who can count. To make sure we are not cheated, at least, one of our own. And when he had stopped being “one of our own”?
He knew himself as a good scribe, a good servant, one who took care of his master’s business, but in this business, how could he not take care of himself as well?
They expected him to steal: both his Roman masters and his own people. There was no provision for an honest tax collector: No pay beyond what he could take, no hope of promotion, no respect on either side. If he had known he would have told them to find another scribe. There were people who could enjoy this life. Maybe. Maybe people hard enough not to care how the salve and the house were paid for, how his neighbors, his own family, saw him, or that they didn’t see him any more at all, that he was a non-person to both his employers and those whose money and goats, sheep and grain, he claimed in the name of Rome.
He stood, wrestled feet into the sandals, and flopped, long laces tangled and threatening to trip, to the shelf for his first jar of wine to great the new day... and not the new wine either.
Hours later he sat in the shade of a porch, his money box before him, counting the coins pinched in farmers and fishers’ fingers, when something like a breeze, like a strong wind off the sea, entered and swept the courtyard
He put a hand, reflexively, on the stack of papers in front of him, but there was, in fact, no wind. All was still. Every face was turned to the door where a man stood, outlined in sun. He could see nothing against that light, except long hair, long robes, and a hint of a crowd behind. But he knew the man. Even before he spoke, he knew the man
This was the seven day wonder, the great miracle man, the healer, the one they were butting all this messiah talk about, that Galilean. Matthew was a Galilean himself, when he remembered. And that was not much better, come right down to it, than being a tax collector
Still, he was somewhat shy of this man this close...it seemed he did, somehow, move in stink of holiness, that rumor was not the only thing to precede him, that all that light was not, perhaps, the sun.
And then they all spilled through. Y’shua, in crossing the courtyard, stopped before the table. He ran his regard down the line of waiting farmers and fishers. He turned and looked Matthew in the eye.
“What are you doing here, son of Levi? Come. Follow me...”
Matthew laughed. He sat back from the table, and braced his arms, looking up at the standing Y’shua. “What?”
Y’shua smiled. “Come. Follow me...”
Matthew laughed again, shorter this time, uncertain where the joke was, if it was on him or on Y’shua. “Follow you...” he asked?
Matthew looked at the line in front of the table, the dead stares, the bent heads, the barely suppressed anger and open hate. He looked at the crowd around and behind Y’shua, happy, laughing, expectant (not to mention, dirty, unwashed, infected, unlettered and ignorant), and thought, “I wanted a choice.”
Still, something in him, something wild and untamed, something still alive despite all his attempts to drown it in wine, rose up at the sound of Y’shua’s voice, at his presence, at the mere possibility of being, by his choice, by both their choices, someone else...and he closed the box, set it on the stack of bills, came round from behind the table and stood next to Y’shua.
Y’shua reached out and grasped his shoulder. “Come.” was all he said, and Matthew followed, not looking behind even once to see what the incredulous fishers and farmers left standing there in line made of it all.
Honestly, something had happened in that touch. Honestly, he was not quite sure who he was anymore. Something had fallen away, been stripped away in the absolute honesty, in the complete acceptance, of Y’shua’s eye, in the fact of being chosen despite it all, of being asked, of being called, and by the time he left the square he was indeed a different man, turned inside out, all the hidden hopes, the abandoned dreams, exposed, and he was somehow ready to believe in himself again.
It was a gift he never expected. A gift he didn’t deserve and it made him just a little wild, just a little reckless, so that before he knew he what he was doing, he had invited everyone he knew to his house, every familiar face, every passing and past acquaintance in a long afternoon. “Y’shua will there. I am with Y’shua now.” he had said, a hundred times, a thousand maybe, but he was past caring. Let them all come. He was with Y’shua now. Y’shua was with him. He had no idea what it meant—just that it did mean something wonderful, something liberating, something wild and unexpected, something to be grasped with both hands, something to be given away wholesale, and so he had invited everyone.
“Come, we feast tonight at my house. Come and join us. Y’shua will be there. Come. Come.” and not even the obvious hesitation, the sometimes evident distress, of those closest to Y’shua could dampen his enthusiasm, as long as Y’shua was with him, and Y’shua never said no, never said he wouldn’t come, and so they found themselves by evening, staining the good will of the slave and the servants, sitting down to such a feast as the house had never known.
In a lucid moment, he realized that he didn’t know half the people there, that there were many who would not, yesterday, have been seen eating in a tax-collector’s house, and many more who looked like they hadn’t had a decent meal in a generation or so. Among his friends, those who had come for his sake and not Y’shua’s, there was not one who he would willingly have been seen in the street with, women of questionable morals, men who had long ago traded trust for ease, spent their good names on immediate gratifications, but, and here was the miracle, he was still with Y’shua and Y’shua was still with him, and that made the whole house holy, made the whole house ring with joy and throb with well-being.
He couldn’t imagine anyone there not feeling it, not knowing it all flowed from Y’shua beside him, not knowing they had been chosen and had chosen to come, and how good a thing that was.
Still he couldn’t completely ignore the discomfort of Y’shua’s followers. Some barely touched the food. Across the room one, the one called Simon, was huddled with a nest of Pharisees, looking more than a little unhappy. Suddenly he seemed to reach decision and scuttled through the reclining guests to his master’s side. Though he tried to keep his voice for Y’shua’s ear, the general din made it difficult, and Matthew could not help but overhear.
“Those Pharisees want to know why we are eating in this sinner’s house? “ Don’t you know this man?” they say, “He is a tax collector, a thief, the right arm of the greed of Rome. And look about you. Look at these people. How can your master, a holy man, eat in this house, with these whores and idlers, with these who scoff and mock both law and decency?”
Y’shua turned to this Simon. “Since when have fisherman been so particular about their company? Does it bother you Simon?”
Simon pulled back sharply. “Well it is a good question, that’s all. An obvious question. One people are asking. You have a reputation to think of.”
Y’shua turned to Matthew and held his eye a moment, then turned to the Pharisees in their corner. He timed his words to a lull in the conversation and music so that everyone in the room could hear:
“Who do you call a doctor for, the healthy or sick? Who needs healing? I have not come to call the upright, but to pick up the fallen, and offer them a chance at a changed life. These folks know they are down. They hear me when I invite them to stand, to walk, to run, to dance, far better than any who already think they are on their feet.”
One of the Pharisees stood at that. There was open challenge in his voice: “John’s disciples fast when they pray, and so do ours, but yours are always eating and drinking, and in the houses of those who know no better.”
Suddenly it was absolutely still in the room, every ear tuned to what the seven day wonder would say:
“So,” and Y’shua swung his arm to take in the room, the house, the guests, “is this not like a wedding feast? The groom is still in the house. If we make free with the wine and bread, who will blame us? Certainly not the friends of the groom for they are celebrating with him. Later, when he is gone, and they realize his absence, when it is time to clean up and straighten up without him, then they will fast as needed. But not now. Now we enjoy each other’s company as we were made to do.”
He turned to the room at large, and caught, it seemed, every eye and ear. “Who would cut up a brand new cloak to patch an old one? Why, you would have two spoiled cloaks, the new with a hole in it, and the old looking more shoddy still for its mismatched patch.”
They were all listening, and from the nods around the room, some, at least, were hearing.
“You don’t take new wine and poor it into old skins. The wine sours, the skins break, and all is lost. No, you put new wine in new skins, so they age together. Yet there will always be those who only have a taste for the old wine, who think it is better, because it is old, and who can not stomach the new. They are used to the old; you can not convince them the new is any good. I am here with new wine for new skins. Are you ready for that?”
Simon slunk back to his place, and looked hard at his cup. The Pharisee party packed themselves into their robes and left in a huff, and Matthew, whose own cup had gone unnoticed and untouched since his first sip hours ago, picked it up and poured the old wine out on the floor, then tossed the cup over his shoulder to break against the wall.
“New cups,” he called to the slave and servants, “and bring out the new wine.”
Y’shua laughed, and so did half the room.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2 NIV)
Y’shua, squatting by the fire, half turned at the sound of the feet approaching, the stumbling distracted, almost run, that brought James bursting into the light, visibly shedding his night fear like an extra cloak, dropping the burden of his worry at the master’s feet.
“Y’shua.” He fell to his knees in the dust between Peter and John. “They are coming, a whole crowd of them, out from Jerusalem, a Priest, a gaggle of Pharisees holding up their hems, some solid Sadducees with their beards tucked into their robes thumping along on their staffs.”
He looked back the way he had come. “They will be here in a moment. I was just ahead of them at the gate.”
Peter, almost eager, stood and tried to see into the dark beyond the light of the fire, shielding his eyes with a hand. “What do they want?”
John leaned across James o put a hand on Y’shua’s shoulder, urgent and accusing, already concerned as only love can make a man. “You knew. That’s why we are here waiting within reach of the walls instead of being half way to Emmaus.”
They could all hear them now, like geese indeed, clacking at each other as they came. Uncomfortable, a mixed, antagonistic flock, chickens and ducks among them from the sound of it, stepping on each other’s feet in the dark, and the sparks of their torches burned through the wall of night around the camp fire as they flared picking out sudden trees and toe bruising boulders for the deputation to stumble into and around.
Y’shua nodded. “I knew they had to come. They have questions only I can answer.”
He met John’s eyes. “Their fear drives them.”
John stood now, took a protective step forward beside Peter, while Y’shua moved to the far side of the fire. He settled back cross-legged, a blanket draped over shoulders and across his knees.
The priest had the lead, or rather his boy, straining under the ungainly weight of the torch and he went big-eyed at the sight of Jesus, wiped his nose quickly on the back of his free hand and shuffled to the side so that the Priest stumbled unexpectedly into the circle of fire light, stopped short and flinched back as the fire leapt up around a resin knot in the wood to throw the shadows of the disciples hard on the bare circle of ground, to burn the face of Y’shua out of the darkness beyond the flame.
The rest bunched up behind the priest, peering around his shoulders, exchanging suddenly unsure glances.
Here he was then.
Could this be him? This man? This troublemaker. This Y’shua who, it seemed, overnight had the hearts, or at least the tongues, of the people?
“Who are you?” From some chicken well back in the flock. The others shifted, turned inward to find the speaker, and then, by common assent, shouldered him to the front to stand beside the priest, while they murmured advice in his ear. “Ah,” he stammered, now under Y’shua’s eye, “Are you the messiah? Some say you are the messiah.”
“Huuugh” from the flock, derisive and doubting, and the snake strike of the Priest’s look, all but snuffed out what little courage the speaker had. He shrunk into himself a second, then visibly gathered wind and dignity, glared back at the Priest as though to say, “well someone has to find out,” and turned to Y’shua again.
“Good Master, some say you are Elijah, some say another of the prophets come back, some say a true king out of David’s line. Who are you?”
Now another shoved forward on the other side of the priest, dressed in full Pharisaic regalia, the tassels on his spotless robe six inches long. “How dare you!? They say you claim to be God’s son! How dare you stir up the Romans against us? How dare you turn the peoples’ hearts from the temple? How dare you belittle the servants of God and call our devotion into question? How dare you bring God into the marketplace to associate with whores and cripples? They say you touch lepers, eat with tax collectors, carouse with drunkards and Galileans.”
Y’shua laughed, quick and high, caught by surprise by the humor in him, like a flash of lightning in the night. “All that? I dare all that?” He looked down, laughing at himself a little, and then up, smiling, challenging, “But surely you have heard that I am a Galilean myself.”
“Born in Bethlehem...” Someone, unable to contain himself, not brave enough to push to the front. “Son of a carpenter.”
“So they say.” Y’shua nodded cheerfully, “Born in a stable too, though I don’t remember it myself...but then who remembers his first birth, and what man truly knows his father except by the love he shows him?”
Far back in the gaggle, a man named Nicodemus, lifted his head like a hound on the scent at this talk of birth. You could almost see his ears prick forward.
Y’shua raised his steady gaze to the face of the Priest. “And who do you say I am?”
That “worthy” screwed his own eyes closed and lifted his nose before he delivered himself of his answer as though passing gas in public. “They are saying you are another John.”
“Another John? And who is John?”
“The Baptizer...” He put his hand over the phylactery where it rested on his forehead to steady himself, “out by the Jordan. You know him. They say you were there. Washing people, he claims, for the coming kingdom.”
Y’shua looked around pointedly: Cocked his ear as though listening. “I see no water here. I hear no river. What shall I baptize you with?”
His eyes touched those of the priest and then shifted somewhere beyond and behind him, seeking. “The wind? Shall I baptize you with wind?”
The deputation muttered. What nonsense was this? Nicodemus tensed still further, felt as though a wayward breeze had touched his own spine. Wind? Or did he mean spirit? Was it a pun? Was this Y’shua laughing at them? He ducked his head to avoid Y’shua’s searching eye and shivered.
“Did you come to me, as to John, to be cleansed for the coming kingdom?”
And now the geese exploded, the flock flying into a half circle of gabble in front of the fire, the disciples ringed between, shielding their Master with their bodies, defending him with quick tongues until the night rang with heated words.
Nicodemus found himself left alone in the shadows. He sank down on his heels by a rock.
“Enough!” Y’shua’s shout cracked the night and silenced the dispute like a bucket of cold water. He laughed into the sudden silence to take the bite out of it, but it sounded like steam on hot stones in the fire pit.
“Enough, I say. This will not be settled with words, but with works. You come seeking me to ask who I am. Have you not seen what I do? Have you not heard what I say? I do nothing in secret. What I do has been done on the steps of the temple, in the synagogues, as you yourselves say, in the market place. Ask the lepers I have touched. Ask the cripples who walk. Ask the blind who see and the deaf who hear. Ask the tax collectors. Ask the whores. They know who I am. How is it that you, the leaders of Israel, do not?”
“Huugh!” like the hiss of geese as, in a single breath, the deputation expressed their outrage at that.
“I do the work of the one who sent me: the work my father is doing, has been doing, since the founding of the ages—gathering his children for the kingdom, putting right what years of sin and neglect has put wrong. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“You hear him!” “His father, God!” “Whores!” “Tax collectors!” “This man is no prophet.” “This man is dangerous.” “This man will kill us all, deliver us to the Romans, overturn the law, destroy the temple.”
“Oh, go!” Y’shua, out of patience, stood all in one fluid movement, from the ankles upward, in the light of the fire, the blanket falling at his feet.
“You come asking who I am when you have already decided. You claim to know me? You know me no more than you know my Father, and that is, by your actions, not at all! If you were blind, there would be some excuse for you, but you claim to see and so see nothing; if you were deaf I would heal you, but claiming to hear you hear nothing. Go! Stumble back to your temple and warm yourselves in your own regard.”
And a sudden gust of wind, one of those swirling, self-willed winds men call devils, came, cracking trees and screaming leaves, to sweep across the clearing and snuff out every torch, to beat the fire flat in a shower of ash and sparks so that darkness came down on deputation and disciples like a lid.
“Huuuugh!” a shiver and a curse.
When, moments later, the fire recovered itself and light leaked out again, the deputation was gone. You could hear them breaking their way through the brush all around in their haste, and then that too faded into silence.
The fire was loud.
The disciples turned back to Y’shua to see tears running down his cheeks, wetting his beard.
At the clearing’s edge huddled the torch boy, still clutching his stub of wood. Y’shua went to him, reached down, pulled him up. Gently, wordlessly, he took the torch, lit it in the fire, turned, put his free hand on John’s shoulder, gave it a gentle reassuring squeeze, and raised the torch high.
In the light, just at the edge of its reach, Nicodemus still crouched by the rock, wondering if this fear, this holy awe, this tremble that infected his knees and hands and heart (yet left him glad) was what it felt like to be baptized with wind.
Y’shua laughed. “Here is one whose questions are not yet answered. Not yet asked! Come friend. You have nothing to fear here.”
And Nicodemus stood, and, God help him, answered the call with his questions.
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus...” John 3:1 (NIV)
Out of the darkness and into the light of the fire he came. Prosperous, hung about with all the Pharisaical regalia, but with a sincerity of eye, a clarity, a way of carrying himself that spoke of something essentially humble, of something inherently reverent, in him, and he bowed before Y’shua, after his fellows had fled and said: “Honored Master, we all know that you are a teacher after God’s own heart, straight from God. No one could do all the wonderful things you are doing without the hand of God being with him.”
And Y’shua had smiled in the flickering light, seeing the wind whipped fire mold the man’s features, carve them from the substance of the dark,
“You are right! Clearly you, among all these, are born from above, for unless you are born again it is not possible that you could see God in what I am doing.”
And he had seen the instant withdrawal, the hesitation, the calculation enter the eyes, rising up from somewhere in the man he couldn’t reach, something in the man he could barely understand, and yet understood all too well.
“What do you mean, born from above? How could I, an old man, be born again? Can I enter my mother’s womb once more?”
And Y’shua tried to see what it was. Was it humility: an unwillingness to believe that God would choose such as this man knew himself to be? Was it offense? Did he hear “born again” as the name of something he lacked, something more Y’shua was saying he must have to see God? Was it just the thinking habit of mind, the need to analyze and control. Was it just word play? Another habit of turning aside the truth, turning it to self-depreciating humor so it did not cut too deeply? What?
“You are not hearing me. Let me say it again. Unless a person is born of water and of spirit he can not enter God’s kingdom. What is born of flesh is flesh. What is born of spirit is spirit.”
Now from caution the face moved to confusion. The wind stirred the flames and the light danced.
Y’shua could see that he was loosing him. “Don’t be surprised. What is so strange? The wind blows where it will, you hear it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. That is the way it is with those born of the spirit.”
It was intended as reassurance. It was intended to tell this man that indeed Y’shua saw before him, even if he himself did not know it, one born from above, a living spirit, invaded, perhaps unknowing by the breath of God.
And now there was fear in the face. “How can this be?
And now Y’shua saw only reluctance to believe, a fear of trusting himself to the unknown and unpredictable God at work here. How was it that such unbelief could cripple even those born from above?
“And you are teacher in Israel?” Was it any wonder the people had so little faith?
“You don’t understand these simple things? Listen. I am telling you the truth. I speak only what I know for a fact, what I see and have seen with my own eyes. If I tell you these earthly things…what is happening right here and now…and you refuse to believe, then how will you know when I am telling you the truth about the things of heaven?”
And now it was shock, verging over into anger.
“I tell you the truth, no one knows what goes on in heaven better than the one who has come from above, the Son of Man, but I suppose you are going to have to see the son of man lifted up like Moses lifted the snake in the desert before you are cured of this snake bite of unbelief and know that the son of man is born from above and that you have eternal life in him.”
“For I tell you, God loves you. He sent his born from above son into this world so that all who believe in him can have, can know, eternal life. He didn’t come to condemn you. You do that to yourselves when you refuse to believe. But I tell you, anyone who does believe, who trusts the Son of Man, will live forever.”
He looked around at his followers and this new one clustered in the light of the campfire, as it flared and flickered and pushed back this little space in the great dark.
“This is the verdict: those who are bent on doing wrong hide from the light, loving the darkness that covers their sin...”
He put his hand on the newcomer’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. “but those who are doing right, those who come to the Son and see him with born again eyes, love the light and come right out into plain sight, as you have, and they are the ones born from above, the ones who will live forever.”
And he, and all his followers, turned to the business of preparing bed rolls and settling down for sleep. Nicodemus sat a long time by the remnants of the fire, watching Y’shua sleep, testing his eyes, listening for the wind.
“Late in the day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Mark 4:38 (The Message)
Oh sure. “Lets just go over to the other side,” he’d said, and none of them, not even the four fisherman who made their living on these treacherous waters, and should have known better, saw any reason not to, so they’d bundled him into the back of the boat, he was no boatman, making a joke of it, packing him with pillows, throwing a bit of old sail over him against the spray, like Pharaoh on his barge they told him, and they laughed and chattered, the sun and the wind and cut of the little boat through the water, and they were all caught up in the simple joy, while Simon, James, John, and Andrew played sailor around them. Twenty boats or more set out with them, a pretty show, all the sails, the swoop of the little flotilla, calling back and forth, playing tag in the wind and the waves, and then settling in to a along slow reach across, so smooth, so gentle with the lap of the water under the hull, the lift and fall, that the Master had put his head back and drifted off to sleep.
They hushed their chatter then, and all glided along, half awake, out in the middle of the lake, so far the shores had dropped away, the boat carrying them as the Master’s words had, toward a horizon without landmarks, toward a land that was, in a world of water, only hope and trust.
“Simon,” said John, putting his hand on his shoulder where he sat at the tiller, “I don’t like the look of that cloud.” and Simon, whose boat it was, turned to look. He quickly scanned the horizon for the other boats. Three in sight already had their masts down and were breaking out oars.
“This is bad,” said Simon. “Andrew! Strike the mast.” The fishermen stood in the boat as one and looked off to the north and east, then turned, with a knowing look among them, to ready the boat for a storm. Their hustle roused the others.
“What is it?” Thomas wanted to know.
“Weather coming.” said John, and nodded to the north.
“Where? I don’t see anything.” said Judas.
“A storm comes,” said Simon. “This is Galilee, and I should have known better. Get down in the bottom and stay down. And try not to get stepped on, we’re going to be working hard in a moment, or I miss my guess.”
“Should we wake him?” John put his hand again on Simon’s shoulder and nodded past him to the Master on his pillows.
“No, time enough for that. This is a Galilee storm coming, and we’ve seen it’s like often enough. We’ll ride it out.”
Suddenly the wind dropped, just stopped, as James and Andrew laid the mast, wrapped in sail, across the thwarts and tied it down. All four fishermen hunched as though to avoid a blow and then again looked north. “I don’t like the looks of this,” said Andrew, and they lifted oars out from under, fitted them to locks, and sat, bracing their feet and flexing fingers on the leather wraps.
The light, the very color of day, changed...
And then wind hit them, struck them like a fist, and the boat healed over.
“Turn her!” Simon yelled, and the oars flashed and dug into the sea, and the boat spun under the hands of fishermen and into the wind. The waves didn’t rise, they were just there, of a sudden, the level surface of the sea thrown on edge and coming at them from the north.
And then, between one breath and the next, they were in the middle of it, fighting for their lives. The bow came up, up, up, and seemed ready to come on over on them, and then with a mighty heave of the oars and a collective grunt, the bow crested and dropped and the boat raced down, down, buried its prow in the sea, drenched everyone aboard, rose again on the next wave, up, up, and the wind shrieked, and the rain came, and there was no up or down, no sea or air, but all water and wind and violent struggle, and everyone but the oarsmen huddled in the bottom, and they, drowning where they sat, and every wave a breath away from swamping them and sending them all to a watery grave, and the Master, sound asleep in the back.
“Master, we are drowning, don’t you care?” It was Peter, at the tiller, his hand on Y’shua’s shoulder, shaking, waking, desperate, afraid. “Master, we are going down. Save us!”
He woke to spray in his face, a hand on his shoulder, shaking, the voice of fear in his hears, from dreams of glory, where all was light and life and the noise and commotion of the floundering boat was the jubilation of the angels and the faithful, the waves the surge of true life creating a new world where love reigned, and the wind was pure spirit, sweeping the tongues into a flame of praise...
He stood. A burst of power from his heart for God directed at these waves and this wind, surely not waves of joy and winds of praise, “Quiet. Be still.”
His voice cut through the storm and it was so. The wind dropped, the waves sank, the boat bobbed in the gentle swell, and the men began to untangle themselves
And he looked at them, the wonder beginning to dawn, the awe rising in them, and that power took him again, a touch of anger, a touch of frustration, a great gush of love. “Where is your faith? How could you doubt that I care?”
“How could you doubt God,” he thought, “How did you get in this mess anyway? Did you think the storm was something you could handle on your own? Why didn’t you wake me when it started? And why didn’t you set sail before it and let it run you to that far shore? Why didn’t you ride the waves and wind to where we go, knowing I am with you, and that I care.”
Oh, now they were as afraid of him as they had been of the storm. “What kind of man is this?” they mumbled in their fear, turning to the safety of their fellows, “That even the winds and waves obey?”
But then they hadn’t been with him very long that day, and hardly glimpsed the storm in store, nor imagined the price he would pay before they reached the shore, or the faith that it would take to keep them there.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:4-7 NIV)
She stumbled over the door sill in her haste, caught herself with a quick step and stopped to twitch her shawls and skirts back into place before she spoke. “There is a man by Jacob’s well...”
“Yes,” said Miriam from deep in the shadows under the porch, her voice well practiced, as dry and colorless as sand, “you would know one.”
They sniggered at that. Giggled. Some laughed aloud. No secrets here.
She drew herself up, breathing deep like a hen inflating for combat, but then let it sigh away. “Not that kind of man.”
“Oh, then there is something new under heaven today!” the wit crowed to another round of titters.
This was a game they knew. These two were often at it, the old wit and the new, trading barbs to enliven the hours as they picked and carded wool and spun.
“Yes,” she said, suddenly stubborn, “you have it right though you would never know it, right being so rare beneath your roof. There is maybe some one new under heaven.”
She paused, walked deeper under the roof of woven wattle, and put her hand up to steady herself on a post. Her voice was surprisingly tentative, as though the blushing girl of twelve she had buried in years of hard living and harder loving had climbed back out of her grave to stand behind her face for a moment... “I think I might have seen the Jew’s Messiah...”
She might as well have said “a twelve headed camel,” or “the emperor of Rome,” or “the ghost of father Jacob.”
Their eyes peered out of the half light at her, their fingers suddenly still, waiting for the punch line, for the other sandal to drop, to hear the joke.
Surely she was joking.
Finally, in the silence, the old wit gathered hers. “What? By our well? He’s lost then. He wants Jerusalem and that’s a good day’s walk south. Not much of a messiah if he can’t even find the folks he came to save, I’d say.”
Titters, but a bit uncertain now. They didn’t know where this was going.
She circled the pole slowly, talking as much to herself as to them. “He asked me for a drink and then he offered me water from the well of life, living water, he said, such water I would never thirst again. I didn’t know what he was talking about, of course, I thought he was joking, but then he told me my sin, tweaked me proper over, well, you know,” she put a hand, unconsciously, to her hair, and struck a pose, “my men, though I’d never seen him before in my life. He is a Jew I tell you, no one from around here, and I thought he was being clever, that someone had been at the well before me telling tales. I thought he was playing the prophet, just being, you know, a Jew, or maybe even coming on a bit, (he wasn’t half bad looking) so I threw it back in his face.
‘You Jews,’ I said, ‘say we have to worship in Jerusalem, but our fathers worshiped just fine right here on this mountain.’
“And then it was as though he was looking right through me.
‘The time is coming when you won’t need this mountain to worship or Jerusalem either,’ he says, ‘the father is spirit and those who worship him must worship where they are, in spirit and in truth.’
“And I got this shiver up my spine, and I said (I don’t know why I said it) ‘When the Messiah comes he will explain it all to us.’ and he said, ‘I am speaking to you right now.’ And then he looked me full in the face and I thought, ‘my God, he is. He sees me, he sees my life, he knows my men, he knows everything I’ve ever done.’ I wasn’t laughing then I tell you, and then he smiled, he just, smiled at me.”
A tear ran down her face as they stared. “Oh,” she said, suddenly impatient, with them, with herself, knowing how she must look, how she must sound, “come see for yourself. He’s still there.”
She prodded the nearest girl with a none too gentle toe. “They were eating when I left, him and his followers. Come see! This is something new under heaven. I swear it is! Come see him.”
And she plucked and pulled and prodded—beckoned and bullied to no real effect.
“Huh” Miriam said, rising ponderously from behind her pile of wool, “Why not? Let’s all go see this wonder. I want to see the man who can make this woman cry, don’t you?”
And they went, talking, laughing—taking, before they were done, half the town with them.
If they were laughing when they came back, a good many of them, it was with joy...drunk on living water, on the new certainty that they would never thirst again.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. (Luke 4:16 NIV)
He couldn’t have said, really, why he had come: perhaps to visit his mother; he hadn’t seen her in most of a year, and their parting had been hard—perhaps just because Nazareth was next in the circuit of the towns he had been making, because he hadn’t been back yet, since his baptism, since his encounter with himself and with his God in the desert, and because, in a way, he might never really know himself fully until he had been tested in his own home, until he had tested himself against those who knew him well.
At any rate, he found himself in the synagogue there, on the Sabbath, as was his habit wherever he was, to read and pray, to say whatever his Father gave him to say, to speak the word of life into the lives of those gathered there...who knew...perhaps even to heal, and he opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to that day’s passage, and, of course, it would be...
“The spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, new sight for the blind; to set the oppressed free and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he was humbled all over again, shocked back into himself, stunned that his Father could reach out and shape his life like that, could ask this of him, even here, in his own home.
And he rolled the scroll and handed it back to the attendant, sat slowly, with all their eyes upon him, took a deep breath and, with his heart in his mouth, said, “In your sight and in your hearing, today, these words are made true.”
He didn’t know exactly what he expected, but it was not that they would sit there smiling at him and nodding, as though he just made a particularly insightful remark on the weather or the future of the wool trade. “The carpenter’s son you know, old Joseph as was down the way...” “such wisdom in one so young...” “listen to how well he reads it...he was always, even in school, ahead of his years...” (“and full of himself with it too,” someone inserted in a low voice.) “Is it any wonder they are talking about him all through the ten towns...?
“A Nazareth boy you know, born and breed.” “It is a wonder,” said someone more bold, “considering no one knows who his father really is...” The speaker spat. “Born in sin.”
“Yes, murmured another, “and see where all this talk of his father God... that’s his mother’s doing, mark my words, she as was no better than she ought to be and Joseph too good to her by far, if you ask me...see where it will get him. What’s become of John, that Baptist fellow, I ask you...no good comes of any of these jumped-up, self-styled prophets. There’s no profit in prophecy these days, I say we don’t need any prophets in Israel today.”
And their little group tittered. “Why I remember him as a boy,” said the first, “so full of airy nonsense he couldn’t be trusted to watch sheep, and suddenly he’s the savior of our nation? I ask you?”
“But listen to what he says,” said a neighbor, “You can hear the truth in his words, can’t you...you can hear God speaking if you listen, and he has done wonders they say, all up and down Galilee.” and he hitched himself away from them, closer to the immediate circle surrounding Y’shua, eager to hear more.
And Y’shua, by now, was ready to give them an earful. He wanted to shout at them all: “Didn’t you hear what I just said. I just put myself into Isaiah’s words, claimed, right here in front of you, the anointing of the Holy God. Are you going to let me get away with that? You sit and smile, or snicker and sneer, but do any of you even hear what I am saying, see what I am doing, see me at all?”
But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said, “Undoubtedly you will quote the proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ You will say, ‘do here the miracles you did in Capernaum.’”
The sudden silence told him he had their attention now. Dark looks passed. They didn’t know where this was going (and, to be honest, neither did he).
“I tell you,” he said, and he couldn’t help himself, “a prophet is without honor nowhere but in his own home, among his own relatives and those who claim to love him.”
Now they knew they were being insulted. A few were up on their knees already.
“I tell you the truth,” he said, “there were widows enough in Israel in Elijah’s day, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was hunger all through the land, but Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a woman of Zarephath in Sidon.”
It was a slap in the face. He could not have picked an example more calculated to offend these good, synagogue-attending, well-respected Jews of Nazareth, and, with half his mind, he wondered at himself, and, with half, he questioned his father: “how will they ever hear me if I insult them?”
But he was compelled now, compelled to make them face the truth, to strip them of every pretense, to make them look at him, at themselves, to force their comprehension, or, failing that, their anger, to get some honest response from them, some movement, some change...
So he said, raising his voice over the growing grumble of outrage... “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them were healed; only Naaman the Syrian.”
Now they were really angry, angry with the righteous anger of the true sons of Jacob, the descendents of Abraham, God’s chosen...insulted in their very idea of who they were...and they rushed forward, tripping over themselves, and Y’shua was, just as quickly, on his feet and retreating, driven out of the synagogue door and down the street in front of what was now a mob, driven up the hill out of town to the edge of the cliff there, until, with his back to the fall, on the brink of the drop, he stopped, faced them, faced them down, catching each eye as he had once or twice before as a boy, simply looked at them, now with compassion and love—such sorrow—until they looked away in shame, and he walked back through them, wondering, not for the first time, and not for the last, why he had to be so hard on them, why he asked so much, why he couldn’t just be, even here in his home, who they wanted him to be?
Not wanting, no, not for a moment, even now, to hear the truth in his own words.
...Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 1:45-2:2 NIV)
Y’shua sank down next to the door post, just inside, in the shade at last, hidden from the sun and the crowd, dropped his head, and covered it with his prayer shawl.
Father, why can’t I be what they want? Can’t you see: they don’t want me? They want a messiah, maybe, someone to break the grip of Rome, to trumpet rebellion and raise the people, (what people they don’t ask, but some people, some other people) to chase the soldiers and the tax men out so they can get on with business as usual, buying and selling, accumulating goods, marrying and getting children, scurrying off to the temple twice a year to make it all right with a hasty sacrifice bought in the outer court for a day’s profit.
They don’t want me.
They want miracles on tap, someone to heal their hurts, right now, send them home well, so, again, they can get on with it, with the slow abuse of the flesh that made them sick in the first place.
And they get angry. They can’t understand that there are limits to what one man can do, even with the hands of God. They don’t see that I can only touch those you are touching, that it is not me, that it is not even about sickness, but souls.
They treat me like one of their doctors, a quack who sometimes, beyond hope, gets lucky, and besides, is just crazy enough to work for free.
They don’t want to hear about repentance. They don’t want to hear about turning their hearts to God, or the narrow way, or feeding the poor, or humility, or the demands of love: loving God, being loved by you, loving each other
They don’t want forgiveness if it means they have to forgive.
And they want me to be holy, holier than they are, they want me to be perfect, perfect by some measure, I don’t know where they got it, some nitpicking measure in their minds focused on all the things that don’t matter: what I eat, and where, and how I dress, and who I talk to, and when I work, and whether I wash my hands before eating, and how many times, and how far I walk on the Sabbath...the outside, always the outside.
They can’t see what’s inside me. They can’t see you inside me.
It’s like if they can catch me in a wrong then they don’t have to believe in the good; the good then, is just a fluke, just an aberration, just such good as any sinner might do, by accident, and doesn’t mean they should change, far from it, just a bit of random good luck that confirms the general hardness of the heart of God, that keeps you up there safe in your heaven and not right down here among them.
I can’t pick a barley head on the Sabbath, let alone heal someone, before they are all over me.
If I eat in the home of a tax collector or talk to a centurion in the market, well then...what can they expect, already I am a Galilean.
Galilee, Father? Why, of all places, God forsaken Galilee?
And look who you give me to work with! Rowdy fishermen and wild eyed zealots, dreamers, idle market place philosophers and poets, men of no account, unwashed, unlettered, of no particular learning, poor, poor, an offense to those who matter.
How can anyone take me seriously?
And even they don’t get it. Thick skulled fisherman. Blind prophets of rebellion. Heads in the clouds, they don’t see what is right in front of them. After all the signs, after I have shared my heart with them, these men out of all men you have given me, my disciples, I look in their eyes and I see they don’t know me.
I am a wonder to them. The miracle man. The story teller. The master. The stranger. Just a little dangerous. They never know what I am going to do or say. They don’t know what to make of me.
And I don’t either. I talk to women in public, I belittle those who proclaim themselves holy, I take the part of the poor, I touch the sick;
I can’t help myself, I am dangerous.
I draw crowds
They are right; I make trouble wherever I go. Apprentices leave their masters to listen to me, the bread burns on the hearth, the stall goes untended, the women forget the washing and the water is left at the well.
Can I help that the children follow me, and the lame and the poxed and the palsied?
I am surrounded by cripples and lepers half the time. How are respectable people supposed to get near me?
Oh Father, I don’t even know how to be respectable! Sometimes it seems that I am just a broom you made to sweep up the broken shards, to clean the dust out of corners, to poke at cobwebs.
Father, no one loves a broom.
They wear it out, break it up, use it to start fires.
Or is that the idea? Is that what I am in the end? Kindling?
Then Father, oh Father, let the fire come!
But it was James who came. “Master, there are hundreds gathering outside. They have brought their sick with them. They are beginning to climb the roof. It can’t be safe. Will you come speak to them?”
He was nothing but a shape there next to the door but he stirred. James saw him throw his head and his shawl back, to lean against the wall. He saw the gleam of his eyes in the half light, then the hint of teeth as he slowly smiled.
Yes Father. I know. Your love is enough. Their love is enough. Really. I don’t mean to complain. Really. Your love is enough for me. Love is enough. It has to be.
He stood. It has to be.
He placed a hand on James’ shoulder. “I am ready, brother. Show me the way...”
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3 NIV)
He had been sent with those from John, to ask this Y’shua, once and for all, to finally proclaim himself: was he or was he not the promised one?
And they had gotten their answer, such as it was, “the lame walk, the blind see, the sick are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is he who does not stumble over me.”
More, he had seen the man for himself, sat at his feet with his disciples and listened, followed him about for several days, in and out of one town after another, seen, indeed, a few miracles of healing with his own eyes, and now, on the journey back to John, he found himself weighing the evidence in the balance of his mind.
On one side you had John, a miracle child by all accounts, born to a priestly family, born by the direct intervention of God long after he had closed his mother’s womb—his father, by his own testimony, struck dumb during the pregnancy for his lack of faith, his mother all but a martyr to carry a baby at her age—and John himself: the holy hermit, living in the wilderness on locust and wild honey, dressing animal skins, standing for the righteousness of God, speaking boldly against Herod and Rome alike, demanding of all people, regardless, repentance, and a cleansing from their sins.
And on the other side, this Y’shua. If rumor was true, born in sin, conceived while his mother was yet betrothed, and the supposed father, this Joseph, the carpenter, denying all responsibility, yet caving in and taking the woman to his bed—a difficult child; there was that incident of his strange behavior at the temple at his first sacrifice, and now, a man who went about, openly, with women in his train, who discussed the things of God with them (who lived off them, if stories were true). A man who ate with sinners, tax collectors and worse. A man who broke the Sabbath at will, healing, even, they said, allowing his disciples to prepare food, to eat with unwashed hands, encouraging them to go about the countryside stirring up trouble, idle, expecting others to feed them.
It was a scandal.
And this was the same man who had come, as lesser to the greater, to John for baptism along with all the others.
A carpenter in the line of David, not a Levite at all to claim the duties of a priest or a prophet.
Feeding the crowds at one moment, oh yes, and then driving them away with impossible words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Attending weddings, drinking wine, laughing with children wherever he went, claiming, some said, to be God.
Where did it end?
Silent on the sins of Rome and Herod, but vocal in his condemnation of the Pharisees and Adduces who held, at least in their own eyes, the hope of Israel in their hands.
Certainly God would not do something so outrageous as to make this Y'shua his messiah?
And yet, John himself seemed unsure, seemed all but ready to follow if this Y’shua would only proclaim himself.
What was a man to believe? Where was the balance of the mind?
More the point, where was the balance of his heart?
What would he believe, how would he feel, if he had been one of those blind men to receive his sight, one of those cripples to walk, one of those dead to rise?
More to the point, was he?
Did he dare to be?
“When they arrived at Capernaum, the tax man came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24 NIV)
They were tired and dusty, clogged right up, coming down into Capernaum, and Simon, for one, could smell the sea from a mile a way. He wanted nothing more than to run headlong into the shallows for a rinse and wallow, and then, while the sun dried his robe, to sit on the bank with a fishing line and think like a fish, which is to say, of nothing more complicated than supper and sea surge. He was tired of crowds. He was tired, truth to be told, of questions he couldn’t answer, of standing open to heaven and having his heart constantly stirred by Y’shua’s every word, of being challenged to believe by what the man did, and didn’t do, day in and day out, until he felt stretched so far he didn’t know himself, changed past recognition. Why he even had a new name. Peter. The rock. And what kind of a name was that for a fisherman: A man more on water than on land? No, even if he was to be a rock, he needed to sit on the shore with his feet in the water and lapped for a short eternity, licked into shape by the passing of the seasons. This headlong rush toward destiny on Y’shua’s coat tails was wearing him down.
And the man wouldn’t listen. He seemed determined to ram himself headlong into the wall of the temple and the shield of Rome.
It was not as if Simon hadn’t seen the glory for himself, up there on the mountain, the bursting sun in the savior’s face, the raw power flowing out of him to light the world and chase the dark, death itself, from the corners where it hid, to bring at last the dawn...and yet Y'shua wouldn’t hear it spoken of, damped the radiance down, walked the dusty roads, endured the crowds and the criticism of the temple toadies and those Pharisees as though he was just another prophet, as though he was just another man.
So when they came among the houses, when they turned into the home street and were almost at the door, the temple tax man, that Joseph bar Simeon, officious in his roll as always, water would bead on the oil of his tongue, caught Simon-Peter off guard.
“Simon,” he said, taking hold of his sleeve and turning him, “tell me, where does you master pay the temple tax?”
And what had Simon done? Stared like a stunned fish...
“He does pay it, doesn’t he? Surely such a holy man pays his obligations to the temple. It is so little after all.”
And Simon had stammered out: “Of course. He’s not from here. He pays in Nazareth. He’s a Nazarene. You know that.”
And he’d shaken the man off and climbed the stair to the roof well behind the others. Y'shua was already sitting, and the others were making a circle. Simon’s mother-in-law was bustling after food and wine, the servant girl running for a bowl of water for their hands.
“So, my fine Rock, tell me...” Y’shua looked up into his face, shading his eyes with his hand against the setting sun, “what do you think? When a king levies a tax, who pays? His children or his subjects?”
Augh! There it was again, like a hand twisting his stomach, the seat of his soul, like a fire brand in his face lighting every half truth and avoidance, every shadow of himself...was there nothing the man did not hear or see?
“Master,” he shrugged elaborately and sank down into the circle, though he knew it was already too late, “it is certainly the subjects.”
“Then the children get off free, yes? The children never pay. Who are you Peter? Who am I?”
And Simon, called Peter, had leapt up, all but torn his hair, and run to the lake to quench himself.
Not a half hour later, he stood in the shallows and cast his line, hoping against hope that the familiar weight in hand, the tug of the lake current on the bated twine would take his mind and sink it.
But the bate was no more in the water than the fish struck, a big one, and he had all he could do to fight it to shore on the slender twine, to hook it behind the gill and drag it through the shallows to the bank. He stunned it with he haft of his fishing knife and gutted it right there, caught up in the primal wonder of it...this is why he fished, why any man fished...and scrapped the guts back into the water.
Something gold flashed up at him. He bent, without thinking and stirred the guts with his fingers. Hard. Round. Flat. A coin. Not big. He swished it through the water, rinsing off the mess, and held it up between finger and thumb in the last of the sun. 4 Drachmas. A four drachma coin in the mouth of a fish. A miracle. And he went running, all but skipping, fish over shoulder, back home.
“Master,” he said, as soon as he reached the roof, “here’s a strange thing. A miracle almost. What do you think I found in stomach of this fish?” And he flopped his catch down at Y’shua’s feet.
And Y’shua had smiled. Just sat there and smiled up at him in the twilight. He knew. Blast and bother, the man knew. Knew before he ever saw the coin, before he ever saw the fish, he knew. He’d known when Simon ran out. Why he might as well have sent him himself. Have said, “Simon, go down to the lake and cast a line. Take the first fish. Open it up and there will be a coin.” With a sense of the inevitable, Simon dug out the 4 Drachmas and held it up in front of Y’shua’s face.
“Well there, Peter,” Y’shua said, “God, our Father provides. There is just enough for both your temple tax and mine. Think of it as a gift from our Father the King so his children can pay along with the subjects, and no one will be needlessly offended.
“No one but me.” was Peter’s thought as it settled in him like a stone, like one more pebble in the tower of his faith, like one more certainty. “No one is offended but Simon, subject of the King, who is always dying so that this Peter, apparently the King’s own son, can be born.”
“And Peter,” Y’shua said, poking the fish where it lay on the stone of the roof, “such a blessing. Such a Father. We have our supper besides...”
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd...Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50 NIV)
Mary, finally, much against her will, made the long trek up the east shore of the lake, and around, hoping to catch Y’shua where James had left him, in Capernaum, only to miss him there by a day, to find him gone, moved on, the buzz was, to Bethsaida, with the rumor of him so strong behind— how he, just as James said, was healing the sick with a touch, with a word, how he was proclaiming forgiveness to all and sundry, to any and every sad soul who would listen, how the poor loved him, how the synagogue crowd opposed him to his face, how he had stirred the placid fish towns and the whole country all around like a hawk among quail, turning neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife, brother against brother, sowing strife everywhere with this Messiah—is he or isn’t he, true or false—talk...how not a few, now, were following him wherever he went, a great crowd of idle bodies who ought to know better, leaving fishnets to rot on the shore, leaving fields untended, mothers, wives, husbands, home alone, flocks to wander, shops shuttered and blind, and going off weeks at time, drawn to the magic and the mystery, to the unpredictability, the adventure, hanging about to see what this son of hers would do next, what wonderful thing he would say.
And she worried more and more. She wasn’t sure she knew anymore, just what her son might do or say.
James, it is true, had practically had to pry her loose from the house and the shop in Nazareth. “But mother, you must see him, you must hear him. You wouldn’t know he was same man. And the way the people take to him...”
She had taken on much since Joseph died, running, from behind her shawls, the younger sons, they said, like slaves to make an inheritance for them all. She had known, of course, Y’shua would leave her, claimed (too soon surely) by his father God, but when James went to follow him, that scared her, and she withdrew deeper into the woman’s sanctuary of the home, into her kitchen, into what remained of the family, into herself.
It took the younger brothers’ in full revolt to move her. They came, they said, out of concern for Y’shua: “We’re going, mother, whether you do or not!” “Surely someone should go, has to go, and take him in hand before he gets himself killed, before he shames the name of Joseph and all his kin by bringing the Roman dogs down on the whole province, before he works the people up to the point of no return...” but she suspected that some of them, at least the youngest two, were really more taken with James’ tales of miracles, (and maybe even with the possibility of a power to match Rome’s), more eager to see this new Y’shua than to save him, more likely followers than rescuers...but they were right in one thing: it was time, and past time, that someone with more sense than James was showing these days, went to see what her eldest son was up to.
Coming into Bethsaida from Capernaum was like coming up to a hive of bothered bees. Miles from the village she began to meet men and women buzzing with a sense of urgency, coming out from the town with a sting in their tails or on their tongues...going to fetch this friend or that relation who “just had to see this for himself”...“herself”.
“Have you heard? Y’shua is here. Have you seen him yet? Wonderful!” “Such words as no one ever spoke. Such power. Such confidence.” “You could believe: the salvation of us all...”
Or they were going to get this one who suffered palsy, or that one who was deaf, “He just touched her and she was well!” “He leaped up walking, I tell you, who hasn’t had his feet under him for six years.” “The twisted hand straight as the day he was born.” “A miracle! A miracle...”
And some so angry with their Pharisee's robes flapping about them, that she stepped off the road to let them pass, “Every word he speaks is blasphemy!” “The people, what do they know? They would follow a goat to the slaughter just to see it kick...”
Or it might be boys and girls sent back for food, water, wine, for the spontaneous festival that seemed sure to break out in the streets and along the shore—or to pen up the livestock, or to close the house door, or to cap the well against their parents, their masters, unexpected stay in town.
Entering the edge of the village was like entering the market on market day. The crowd pressed right out to the first houses, the streets full of people chatting and talking, trading (stories, if not cabbages and goats), and it got thicker, more congested, more dusty, more focused, the further she and her sons worked their way in, street by street, James dancing ahead of them, laughing, “Just find the center of the crowd mother. That’s where he is. Has to be. See mother. Look at this. Didn’t I tell you!”
He seemed not to see the angry pockets of wagging beards and shaken phylacteries, the open fear in not a few stolid shopkeepers’ faces, the wary look of the Roman soldiers, clutching their spears in doorways, eyeing the crowds with a professional interest. He seemed not to hear the edge of hysteria in the voices of too many, (in his own?), the hint of madness, of something wild, reckless, about to break loose here, something that could never be contained again, something to tear every certainty up by the roots and trample it underfoot on the way to some future of freedom, some unimagined age of redemption, of promises filled, of hope made whole, of dreams come true. There was a hunger here that was frightening. And Y’shua, at the center of it all, too small, surely, her son, to feed this crowd. They would chew him up, suck all the good out of him, and spit him out, and he would be left broken and wasted here at the edge, in God forsaken Galilee, having done nothing, having made a tempest in this cracked pot province, soon passed. They would, once they used him up, once they saw he was not who they thought he was, surely kill him, and Mary was suddenly more afraid than she had ever been in her life...more afraid than when the angel came, more afraid than when she had thought she would have to tell Joseph about the child, more afraid than that night in Bethlehem with every door closed against them, more afraid than when, in the stable, she saw the light of God for the first time in his eyes at her breast, more afraid than when they fled to Egypt, more afraid than when they had returned, more afraid than when they lost him in the temple, more afraid...but then she had always known she would lose him. Hadn’t the prophet said it on the steps of the temple on his dedication day, “a sword through her breast...?” Just not here, not now, not in this fish stinking village at the edge of nowhere, not while it still didn’t matter, couldn’t matter, not here, not yet, “Oh God, not yet!”
And then, to have come so far, and not to get in, to be stuck outside the door of the packed house, to hear his voice, his laugh, somewhere far inside, to see the backs of those who pushed in, a solid plug at the door, who could see no more than she could, and James trying to worm his way through, finally passing the message in, mouth to mouth, to stand and wait, his mother!
It was only after, from the mouths of those who did not know her, that she heard what he had said.
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? My mother and brothers are those who do the will of God.”
A sword...huuhh...a sword...
Still, she followed at a distance as he led them down to the lake, listened as he told them the truth of God among them. He was no longer hers. Had never, she now knew, been. Who could claim to be the mother of the Son of God? A sword... Who would want to be?
And yet, huddled at the back edge of that vast crowd while he opened himself and God’s love from a boat just afloat on waters of the lake, Mary forgot the sword... forgot herself, carried on his words, on the light of God let loose, reaching out from that night in the stable to enfold the world. She sat down a disappointed mother, got up to follow wherever he might lead, a believer, one among many, in the Son of God. It was only much later that she came to realize that she had passed the test he set her; passed the test he set the world. She was, and always would be, his mother. It was not that she claimed him, but that he, in claiming his own, had claimed her.
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. (Luke 8:40-42 NIV)
None of them wanted him to go, of course, his wife lost in, locked in, her own despair, all but willing the end now, wanting to be done with it, you could see it in her eyes, the weariness, hear it in her voice, after these endless weeks at her daughter’s side, watching her swing, inevitably, inexorably, closer and closer to death, tossing and trembling, convulsing, there on the bed, as his wife, with her mother’s heart, battled with damp cloths, with herbs and oils, a futile labor, against the fever that was taking her daughter, their daughter, his little girl, his love, further and further from them.
“Why bother...what do you expect him to do? He doesn’t even know her... She hasn’t spoken to me now, who loves her... in days. What good can a stranger do?”
And his friends, his colleagues from the synagogue, gathered on his doorstep, doing a good imitation of Job’s comforters these past weeks, well, you can imagine what they thought about it.
It was one of the congregation, a poor tailor from down the street, two days ago it was, who had caught his elbow as he passed and sowed the seed...
“Your daughter?” He had asked, weighing the question with such sympathy it brought tears to Jairus’ eyes, which was, of course, answer enough, and then, “Too bad Y’shua isn’t here, you could have sent to him...”
The idea must have been there already, in his mind, after all the rumors, after the furor in the city these past months...the miracle man, Y’shua...maybe as a last resort...a possibility, a potential, unlikely, but there... but Y’shua, now that Jairus was ready, now that he was needed, was gone, somewhere, with all his disciples, over the lake they were saying, to the Ten Towns, to the half-heathen over there on the far shore.
Then, this morning, when the word came running with the early risers, that he was back, that the crowds were gathering on the waterfront again, clamoring for a touch of his hand, he had been foolish enough, in his pain, to say he might go, to blurt it right out, in his colleagues hearing, and they had jumped on him, his fellow rulers of the synagogue, his friends, “What?! Go to that man?! That rabble rouser?! That charlatan?!” “No, never, not one of us...” “Think of how it would look. Why people might think we believe in him, believe what they are saying about him, what he says of himself...” “No, it won’t do.” “Don’t.” “You’ll be sorry.” “No good will come of it.” “Surely, you, of all people, don’t believe he can do anything for your daughter?” “Can’t you just accept God’s will? She is gone.” “You are just asking for trouble. You are just asking for more pain.”
And he had fled, out the door, into the street, as much to get away from their yammering, from the stink of death in the house, from the death flutes gathered, silent still, but waiting by the door, and the wailing women and the cringing servants, and he was three blocks down toward the harbor before he even really knew he would go...he was there at the back of the crowd before any intention to actually approach the man had formed. He honestly didn’t know what he was doing there, was so distracted by his own pain that he didn’t half know where he was until he found himself hemmed in, pressed shoulder to shoulder with the mass of supplicants, with its inevitable leaven of the curious: this smelly, clamorous throng, caught in the crowd around Y’shua without the will, now, to work his way out, to escape—and then, when they noticed, when they saw him, when they recognized him, it was already too late.
“Isn’t that Jairus?” “No, it can’t be.” “It is, from the synagogue!” “His daughter, they say, is dead.” “No, dying, sick these many weeks and not likely to live but not dead yet...at least when I left this morning, the servants were wailing and the flutes hadn’t started, though they were gathered at the door.”
And somehow they passed him hand to hand, despite himself, deeper into the crowd, “Send him to Y’shua... Make way there. It’s Jairus, ruler of the synagogue. Make way. Move him in. He needs Y’shua, poor man. His daughter. Sick. Dying. Move him in. Make way!” and gently, so gently, but inexorably as death itself gathering in his daughter’s face, they passed him, hand to hand, mouth to mouth, heart to heart, until he stumbled out into the open circle around the teacher, until he fell right at Y’shua’s feet, and his own heart broke and opened and he found himself pleading, he found himself clutching the man’s robes, he found himself on his knees, there in the street, and Y’shua looking down at him...
“My daughter, my own little girl, my love, is dying. Please come. Put your hands on her. Tell me she may yet be healed and live!”
And Y’shua had turned without a word and beckoned him to lead the way, and he had jumped up, and the crowd parted a step, and he wanted to run, to run home, to take Y’shua to her, to his daughter, but the crowd was now like cold honey around them, like clotted cream, only giving way slowly, and he was forced to shuffle ahead of the teacher, turning back often at the wonder of his following, at his coming, beating down the hope in him, wanting, now that he was committed, to shout: “hurry...Oh hurry...” And then Y’shua stopped, stopped dead, and the crowd swept in between them, and Jairus wanted to cry out in his disappointment, in his despair, but Y'shua was speaking...
“Who touched me?”
And the crowd so close there must have been a hundred hands on him.
“Power has gone from me... someone touched me.”
And one of the disciples, Peter, Jairus thought, a fisherman from a family of fisherman—he had the look of his father, who had had a good boat before he left it to follow this Y'shua—said, “Master, the crowd. Look at it. How can you ask who touched you?”
But Y’shua still stood, turning his eyes, seeking, and finally, after an eternity, a woman stumbled forward.
“Sick Esther” the crowd murmured, and even Jairus knew her story, how she had bled for 12 years and enriched any number of “doctors” in the towns around until all she had left were the clothes on her back, and her sickness... And she fell at Y’shua’s feet and cried, “I am healed. The flow is stopped.”
She turned to the crowd around them, caught, of all people, Jairus’ eye... “I said to myself, ‘let me touch the hem of his robe, just let me touch the dusty tassel of the outer robe that hangs down his back, and I will be well,’ and I did, and he did it! I am whole. I am healed!”
Y’shua put his hand on her head and smiled, “Your faith has saved you woman. Go, seek peace, and be free of your suffering!”
And the crowd, as one, fell to their knees, and raised their hands and their voices to worship and hope surged up in Jairus’ breast, threatened to sweep him right over into belief. It was as though God, looking down on his doubt and pain, had sent this sign, especially for him, had offered this singular proof: here was power, here was grace, here was one who might save his daughter indeed.
But before Y'shua had quite finished speaking, there was Jeremiah and some of the other servants from the house at Jairus’ shoulder, pushing their way through the crowd. “She’s dead! Your daughter is gone to her rest at last. Listen, you can hear the flutes.” and, looking sideways at Y’shua where he stood, still with his hand on Sick Esther’s head, “You don’t want to bother the master anymore.”
And Jairus turned at the feel of Y’shua’s eyes on him, across the heads of the crowd between, “Don’t listen to them. Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
Y’shua, clasping Peter and James and John on the shoulder to follow, led the way now. Jairus stumbled behind.
They came to the house, surrounded now by wailing women, the shrill death songs of the flute, the thump of the death drum, and Y’shua walked right through it all, to the door, through the door. Jairus swept up his wife in passing, caught and clasped her wringing hands and pulled her, unwilling, after him into the house, into the sick room, into the unmistakable presence of death, following the fishermen’s backs, following the backs of the disciples of this fisher-of-men, crowding in at the last, just inside his daughter’s door, followed by half the household in the hall, and bulging into the room.
“Oh, stop your noise!”
Y’shua, out of patience, turned on them.
“Get out and give her space...can’t you see she is not dead but only sleeping.”
And to see their faces! To hear them laugh at him, great heart rending gawfs, more grief than humor; sarcastic titters through smiles strained with the knowledge, with the certainty, of death; disparaging snickers at this man who, apparently, thought he was greater than the grim reaper himself—as though they were certain, now, that he was mad, (or feared that they were).
“Clear out, now, I say.”
And he and his burley fisherman pushed the crowd out and closed the door. Y’shua turned to the bed.
Jairus, slumped against the wall, holding his sobbing wife, not certain now if he hadn’t, in fact, brought a mad man into his house, clung to the sign of Sick Esther, to the glimpse of grace he had been granted. “You’ll see. You’ll see. He will do something. He can do it. Just watch.” he kept murmuring into his wife’s ear, into his wife’s grief.
And Y'shua bent over the girl’s face, took her hand in his, stepped back, and pulled.
“Talitha koum.” (which is “Get up, little girl.)”
And, simple as that, she did, despite any unbelief in the room, despite Jairus, despite his wife, despite, even (if truth were told) Peter and John and James. And she walked across the room to her parents, walked up to he father and held out her hand, “Daddy...”
“Give her meat and bread. A bit of wine,” Y’shua said, “and tell no one what happened here.”
Ha! Now there was something worth laughing at.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:24-29 NIV)
She woke, that morning, so sick of herself she could not stand it.
Oh, the curse was the same as ever, the bloody cloth to change, washing herself, her wasted thighs, in cold water, binding herself again, rinsing the blood from the robe and hanging it to dry, trying to eat a little, a crust, as she haunted the empty rooms of her once prosperous home, remembering this jar, that wall hanging, touching the spot where her mother’s menorah had stood—
Oh! She remembered where each precious thing had gone, which “so-called” doctor it had gone to pay, and the hopelessness she held at bay most days swept over her, and she found herself weeping, slow helpless tears trickling down her face, dropping into her wash water, onto the fresh robe, salting the bread as she tried to eat, and she thought, “Oh God, I can not bear any more of this...I can not be this any more. I am nothing but a sickness wrapped in flesh, the sour dregs of the wine of disgust in an old cracked skin—as empty, as spent, as this house, I echo with self-pity and I hate it...”
And then, like a whiff of rain on desert air, like an odor, a sweet indefinable savor, drifting in through an open window, like a half heard haunting phrase of music coming over rooftops in the moonlight, like a memory of something that never happened, the name, the rumor of this Y’shua came, brushed her heart, teased her mind, and she turned, just a tiny bit, from herself, and saw a star in her darkness, still far off, still dim, as though someone had poked a tiny hole in the black cover, the tarnished brass sky of her self-loathing, and the sun shown through, a single ray, a tentative beam that touched her eye with the promise, with that tenuous memory of day, of wholeness, of health...
And she almost pulled back again. She almost put her hand out to snuff the light like a guttering candle, to plug the hole that let the unaccustomed sun in on her... almost her mistrust of hope itself overcame the promise, almost she let her fear of yet another failure put out that pinprick of possibility before it was half born...
But this morning she was so thoroughly sick of herself, that she found herself letting go, falling forward down that beam of light, falling helpless, falling faster, as the dim star grew into a living fire, until it filled the sky of her, burned bright on her every horizon, until she floated in light as fish in the sea, as a bird in the air, as an angel of God in God’s will, and she heard the message all around her...
“If only—if only I could touch the hem of his robe I would be well...I could not ask...I could not trust my heart, my hope to him in the open street, but if I could touch the hem of his outer garment where it has swept the dust ahead of his feet, behind him, if I could take a bit of the earth he has touched from the tassel of his robe, the ground he has made holy by his walking there, if I dared to let go of myself and reach out and touch him, then I would be well, then I would be whole...”
And she couldn’t say if it was her own voice, or if the light spoke, or if it were, indeed, an angel of the Lord, but before she could doubt, she picked herself up and went out, she all but ran from the house into the street, she catapulted herself out the door so that she came up short, breathless and panting, at the corner by the well, and she had to stop to remember where she was going, what she was doing, as she gathered her robes, as she gathered her wits, and she saw, amazingly, the resolve still inside her, newborn but strong, a new feature in the landscape of her heart, as though this door to light, once opened, could not be closed, as though the star, once born, pulled the whole earth of her around to its center.
“If I can only touch the hem of his robe...” was all she remembered, all she held to, without daring to think of the rest, without daring to hope, just holding to that single intent... to touch this Y’shua, to crawl if she had to, to get close and reach out, and touch the hem of his robe...to touch the tassel of his outer garment, to touch the healer, this Y’shua, to touch...
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (Mark 5:37-40 NIV)
When he stepped off the boat, the crowd was there, already, waiting for him. Some of them were still camped, he suspected, on the beach from the day before, a day and a half now, 36 hours, since he had felt the overwhelming need to get away, to take Peter’s boat and the few closest to him and flee across the water to the relative peace of the far, less populated, shore, the wilderness around Gadara...to get way form this unending press of people, the pull of their pain, the drain of healing, and healing, and healing, on his power, on his compassion, on the life force within, on him, the day long frustration of not being able to touch a tenth of those who hurt, to heal a fraction of those that came, always one more, and one more, and another day and more, and another behind the palsied hand, wherever he looked, the lame leg, the open sores, the bleeding wound, the yellow flux, the scabbing skin, the dulled eye, the mad stare, the violent fit, the endless litany of the brokenness and the accumulated sin of all the generations since Adam, that, if he let it, would take all of him, would eat him up, would sweep over him and drown him in the misery of life in this lost world, and he would sink without a ripple, would not make a dent in the massed need, still be no more than a passing wonder, a moment’s respite in the inexorable march of God’s children down toward death…while all the time the urgency grew in him: to get behind the physical pain and heal the very soul of the world, to find a way to touch their spirits as he touched their bodies, to heal the hurt of their separation from God, to turn the march right around, and send them back, victorious, up to God their Father, to wholeness, to love, to freedom, to life...and there was no time even to think in all this press, no time to pray, no time to hear what the Father would have him do next, no time to figure out how to do it.
“Am I just a physician, Father, come to touch these few of all that hurt? Am I no more than a healer of sores, sent so a few of your hurting children can have season of health? Isn’t there more to this? What do you want me to do?”
And so, he had run away over the sea...and what had he found there?: a man possessed, a danger to himself and all who came near, a legion of demons who knew his name, and a herd of pigs. It had seemed like a good idea, to send the clamoring voices into the swine to silence them, but in the end he had roused the countryside against himself, had woken their fear and caused a clamor worse than the rumor of healing for chasing away the peace he had set out to find...and so he had returned...to this.
And here was this Pharisee, this Jairus, leader of the synagogue, on his knees before him, and he saw, with his Father’s sight, the little girl, the young woman she was becoming, budding promise blighted, on her death pallet; he saw the musicians of mourning gathered in the courtyard, heard the wail of despair, the mother and her maids, and he knew he had to go, right now, had to race, to call her back before she went too far beyond death’s door...and so he moved, parting the crowd ahead of him, following Jairus, Peter on one side making a way, and John on the other, James just ahead, and from behind he felt the reaching hands, touching, always touching, grasping, pulling him back, claiming him, holding him here with their misery, with their need, and he knew the second power left him, the second someone touched the source of life in him and drew upon that spring.
“Who touched me?”
And Peter, honest Peter, too-present Peter, “Look at the crowd master. How can you ask who touched you?”
“Power has gone from me. Someone touched me...”
And then, that woman, the worn helpless soul, finally ready in face of his coming, on the strength of his miracles, to let go, to maybe surrender her sickness at last, to risk being someone else, unknown even to herself, to take the gamble, to make a bet with herself and with God...“If I can only touch the hem of his robe, the tassel of the healer’s outer garment, then I will be well...”and she had wormed her way through the crowd, worked herself ever closer, maybe, over days, maybe, from the look of her, on her hands and knees, and his rush after Jairus this morning had carried him right to her so that she just reached out from where she huddled and touched him...
“Go sister, your faith has made you well.”
And then the servants from Jairus’ household. “She’s gone, master. No need to trouble the Teacher anymore.” And he had caught him, the father, on the brink of despair, caught him with his eye and his word,
“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.”
And he went on, leading now, James and John and Peter and Jairus trailing behind, headed up the street as fast as his legs would carry him, all but running, and swept by the death flutes in the door yard with barely a glance, and on into the girl’s room. And there she was, her hair across her forehead in the fever sweet, face turned slightly away, still, so still, so still, and an anger rose in him, unreasoned, irresistible, a great NO! in the face of death, “No you shall not have her! Not this one. Not now. She and all this household are mine.” And suddenly the death flutes and the mourners wailing behind him were too much and he turned and snapped at them.
“Be still! Can’t you see she is not dead, but only sleeping.”
And they laughed. They laughed in his face. So certain. And he shoved them out, put his hands on them and pushed them out the door, and Peter and James and John, wondering, understanding no more than any of them, came to help, and between them they cleared the room. And still in anger he turned to her. And his heart stopped. The anger drained away and he saw her worn frame there on the bed, tired, so tired she looked after her long battle, weary of this world of pain, ready, maybe, for rest. And he bowed his head.
“Oh Father. How long must they suffer? How much hurt can they bear?”
And then the resolve grew in him, the anger and the frustration and grief came together, wove themselves around his faith and were transformed into a quiet certainty. Peace. Power. And he reached out to her. Took her hand. Called.
“Talitha koum.” (“Get up little girl. Time to wake.”)
And she rose, and death fled wailing from the room.
“Give her some wine, something to eat.”
And he turned and saw their faces, Jairus by the door, his wife, Peter, and James, and John, saw the way they looked at him, the awe in their eyes battling back the unbelief. And he thought. “Now I’ve done it! Oh Father, how will they hear me now? Who do they think I am? Who do they think they are?”
And he turned back to the empty bed.
“Tell no one what happened here...”
But already the news was running... already, it was too late.
He clasped the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little Girl, get up.” At that she was up and walking around!” (Mark 5:40-42 The Message)
She was conscious only of rest, peace, not the desire for peace, not the desire for rest, not weariness or pain, not tiredness or frustration, only peace and rest—and light, light all through her and all around her, floating her, not like a feather on the surface of the sea, but like a feather in air, a breathless air, a suspension of breath—and a waiting, as though this were a pause in a journey, as though she had just stepped off the caravan trail into a secret oasis of her own; the taste of the dates was in her mouth, the cool water of the spring, though she could not remember eating or drinking...a waiting peace, a resting pause, and light, miraculous light, all through her and around her. And then, from a far place she heard his voice, and then the touch of his hand, and he said,
“Wake up little girl.”
And there was such love in that voice, such power, such a flow of presence in that hand, that she let him pull her up, pull her out, pull her back to the caravan trail and the journey, and she opened her eyes, expecting the light to be gone, but it wasn’t, it was there in his face, in his eyes, in his smile, it filled the room around him, touched her mother and father where they huddled by the door, it bound them all into the one presence in the stranger’s face, in his eyes, in his touch. And she rose, shedding even the memory of her disease, like the sweat soaked bed clothes, and danced in light across the room to take her father’s hand. And she heard his voice behind her,
“Give her meat, a little wine.”
She turned in time to see his face cloud, the light dim.
“And don’t tell anyone what happened here...”
And she laughed aloud with the joy she could not contain even in the face of his sudden fear, and he, hearing her laughter, the life in it, turned to face her once again. Their eyes met, and he burst into a great roar of laughter himself, and, crossing to put one arm around her shoulder and one around his disciple John’s, lead them all, laughing, from the room.
Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” (Matthew 14:15 The Message)
Who can say why he did it...he was feeling reckless—he might have said, drunk on his own words, filled with the holy boldness engendered by having 5000 men, women, and children hanging on his every word— he might have said he was just too full of himself, if he hadn’t known, by now, what it felt like to be full of the Father, if he hadn’t known what it felt like when the holy spirit rose up and took his tongue, so that every word he spoke was truth—if he hadn’t come to know, long since, that God was in the silence of the listening crowd, in their gathering—that their attention and their very presence was a gift to him from the Father—if he hadn’t known by now that he stood always on the threshold between God and man, that he always spoke the word and worked the will of his Father who sent him...
“I always do what pleases my Father, because I am the Son, and he loves me...”
No, if he was reckless it was a recklessness founded in his utter confidence in the Father’s love— if this were a risk, he was compelled to it by that same spirit that held the crowd before him.
And so it was with a touch of amusement that he answered his fellows when they came, late in the day, to him...“You find them something to eat.”
As though, he thought, I have not been feeding them. As though they were not already full of the food that matters. Full of the real bread of heaven...
He turned to Philip who was standing nearest, “What do you say, Philip, where will we buy bread to feed these hungry souls?”
Philip, locked in the literal, stammered a bit. “But, but, Master... if we had 200 silver pieces we couldn’t even buy a piece of bread for each of them!
Y’shua looked out across the crowd. “What do we have then?”
Andrew, knowing no better than Philip, jumped right in: “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes.”
Y’shua laughed. He could not help himself. They were so slow learning. So slow to trust themselves. So slow to see the truth beyond their bellies...and these were the ones the Father had given him to hear and bear the inner truth of his coming? Sometimes he had to laugh...
Even then he did not know exactly what he was going to do, but, well, if they wanted to be so literal, so physical, he did feel this upwelling of power in him, this surge in the spirit, and he knew was about to do something to surprise them...to, maybe, surprise himself.
It wasn’t until he saw the eyes of the boy, this one, no one in particular, from the front edge of the crowd, who came and put his little lunch in the Master’s hands, simply because he was asked, simply because it was all he had to give...that the purpose formed in him, that he knew what he had to do.
“Tell them all to sit down.”
And he took the bread and lifted it up before the crowd, one hand on the head of the boy who gave it.
“Father, I thank you for the gift of bread. You give us always our daily bread. Father, I thank you more for the trust of this one who gives it... the generous heart that lays all he has, what little he has, back in your hands, never asking if it is enough, only trusting in the hands of love.
“Father, I thank you for the gift of fish. I thank you, the fisher of men, for these souls. I thank you, once more, for all who give themselves to the need, regardless of how impossible it seems that their little could make a difference. I thank you Father, that, in you, such a little matter as faith makes all the difference.”
And he took the bread and fish and began to break it and pass it out to all those sitting on the grass there. The boy helped, taking from the master and passing it on, as though he were still his lunch he was sharing (and whose was it if not his?).
Soon the crowd was passing bread and fish on, hand to hand, until it reached those furthest back and away, until all had food, until all their share of the five barley loaves and two fish, and they ate, they ate their fill and were filled, and it was like a huge wedding feast, there on the hillside, a wedding in a wealthy house, where the host was honor bound to make sure no one wanted more, and they ate all they wanted, and laughed, full of gift food and good cheer, full of guesting joy.
And Y’shua watched them. He wondered what they understood, even now with their mouths and their bellies full of faith food, trust food, gift food, the bread that came down from heaven? But he wasn’t, the Father wasn’t, done with them yet. When they quieted down toward the end of the meal, Y’shua stood and said, “Gather the leftovers. Let nothing of the gift be wasted.”
And his followers filled twelve baskets. He looked long and hard at each who carried a basket back to him.
And the people? They knew God had been at work among them. “See here,” they said, “surely this is the prophet, God’s prophet, right here in Galilee! Surely it is our time now. Surely this is the day Galilee finally has its say!”
They saw a man who fed them. A man to follow. Maybe a king, but they missed the faith that fed them, the God in the man, the Father in them, the king in the boy who simply gave his all.
It came close to breaking his heart. Still, if he was not called to give what he had to give, in faith, in trust, to give his all, even when everything said it could not matter, then who was?
And so, Y’shua slipped away from them— up the hill, to be alone with his Father, his God, to pray, perhaps, for the faith to do what he knew he would have to do, to give what, in the end, would be the little, his all, which made the difference.
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?" (Matthew 16:13 The Message).
More than two, almost three years now, they had followed him, through miracles and confrontation, through teaching and being taught, as he learned the way of this as he came to grips with what it was to be the Son of Man, and more, the Son of God.
It hadn't been easy, on him or on them. They had left families months at a time. John, God love him, had not been home except in passing in all those years, and Simon and the others, a month here and there at the height of the fishing, at planting and at harvest, to get a child or to see one born. Dusty roads. Cold camps. Clamoring crowds. And, God help him, always with him while he was always with God.
Not easy. How many times had he come close to driving them away? How many times had he stretched their ability to believe to the breaking point? How many times had he stretched his own? And were they big enough even now to hold the will of God?
So he took them aside, to a grove of willow by a seep, and sat on his heals in the shade. He didn't know how to begin.
“Who do the people say the Son of Man is?”
Oh that was a hard question; he could see it in their eyes. And, still, even now, he had to wonder why. Why? Were they that blind? Had he somehow failed? Where they just too small...or was he?
They shuffled their feet in the sand and looked anywhere but at him.
Finally Tomas ventured, “Some say John the Baptist.”
Andrew, with the ease of the second answer, added, “Others say Elijah,” and Bartholomew took his chance, “and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Sliding sideways. Avoiding the real question, the real issue. Like the people themselves.
“But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
And there, like a good teacher, he had given them the answer in the question.
And Simon, bless his impetuous soul, was right there with the answer, bouncing on the balls of his feet in his eagerness, lifting a hand for attention.
“You are the anointed one, the Son of the living God.”
And how could he not love him, for there it was, the beginning of the end he had not known how to reach.
“Oh, you are blessed Simon son of Jonah! No man told you that. That you had straight from our Father God. I tell you, you will be the Rock, my building stone. And such will be the bed-rock faith of those who are called out to live by my name, and even the gates of hell will not contain, restrain, or hold them.”
He came close to Simon and tapped him, playfully, over his heart and then on his head.
“Why, with such rock-faith, I can give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.
You, as you live that straight-from-God, bedrock faith, will close the door to those who dare less, who do not trust all to the Son of Man, and open it wide for all those who do.”
And he saw the confusion in their faces: knew that he had stretched them about as far as they were willing to go today.
“Oh Father, I long for the day your baptism of fire burns out the last unbelief in them, though I know I have a baptism of death to endure, and a unbelievable rising before it comes.”
He turned to Simon, his rough cut stone, and to the others.
“But for now, don't even try to tell anyone that I am the Son of God. There is more work to be done before either you, or I, am ready for that.”
And he began to tell them what would happen: That he would go to Jerusalem, be arrested by the Pharisees, tried, crucified, and, on the third day, rise from the dead.
And Peter, still impetuous, still but a small pebble after all in the great stream of God's will, took him aside and to task. “No master, that will never happen to you! We won’t let it. You are the anointed one. Look how you are scaring them. Be positive. God is with you. He will lead you into Jerusalem with trumpets and hosannas and triumph.”
And Y'shua had closed his eyes, sought the God who was with him, heard the raging storm of the world of sin beating at his human heart, heard the whisper of easy victory and ultimate defeat in his ears, and, with a bursting heart for God and starving lungs, come up above it, like one surfacing from John's Jordan baptism.
He took a great breath of God that cleared both head and heart, that filled him to the brim once more...
“Get behind me Satan!”
And he turned to Peter, his little stone. Was it just that the man got one answer right and thought he could now teach the teacher? No, there was more love there than that, at least the dawn of that love born of rock-faith.
Still, come Holy Fire, come!
“Are you a stumbling stone now? Do you want to trip me up? You are thinking like a man again, little pebble. I must think like God.”
“Listen...” and he turned back to them all, leading Peter by the shoulder. “Here is the way it is. If you want to be with me, you have die to your self life, take your cross, let the sin that is in you be crucified daily, and go where I go. If you want to save your life, you will lose it. If you are willing to lose your life for the Son of Man, then you will find true life.”
He looked out over the hills toward Jerusalem and what he knew waited him there.
“What good does it do any of you to gain the whole world of self satisfaction, even power and glory, and lose your eternal soul? What good thing, what great thing of anything you might gain, will you trade for your immortal soul? “
He looked down, drew in on himself as the future opened.
“I tell you, the Son of Man will come in the Father's glory, with shouts of angles, and he will give each man the good that is due, to those who have trusted the Son of Man and embraced the cross, even eternal life.”
And he turned and looked at his disciples, seeing them now through the eyes of the baptism he knew was coming.
“But I tell you too, there are some standing with me today who will not taste that self-death until they see the Son of Man come in Kingdom glory.”
Oh yes! For better, and for worse, he had his answer.
This is what it meant to be the Son of Man. This is what it must mean to be the Son of God.
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 1:12 NIV)
He turned from them all, the naked need that spoke too often and too loud, that left him, always now, too little of himself, that would have, if he had let it, drawn him off at a draught and left him dry.
The pain, the sheer numbers waiting, the hands reaching for this touch, the ears listening…lusting…for his word to make them well, to make them whole. The misunderstanding, constant, surely half-willful, all but maddened him. The messiah crowd, clamoring, always clamoring, clamoring for a king who, in the end, he knew, they would not willingly serve; and the disciples dense, deaf, and all but blind, it seemed, to what he had to say, to show, to do, to who and what he was; and the hostility! Thinly cloaked in the rhetoric of righteousness or the slippery good manners of the popular holiness, the knee-jerk reaction of the power wielders to what they feared (and rightly) they could not, would not, ever, control. It all got to be too much sometimes and he turned from them, from them all, to go up a hill and pray
In the silence what spoke the loudest, past the peace, beyond the love, through the comfort and utter acceptance, in the opening light at the core... was the need, always the need, the pain, the hopelessness, the aloneness of the people... and the answering sorrow of God, the all-powerful grief that would move heaven and earth, that would pay any price, to make it all right, to meet that need! The huge hurting heart of God his father embraced him, engulfed him, overwhelmed him, until it became, once more, and as it had always been, his own. He came back knowing that, for God, for him, there could be no turning...that to turn at all would be to turn from himself.
And back down among them that renewed knowing, trailing its wisps and tatters of peace, of love and hope and light, was, always, beyond understanding, enough, just enough, to carry him through another day.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. (Matthew 14:22-24 NIV)
He only came down, finally, from the hill where he had gone to pray when the wind off the water took an edge, keening in the trees and rocks as it crested the ridge, cutting the robe tight across his shoulders as he sat, and the occasional mutter of thunder over the lake became a constant growl.
John and James, Peter and the rest, were out there somewhere, laboring over their oars, and the crowd, full of miraculous substance, bread and the fish by the basketful and overflowing, abuzz with misguided messianic zeal, were somewhere half way home by now.
Y’shua considered, for a moment, leaving his single loaf from all the loaves, the one fish from all the fishes, balanced on a rock on the hilltop, an offering, but his mother’s son in him (“the waste, the waste”), as much as his Father’s, would not let him.
With nowhere to carry, he ate as he came, rolling the fish in the bread, filling himself between tentative steps in the dark and the rising wind, stumbling, ankle-bruising shambles over unseen ledges, loose stone on the steep slope, with wonder...
It was good. It was very good, the crust tearing in his teeth, the sharp salt of the fish on his tongue. He had been hungrier than he thought as hungry, perhaps, as anyone in the crowd, and, in the end, just as thankful.
The lake, when he came to it, was a shock. A storm indeed, as only Galilee could breed them. Waves ran every which way, piled over each other, clapped hands, shot water 30 feet in the air, and the wind, gusting from every compass point, wailing louder with each gust, tore the tops off, cast the spray sideways until another wave-front sent it fountaining to the unseen sky.
Y’shua clung to a tree, wet robe whipping, a leaf pinned to the trunk, where the shore shelved down suddenly, a man’s height, to the water below, stunned by the power, exulting in the wild, untamed glory, more than a bit uneasy for the boys out there, just a bit guilty for having sent them.
And it came to him that, if he wanted, he could walk out there, set his foot on the back of a wave and walk up it, shamble down the far-side like the hill...and then it came to him that he should...and then, that he must, if, indeed, he was going to reach the boys in the boat before dawn.
“But why, father? It’s dark here, there is no one to see, why shouldn’t I be like anyone else; wait until morning; take a boat?”
The miracles themselves were too like waves in the sea. He would be lifted on the crest of one until it seemed he would crack the heavens with his head, then drop, precipitously, down the far side, to roll exhausted in the trough, shut in by walls of impossibility, until the next wave caught him, carried him to breathless heights where he lost sight of any and all horizons...and this was so soon.
Each wild ride took something out of him, cost him a bit of himself he was not sure he could afford, left him, each time, a bit more of a sea creature, a bit more uncomfortable on the land.
Oh, there was something in him that responded to the rush, the wave battered exaltation of the creature of storm, the mastery of matter and energy, the astonishment in the eyes of those who could only look on from the safety of the shore.
He was as torn and tossed as the lake before him, but he had his foot on a wave and was 10 feet from shore before he was fully conscious of the decision.
The will to walk and the ability to do it flowed from the same poised center, overflowed, as always, into action to meet a need beyond him.
He went out to find the boys in the boat before dawn, and if that meant walking the waves of his own mind, striding up and down and through the storm of his own doubts first, well, that, in the end, was the only miracle he had ever really done, the only one he would ever do, the one no one would ever see, though he strode across the storms of a thousand Galilees.
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28 NIV)
Peter, standing at the mast after taking down the sail, his face wet with spray from the contrary waves, his robes whipping behind him, couldn’t help, in his fisherman’s heart, but be just a bit disdainful of the landsmen in the boat, his brothers in following Y’shua, his brothers now in distress, caught miles from shore with the wind and the waves against them, hanging over the gunwales, oars loose in their hands, losing their share of what they were already, among themselves, calling “the miracle of the loaves and fishes” over the side.
They would be empty, by the look of it, of the last hint of miracle long before this little teapot tempest blew itself out.
Still, when a wave caught the boat sideways and spun it, he sat down (“fell down” would be more like it) at the foot of the mast. This wasn’t even bad, for Galilee, (though it looked like a worse storm behind them) but this boat (which was not, after all, his own) suddenly didn’t appear as seaworthy as he could have hoped. He didn’t like the way it waddled sidelong into the waves. He didn’t like the way it hung stern down, this moment, untended, into the wind.
Oh, they’d make shore, but it was a long hard row before them. He wished, from the bottom of his fisherman’s heart, that Y’shua were there with them. He couldn’t help but think of that other lake crossing, a year ago, almost two now, it must have been, in a storm worse by far than this. A real Galilee guster that had been, a squall that hit them like a wall and threatened to drown them all, when Y’shua, waking in the back of the boat, with a word, had stilled the waves, had shut off the raging elements as simply as closing a door in the face of the wind.
“Where is your faith?” Y’shua had asked then, and Peter, still with the latest miracle in his stomach (which was a miracle in itself, even he would admit, in this contrary chop) was wondering the same thing.
“Where is my faith? Why can’t I stand and command this wind to be still, or at least to come about out of our faces? Where is my faith without the master?” And what, if it came to that (and with Peter, it always did) was preventing him from doing, at least, what he could do?
He struggled to his feet, stumbled back over the benches to the tiller. “Put your backs into it boys! Row now. If you ever want to see dry clothes and your breakfasts, row!” and he turned the sow of a boat back into the wind. And in turning saw a sight...
As the boat came around, John, pulling his oar like a fisherman, with time to look where he was going (or rather, where he had been) was the first of the others to see.
“What’s that?” he yelled over the wind, and the others, hearing the hint of panic in his voice, looked up from their labor to see where he was pointing out across the waves.
Peter was turned right around on the steersman's bench, the tiller forgotten again, and the boat lurched sideways in the seas.
Between gusts and veils of blown water, a ghostly figure could be seen behind them and off to the starboard, as though a man came, impossibly, walking over the waves, finding an unlikely path between the choppy seas, head wrapped, apparently, in a prayer-shawl like a shroud.
The boat took a bit of wave aboard, and the cold water sloshing around his ankles brought Peter back to the business at hand. “Row!” he yelled. “We may have a ghost behind us, but if you don’t want a cold bath in this lake we’d best get this boat underway.”
The others, though, were useless with wonder on their benches— worse than useless with trembling fear.
Thomas, nearest the mast, stood unsteady and swiped water from his eyes. “It is a ghost! Look how it wavers and beckons.”
“A ghost?” laughed Judas, hysteria just under the words, “rather some tree trunk caught by that storm on the shore, floating upright above its roots. I’ve seen it before.” but he avoided, Peter noticed, looking too closely at what he feared he might see.
John hitched himself forward on his thwart and pushed his oar down out of his way. “It’s Y’shua.” (No disguising the joy in his voice.) “It’s the master. Our teacher comes.”
Peter spun back. It did, whatever it was, have the look of the master, as though he had wished him up, as though the sea, ever contrary, was delivering him up to Peter’s hope, as though he needed this one more proof that Y’shua was more than a man, more than Peter could ever hope to be. That prayer shawl, certainly, was very like the one he had last seen on the shore when Y’shua sent them off, the one he had pulled up over his head as he climbed the hill to pray.
“But, he can’t be dead...the master...” “We saw him alive at sundown and it isn’t far past midnight yet.” “He can’t be dead.” “He can’t be here.” “There are miles of water between us, the storm back there, and surely not the gates of death.”
Their wailing and gibbering was enough to drown out the wind.
“Be still. Take courage.”
They heard the voice come to them, over the water, thinned by the wind, but speaking, variously, right into their hearts.
“It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter stood and the words were ripped from his throat by a hope more wild than the wind itself. “If it is you Lord, command me to come to you over the waves!”
Andrew, on the bench next to John, reached out to grab Peter’s robe from behind. “What are you thinking, man? Do you want to drown? Are you crazy?”
Peter turned back to them, his face a reflection of the sea around them, wild, choppy with winds from within. He would, by God, this time, do what Y’shua did, or die trying.
John leaned over the gunwale. He’d lost sight of the figure in waves when Peter stood and, somehow, he needed to see.
A single word. Perhaps a hand lifted in gesture, in the dark it was hard to tell. And Peter stepped over the side.
Andrew lunged again to stop him, missed his hold on his brother’s robe, and fell to his knees in the bottom of the boat.
When Peter’s foot touched the water everything he knew about the world changed. It was as though, while his eyes and ears still inhabited the world of his experience, his feet had entered some other realm, a place where water was as solid as stone, though it moved.
The first few steps his balance was all off, but then he got, as only a fisherman can, his sea legs under him (it was not so far different, at that, from walking the deck of a tossing ship) and the next steps came easier. The trick, as ever at sea, was to keep your eyes on where you were going and let your body take care of itself, feeling the way with your feet, letting the legs flex loose and your hips follow and flow, and he was a good ten paces from the boat before he even began to wonder how it was done.
A distant flash of lightning illuminated the storm behind them and he heard, suddenly, the wind wailing around them, singing in the stays of the mast behind, and he knew, just as suddenly, just exactly what he was doing.
He looked down at his feet, at the dark glassy water fathoms deep beneath them and knew it was impossible for flesh and blood to stand where he stood, and, in knowing, sank.
The cold waters of the lake closed over his head once before he bobbed up like a cast cork float, his robes still buoyant and full of air, and cried out, “Save me Lord!” (For, of course, like most men who make their living at sea, he could not swim.)
In the instant, Y’shua was there, grabbing him by the hair, the hand, hauling him up out of the waves, hurling him, dripping, over the side and into the boat where he lay gasping (how else can you say it?) on the floor boards like a fish.
Y’shua prodded him with an impatient toe. “Where is your faith, man!?”
Peter heard it like an echo out of that other storm, heard again his failure, heard, and heard, and heard.
“Why did you doubt?”
And the wind died, and the boat, impossibly, grounded on the shore.
James reached out to touch Peter’s shoulder. He coughed and stirred.
And then they all turned, as one, to look at Y’shua, this man who walked on water, scrambled about in the boat, regardless of its rocking here in the shallows, to touch him, to fall to their knees in the sloshing water on the duck boards, to clasp hands, and worship.
“Truly,” they said (and meant it in the moment, though they knew not what they meant) “you must be the son of God.”
All but Peter, dripping in the stern, alone with the evidence of his failure, still awash in his fear.
“Oh yes,” he said, though none of them heard him, “you are God’s son, that I have reason and reason to know. But what am I? What does that make the rest of us?”
The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them.....That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge people toward receptive insight. (Matthew 13:10-13 The Message)
It was Peter who came, predictably, one evening as they camped like caravaners, in the hills above Bethsaida, to ask, “Y’shua, why do you make it so hard? Why do you speak always in these stories, these riddles? Sometimes you say things no man can understand, things no man can swallow. Oh, we know you, now, know there’s more to what you say than meets the ear, but who can hear when you talk of cutting off the hand that offends, millstones hung around necks, eating your flesh, drinking your blood, taking the cross and dying to ourselves, when you make yourself a spring of living water, and us the light of the world, when you say you will be killed, crucified, like a common thief, and yet live.
“I tell you it makes no sense to most people. I see the crowds. I am out there with them. They shake their heads and walk away. They can’t hear you when you speak to them that way. Wouldn’t it be better to just say what you mean? Explain it all in simple words anyone can understand?
“Take my advice Y’shua, speak plain, forget the fancy stuff, forget the parables and poetry, and you’ll see this ragtag crowd of followers turn into an army overnight.”
“And take the nation the next day.” this from Simon the Zealot, no more than a pair of burning eyes and listening ears across the fire.
And now, two hours later, Y’shua sat by the dying coals, listening to the night breath and the snores of his disciples where they slept beneath their cloaks, and wondered about words...
What was it in him that delighted, yes delighted, in confounding those who listened? He could hear his own words. He knew what he was doing. He didn’t seem to be able to help himself.
Why was he always pushing, trying to trip them up, to send them stumbling backward over their own so cautious boundaries, trying to shove them off the jury-built walls of their own understanding where they stood, so sure of themselves, to judge him?
He was like a little boy playing verbal tag, keeping intentionally a step ahead of them, taunting them, “catch me if you can, you dunderheads, you stumble-foots, blind men, you herd of hard-of-hearing cripples. Let’s see if you can catch me and wrap me up in my own words as you think you have God.”
He loved the parables. He loved the look of mystification on their faces, and the sudden light as one here, and another there, got it, as the lightning of inspiration and insight leapt from him to some single soul in the crowd and he caught an eye that was open right down to the living heart.
He loved to see the children light up, blaze up, while their elders stood behind wooden faces and sorted words like so much kindling, with no intention, even, of lighting the fire.
He loved the way the women’s eyes came out from behind the veils, sideways, as though his words, telling the truth of scripture, tickled something inside their minds, while the hidebound scholars of the law wrapped themselves so deep in doctrine that no one could find their soft spot, the place where they were still ticklish enough to jump when touched.
He loved the way the crowd crowed when he did manage to trip up the masters of the tongue, the professional talkers the Pharisees and the Sadducees sent against him, when he managed to beat them at their own game, to turn them upside down and inside out so their dirty linen showed.
It was no wonder Peter grumbled. Peter, solid as stone, who prided himself in being nobody’s fool, yet suspected that anyone who so much as smiled was laughing at him: he would be the one most offended by the fun of it all.
And yet there was always the sound of truth when the Rock spoke.
No, the problem, if there was a problem, was that the poems and parables were words of spirit spoken into a world too much in the flesh.
And yet, there were ears, an ear here, an open heart there, never many, never those you would expect, always a surprise, always a blessing, but a few in each crowd, that, past all understanding, heard.
Maybe that had to be enough.
Y’shua sighed, unfolded his feet toward what was left of the fire. He shifted his whole body closer to the coals, poked at them with a twig, then stretched out beside them on his back, seeking the hollows of the ground for his hips and spine, hands under his head, elbows out, eyes to the night sky and the stars.
Sometimes he felt as though he was nothing more than a single word spoken, like one of those stars, into the darkness, a living word, a word of pure illumination, intended to name once and for all this thing called man, and so make sense at last of all the world.
Sometimes he could almost hear the word, sometimes almost understand it—but it was in a language, apparently, that no man knew, least of all him (he shuddered, fearing for a second that the language was his broken flesh and bone, his blood that so confounded Peter, sprinkled, poured out on an altar built of living hearts).
Sometimes the word sounded like judgment and justice, like accusation and condemnation; sometimes it sounded like the thrust and parry of reason, like the final convincing argument in the great debate of human thinking; sometimes it sounded like it might almost be the kind of humor that binds friend to friend, that bridges the silence of our true regard for one another, the kind of gentle joshing that pushes those we trust to be their best; sometimes it sounded like all of that in one— but always, at the root of it, deep in the articulation of it, in the way it shaped the tongue and breath and pulled the heart right out of the body— sounded the impossible yearning to be understood; to be taken at the word and trusted; the call to come to the open arms, the open heart, the amazing and wonderful embrace that was true oneness; to be named and known at last; to be the Child of the Living God.
In the end, inescapably, impossibly, the word was “love.”
And, by his Father God, if he had to batter down the walls of men’s thinking, if he had to run around the end of his listeners’ defenses with stories and poems, if he, and it might well come to that, had to break himself against the walls of man’s prejudice and doubt, then...well then, so be it.
The word would be heard. The word had been spoken into the world. Nothing, not doubt, or darkness, or death itself, could silence it now!
From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Master, master, Son of David, my daughter is cruelly afflicted by an Evil Spirit.” (Matthew 15: 21-22 The Message)
They said, all of them, her fellow servants, that she was as crazy as her daughter.
“And what makes you think he, a Jew, will listen to you, will help the likes of us, servants, natives, Canaanites, why we are less than dogs to them.” “You know how it is, we are good enough to work in their houses, but we don’t eat at the same table. We are good enough to wash their dirty underclothes, but not to touch their daughters or their food. Half the time they don’t even see us, we are so invisible. They live in our land, taken from our fathers, and yet we are nothing and they, with their holy god, are everything. They can’t afford to see us. We remind them of what they were when they came here. Vagabonds. Thieves. Robbers. Coming with their army and their Egyptian swords, and taking whatever they wanted. He won’t help you. You’re crazy to think he will.”
And their eyes slipped sideways to the door of the daughter’s room, a solid leather, roped shut. You could hear her singing in there, sometimes a gentle hum, wordless as bees in a bottle, sometimes a driven chant, with no more sense to it, sometimes a wailing lament or a viscous rant accompanied by the crashing of her body, or anything she could lay hold of, against the walls.
The village children, though, as mother, she did her best to keep them off, and though their own mothers warned them, gathered, too often, under the one high window of the room, taunting, calling names, mocking her, her songs, until she would leap up and hang on the sill, frothing at the mouth, hair wild, and scream inarticulate curses at them.
The fright only fed their laughter as they ran.
They couldn’t know, any of them, what it was like, day in and day out, to live in the house with her. In her violent times: the danger, the disgust, the despair; in her quiet times the bottomless grief for this little girl lost, for this child snatched away, stolen as surely as the land of Canaan was, by the demons who devoured her soul.
They couldn’t know what it was like to clean up after her fits; to try to keep her from killing herself (or her mother); to wash her bruises and bind her sprains and sometimes broken bones; to bathe and bandage, once a day, twice a day, the poor bloody nail-less shreds of the fingers she battered and scraped hour after hour against the brick and stone in her madness—trying to pull out something to throw? Trying to dig her way to freedom form whatever lived inside?
They couldn’t know what it was to see her hunched over that filthy rag doll, crooning, and then, when her mother’s heart was open and tender, to see her turn so that the beast inside glared and too often leapt at her, trying to—who knew—to pull her mother in to the madness, to catch hold of her to pull herself out, but she, but neither of them, were strong enough for that.
So she took her staff and a skin of water and hiked down the trail to the valley where rumor, even after a single day, had this miracle man, this wonder worker, this Jewish preacher or prophet or whatever he was, had him hiding inside the Pharisee's house from the fanatics in Jerusalem, from that whole temple crowd.
A servant hears it all, unfiltered, the private talk, the family talk, no more visible, no more to be thought of, than the household dogs underfoot.
And she found him, wormed her way in past his disciples, carrying a loose jug of water for his washing, invisible again, and she laid hold of his robe, and said, “Master, Son of David as they say you are, help me.”
He turned and, almost, saw her, but then the disciples rushed in from the outer room, and threw her out.
“Master,” she cried, as they delivered her to household servants, “my daughter is tormented by a demon. Rescue her if you can.”
But he didn’t say a word.
So she haunted the house. She set up camp in the courtyard. She cried her request to every passerby, and clung to every disciple, entering or leaving, hounded them around the city on their errands, until they went to the Master for her, until they carried her plea just to be rid of her.
Maybe she was as crazy as her daughter.
And Y’shua, well he had come out to the edge here, to the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon, the shore of the great sea, to a little fishing village between the cities, to get away, to think, to try to figure it all out, to make sense of what was happening to him. It was pretty clear already that things were not going the way he had hoped they would. His people, his very disciples, seemed deaf and blind to the things God was really saying, to the work God was really trying to do.
They wanted miracles, oh yes, healings, wonderful feasts out of nothing, taking charge of the elements, but they wanted, when you came right down to it, no part of him, of who he was, Son of God and Son of man. They wanted, when you came right down to it, too much of God’s blessing and not enough of God himself.
He began to wonder if the people of Israel, God’s chosen, would hear him at all. He walked a fine line here, or was tempted to, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, between the Roman sympathizers and the zealots, between those who hungered after God without knowing what they hungered for, and those who claimed to know God, but who were already full up, self-satisfied, fat with what they thought they knew.
What did it all mean? Where was it all going?
So he hid himself away in the home this good Pharisee opened to him, hoping for a few days of quiet, of no miracles, no notoriety, while he pestered his Father in heaven for an answer.
Which is, perhaps, why he was so quick to say, when the disciples brought him the crazy Canaanite woman, “Don’t I have enough to do, rounding up the lost sheep of Israel?”
He was on a bench along the back wall of the inner room, bent over, teasing a puppy with the tassel of his robe, and he didn’t even really look up until she threw herself at his feet, among the dogs he was petting.
“Master help me.”
He glanced up now, took her in at a glance, her dusty robes, her disheveled hair, her Canaanite features, “Shouldn’t the children eat all they want first? It wouldn’t be right to throw their bread to the house dogs.”
And he stood, ready to move on to more important matters.
She, in her desperation, grabbed his robe in both hands, hanging on, like the puppy on the tassel. “Yes Master, but the little dogs who beg under the table come in hope of the crumbs the children always drop.”
He laughed out loud.
Now he saw her, really saw her for the first time, the desperation, the pain, the hope, the pleading eyes and tenacious faith and knew, like Jacob in the hills above Edom, she would not let him go...and something broke in him, some hope he had held since boyhood, that, somehow, impossibly, he would be the one prophet his people would really listen too, that somehow the message of God the Father would sweep through his chosen people and they would be reborn, renewed, filled and let loose once more to do the will of God, to gather the nations.
But he saw in the woman’s eyes, in her wild hold on him, in her alien features, the hunger he had come to satisfy. He caught a glimpse of the future, of what it would take to gather the nations: the lost of all the world gathered at the foot of a cross, before an empty tomb, in the streets and homes and halls, as the message of love, life out of death, brought them in, out of all the world, to the kingdom of the Father.
He looked from her to the waiting disciples, to his Pharisee hosts, “Woman,” he said, “you have great faith. Let it be as you hope.”
And he knew she would find her daughter sane and safe at home, asleep on her bedding, ready to begin the long slow climb to a life of service, of use, to God, his Father, and hers.
And he wondered why it was that the children, who had a right to the whole feast, should settle, always, for the crumbs, like little dogs cowering under the table, while the wild dogs, the not yet chosen, should clamber and beg and whine and pester for just a touch, a bone, of the God they barely knew.
And he suspected, now, the wild dogs just might end up, not with crumbs, but with the better part of the meal.
And he knew at last that he wasn't the one prophet his people would listen to, that they weren’t, in the end, hungry enough for God.
He watched the Canaanite woman go, regretting, already, that he had ever called her a dog, only beginning, now, to be able to see her as a child.
Well, it was a lesson he would learn, a lesson he was sure the Father, now, would teach him, though it should cost him, in the end, his life.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21 NIV)
Their mother put them up to it, of course, seeking, with her good heart, place and power for her sons.
James, the more thunderous of the sons of thunder, seized the suggestion and his impetuous argument carried John, who might have known better, along.
“At my right hand…” said Y’shua, looking at John…“and my left…” he looked at James.
He was seated, cross legged on the ground, and his amusement looked up aslant at them. Suddenly overcome with uncertainty, both James and John dropped their eyes.
“Your mother has been before you with the plea…”
The other disciples, having overheard the mother’s request, edged up around. It was a matter of interest to them all.
Peter, with a sneer: “Pretty bold, aren’t you boys…fish scales still under your fingernails and you want to climb up on the throne…”
The others nodded and murmured their agreement. Y’shua silenced them all with a lift of his eyebrows, reaching back in his mind to boyhood and brothers and a woven crown, remembering, and forward through pain into the darkness that hid the star-burst sunrise too bright for human eyes, remembering.
“You do not know what it means to serve a servant king…”
John shivered. Peter snorted and shook the chill off, but he could not meet Y’shua’s eye.
The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push them away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hand of blessing on them. (Mark 10:13-16 The Message)
Wherever he went it seemed this ragtag rabble of little boys, this gaggle of giggling girls, with knobby knees and dusty robes, followed him about, preceded him whenever possible, danced around him raising dust, were, generally, forever in the way and underfoot.
They were at the forefront of every crowd, worming their way among the feet of their elders to stand at his, to reach, to touch his robe, his hand, to hug his leg, to climb, as often as not, up into his lap.
He was constantly bending to scoop one up, brushing them gently off any bench he wanted to sit on, stumbling over them at every turn.
He called them his little disciples, though they came and went like water, an inconstant sea of changing faces, altering with every town he passed through, alike only in their mixture of eagerness and mischief, in their open eyed wonder and unchecked delight, and in their need—their need, always, to be noticed, to be loved.
It was Peter, who saw them with a somewhat jaded father’s eye, and Judas, who saw them with the eyes of an intentional bachelor, who decided, finally, that day to shoo them away, to create a little space where Y’shua could get on with the important work, could proclaim, without these human crumbs cluttering his way, the coming of the Kingdom of God.
“Oh let them come to me, for the kingdom certainly belongs to them.”
And seeing the confusion, the consternation, in his disciples’ eyes, he added,
“I tell you the truth...unless you become like one of these you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.”
And they all turned, somewhat shocked, and looked at the crowd of children around them.
Peter, who had his own brood at home, saw, mostly, the mischief he was supposed, as a father and a responsible adult, to contain, to train out of them, the million questions he did not have the answer to, and the few he did, which, in their child’s too wise wisdom, were exactly the ones with answers they would never believe from his mouth.
He saw the mouths to be fed, the bodies to be clothed, the futures to be provided for, and he felt that awful mix of responsibility, of duty, and that total inadequacy, that helplessness, which we humans are heir to in Adam. He saw in them, not so much what it was to be a child, as what it was to be an adult.
Judas looked and saw the unwashed, unlettered, unruly rabble of other peoples’ get, this mass of undifferentiated snotty nosed rebellion, thoughtless, heedless, mindless, grasping, greedy, wild, without restraint or sense, a hopeless horde, a heard of trouble waiting to happen, and was ready to deny he had risen from the same species as these, much less would end up anywhere where they might be going.
John looked at the children and saw...well, he saw himself...his need to be loved by the master, his thousand questions that could only be answered by being in the presence of Y’shua, his trust that it would all, somehow, in the end come out right because his Father would make it so—and he laughed out loud to think that someday they would all play around the fountain of grace together, splashing the living waters in each other’s faces, running in the sun of pure love until the wind of the spirit combed their hair dry and they sat down to the unending feast of the lamb, hungry as only children can be, and ate all they could possibly hold...and still (and his mouth watered to think of it) had room for dessert...
He couldn’t wait. And, of course, in his child’s heart, he was half way there already.
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:46-47 NIV)
His granddaughter lead him by the hand that morning, no different than a thousand mornings before, down two streets, across the courtyard, around the corner, along the wall a mile or more to the Roman Way, where he sat, day by day, among the other beggars at the South Gate of Jericho.
He didn’t really need the money, the coins the occasional traveler cast. He still had his shed by the wall of his son-in-law’s stable, and a share of whatever was on his daughter’s table, the kind hands and gentle voices of his grandkids to lead him, to light his waking and make his evenings bright with occasional laughter...but he enjoyed the competition, the rough-edged banter at the Gate, the tough camaraderie of the crippled there at the road side, the resilience, the stubborn independence, of these alike in misfortune.
It gave him something to do.
Legless Joe, Palsied Mary, The Shaker, The Skin Man and the two boys he was training to the trade, Bloody Patches, Ben Broken Bone who could dislocate any joint at will, and...why not?... to complete the set, Old Blind Bartimaeus.
Not that he had always been blind. The darkness had crept up on him sometime past his 40th year, after his wife died (thank the Good Lord, she had never seen him so), just a gradual graying of the world until one morning he knew no day would ever come again.
He had worked right up to the last. A leather man he was, and a good one, a tanner who turned out a solid, supple hide, a good harness, and a decent sandal, (he still stitched a sole now and again for one of the grandchildren, the fingers knew)—but oh, he had taken the blindness hard at first.
“Why?” he wanted to know, same as anyone would, “Why me? What have I done? To lose a wife and now my eyes?”
Job was ever before him. It was a book he’d never had much patience with, that, and Lamentations, but now...
Still, the weeks passed, and he didn’t, despite himself, die of it.
Then his daughter, out of pity and duty and, he could hope, at least a little love, installed him in his shed, and his son-in-law said, half joking, after seeing him around the stable yard all day for a week sitting idle in the sun, “Why not get yourself down to the South Gate. At least there someone might toss you a coin while you feel sorry for yourself.”
And he thought, “Why not? What else am I good for?”
His daughter it was who had lead him there first, grumbling all the way: “the shame, the shame,” but he insisted. The oldest grandchild was not yet of an age to be out by himself, ten years ago it must have been, and now three grand-guides later, he suspected he could find the way to the gate himself if he had to...and his daughter never said no to the coins he brought back.
He was able, on feast days, to slip a little something to the grandkids, he couldn’t see their smiles, but he could hear their voices as they ran off to the market with their treasure and it made it, he had to admit, worth living.
Truth was, he was blessed, and he knew it. He gave half his take, more often than not, to whoever among the brothers and sisters of misfortune was having a bad day—had put more coin in the Poor and the Temple Box by the synagogue door since being blind than ever he had while working. At sundown the grand-guide was always there to lead him home. He had a little love, a little respect among his comrades at the Gate, a warm place to sleep, he could still feel the sun on his face, feel the breeze, hear the birds at dawn and the City like a great hive alive all about him.
He could journey in imagination with the travelers coming in and going out through the Jericho gate...
Yes, most days, he could still say, “God is good!” and mean it.
And today—today was no different than a thousand days before: Except that the rumor of this traveler’s coming preceded him across the city. Within moments of his entering the north Gate, the boys had it at the south. “Y’shua, the prophet of Nazareth, is coming down the Roman Way. His disciples are all around him and the crowd follows like a little army on the march.” “They say he healed a man crippled from birth up by the lake, and cast a hundred demons out.” “They say he eats with sinners and has whores in his following.” “They say he pulls fish out of thin air, and bread right up out of the stones.” “They say he’ll drive the Romans out with heaven’s fire (whatever that is...lightning...you think?) and plant the kingdom of peace.” “They say he made a leper clean.” “They say he’s on his way to Jerusalem to tear the temple down.” “They say he is a good man.” “They say he is a deceiver.” “They say he is the messiah.” “They say he has a devil.” “They say he is Eliajh come again.” “They say he forgives sin.”
Bartimaeus listened, and as he listened a strange conviction grew in him, an unaccustomed excitement, a hope all but too tender to touch. “Has he healed a blind man yet?” he asked the air around him, but no one knew.
Palsied Mary cackled, “Well, if he cast demons out, what’s a bit of darkness to him? You just ask him Bart, and see if he don’t.”
And they all laughed. Ben Bones shook his arm until it rattled loose and hung, while he did a little shuffling dance in the dust, “We should all ask him. Maybe he’d be in a mood to clear the Gate and send us all home whole.”
“And maybe he’ll stuff our mouths with miracle loaves and fish while he’s at it, until we’re all as fat as Herod, hey?” laughed one of Skin Man’s boys.
Oh, they could laugh all they wanted.
Bartimaeus, suddenly, more than anything he had ever wanted, wanted his eyes, wanted to see this Y’shua, wanted to see the day that brought the hope of Israel down among them.
And then he was there.
The forward fringe of the crowd stumbled backward into the beggars’ court—someone stepped on Legless Joe’s hand and he shoved her off with a curse, and Blind Bartimaeus hitched himself higher where he sat.
“Y’shua,” he yelled, “son of David, have mercy on me!” And with the cry his heart went out. “Y’shua, son of David, have mercy.”
“Shush your mouth, Bart” said the Skin Man.
The Shaker put a restraining hand on Bartimaeus’ shoulder. “You’ll have the gu-gu-guard on us.”
And they were all on him, his comrades and those who led the crowd. “Be quiet man.” “Shut your gape, beggar.”
Bartimaeus leaned forward, straining as though to see through his own darkness and doubt and the mass of the crowd to where Y’shua walked.
“Y’shua, son of David, have mercy on me!” He was loud. He was insistent. And he put all his anguish, all the disappointment, all the despair he thought he had buried into his voice. “Have mercy. Y’shua. Here’s your chance. Heal me. I am blind. Give me my eyes if you can. There is a wonder to make the world notice. Have mercy on me!”
Y’shua turned to John and Peter deep in the heart of the crowd. “Who is that shouting? What does he say?”
“It is some blind man, master.” And someone in the Jericho contingent added, “Old Blind Bart who sits by the gate with the cripples...a beggar, nothing more.”
Y’shua closed his own eyes and in the flashing color behind his lids he saw a face, saw the clouded corneas, saw the simple hope and faith. “Yes Father. I see.” He turned again to the disciples. “Call him here.”
And Peter went to get him, while the crowd swirled and churned around Y’shua like a stream around a sudden rock.
The rumor ran ahead of Peter mouth to mouth. “He’s calling you.” they told Bart. “Y’shua wants you.” “Get up and go to him man.” chided Palsied Mary.
And Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and staggered to his feet.
Peter took him by the hand and led him to Y’shua. With each step the memory of what it had been like to see became more real for Bartimaeus, colors invaded the darkness of his imagination, faces, the flash of the sun on water, clouds at sunset across the horizon, the iridescent sheen of the feathers in dove’s breast, the delicate plume of frost from his wife’s lips on a cold morning, and a great ache took him when he thought of the grand-guides who’s smiles he had never seen.
“God is good.” he mumbled, “God is good.” and he held his hope in his hands as they took him to this man of Nazareth, this Y’shua, this son of David.
“What is it that you want from me?”
And Bartimaeus—God is good!—told him.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10: 38-40 NIV)
Oh he saw her all right, trying to catch his, or someone else’s eye, trying her best, it would seem, to draw attention to herself. He couldn’t help but notice her as she bustled into, and out of, the room where he talked, where he taught—setting the jar down just a shade too hard on the table, scuffing the rug smooth at her unseeing sister’s elbow, swirling the skirts of her robe right over her unresponsive sister’s feet, and the looks...the stares...the glares...he could only be glad he wasn’t the object of any of them, or not yet anyway.
He knew it was only a matter of time.
And what to tell her? She was justifiably put out, her best room full of strangers, hospitality heavy upon her—he saw her coming in with flour on her hands; he heard her sending servants running to the wine shop, to the root cellar for cheese, to store room for olives—such a great rattle pots in the kitchen, and the stove stoked up at midday as though for a feast...
And her sister, there in the corner at the back, (you couldn’t miss the likeness, younger to older) caught as she passed through on her way, apparently, to the well, by something he was saying, hooked on some word or phrase, sucked in by the gathering spirit that filled the room to the rafters, that flowed out from him today, these days, in his words, in his gestures, in his eyes and hands, and lapped his listeners, any and all, these final weeks, with ears to hear the good news of a gracious and holy God.
And there she was, still, sunk down on her skirts, intent, the jug still in her hands, listening deep, filling herself instead of the jar...and at the well of living water at that.
What could he say?
Certainly the elder had the right of it, there was work to be done, mouths to feed, the householder’s guest-right to be fulfilled—and she had, for the honor of it, asked him, and all with him, into her home, there was the form to be filled, the obligation to be executed, the expectation to be met...but it was all in the attitude, regardless, really of the sister, the excess bustle and bother, the hold-tight, busy self-importance, the being full to the exclusion of all else with the care and the fret, and then, on top of all that, not a little self-righteous indignation at being left by her sister with the work...at being so ill-used—the martyred looks, the obvious half-heartedness, double-mindedness, of it all.
All this ran through his own mind, in the silences between words, like a fly buzzing around his ear.
So, when she came, finally, and put it to him, face to face, he thought he was ready for her question: “Don’t you care, master, that my sister has left me all the work?”
And in an instant, in the tone of her voice, in the slant of her head as she spoke, in the way she propped her hand on her hip, his whole perception of the situation changed. What she was really asking, of course, was, “What kind of man are you, then, to claim holiness...Aren’t you, after all, just another empty talker taking good folk from their business, preaching idleness…another man at the gates with nothing better to do, and a wife at home, no doubt, running the farm and the shop? What kind of master, what kind of holy messenger from God, doesn’t notice the injustice right around him, the unfairness of a younger sister to her elder in their own home?”
He had been there two hours and she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. She was one, so far, with the too common cry: “Mercy for me, and justice for everyone else.”
So he answered her: “Martha, Martha, you are too bothered about too many things. Only one thing is needed. Your sister Mary has chosen the better part and I will not take it from her...”
And let her just make of that what she would, though Mary, of course, jumped up and ran for the well, and the mood was broken, the listeners suddenly guests again, and conscious of their mortal duty.
And Martha, hot under his eye, stood there, hearing, without doubt, the rebuke in his words and not liking it one bit, but then, she had asked for it, she had it coming; every instance of mercy, no matter how free it might seem, must be founded on justice— requires a payment in blood, an extraordinary surrender of self—and he would not back down from that, would not allow the good news to be less than it was, to be measured by its utility, by how much freedom it left a person with to get on with “real life,” with the important stuff, with fulfilling expectations and obligations, with that suspicious fairness (not justice) that always, as far as he could see, disguised self-interest.
You had, finally, to know when it was time to lay it all down. You had, finally, to know what really mattered.
He patted the floor at his side, inviting her to come and join them, to join him, to take the seat of honor, and with a final glare at her sister, at the crowd and the crowded room all around, at the half laid table, at him...with an actual tear in her eye, and a groan of real pain in her throat...she did.
And that, in the end, was all, for her or anyone, that really mattered.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”(Matthew 21:1-3 NIV)
They came, two of them, Galilean by the sound of them, rough handed, fishermen maybe, not men to be trusted, while his back was turned, there in the stable yard, and, bold as brass, untied the colt and started off with him. The jenny kicked up at that, and he turned in time to catch them before they got out of the yard.
“Here, where do you think your going with my colt?”
Well, didn’t they look just silly, hanging their heads, caught in the act, but they didn’t let go of colt, just kind of sidled around behind it, putting it between them and him, and by now the jenny had pulled loose and was snuffling them, the friendly fool, getting in the way, just eager not to be left behind if the colt was going, and he’d had to slap her rump to move her, but he finally got hold of the tether and said, “What do you think your doing, stealing a man’s property in broad daylight? I’ll have the guard on you if you don’t let go.”
Oh there were two of them and one of him and they were that burly with hauling nets (he’d been right about the fish, you couldn’t quite get the smell out though you took a fisherman 100 miles from the sea), but justice was on his side, and just let anyone try to take his colt right under his very eye, he’d have them on the cobbles, he would, muscle or no!
Not but what they looked meek enough now, and uncertain, (though again, hanging tight to that tether)...“The Master needs him...” said the taller of the two, and the shorter just nodded, as though that explained it all.
And then, just that sudden, an image came to mind, a memory of a rumor of a hint of thought. Something clicked, Galileans and fishermen and Masters. “Do you mean this Y’shua, this healer who’s preaching God’s kingdom come? Is it him as wants the colt.....?”
And they nodded, smiling now, relieved as all get out that he knew, at least, the Master’s name. They’d been afraid, clearly, they’d been sent on a fool’s errand, or worse.
And he heard himself say, hardly believing it, “Well why didn’t you say so...” and he stepped back and watched them lead the colt away (his mother following like a parade) and then, (like a parade indeed) he’d followed himself.
That was hours ago, and here he was on the Jericho road, and the crowd was amazing: like the arrival of a new procurator, like the coming of an army, and every idle citizen in Jerusalem, it seemed, was out here along the road...and what, at that, was he doing here himself?
And then he saw him coming, over a little rise, saw the colt with the jenny still following, saw the man on the colt’s back, and it was like sunup on the sweet dews of spring in his heart, like a fresh breeze after days of sweltering heat in the summer, like the smell of rain running ahead of the storm across the waste south of the city, and he was shouting with the crowd, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And some of them had palm branches, though he didn’t know where they got them (or the nerve to rip them off someone else’s trees), and they were laying them ahead of the colt’s hoofs (his colt’s hoofs), and he had nothing, no branch to lay, so he shucked off his outer robe, quick, and laid it in the dust and stepped back out of the colt’s way, and this Y’shua looked him right in the eye, and nodded, and he knew he knew, this Y’shua, whose colt he rode, that he was seen for who he was and known, and a blessing rose up in him and he reached out to touch the Master’s leg where it hung down almost to the ground.
And the jenny, the stupid beast, shouldered him out of her way as she pushed alongside the colt. At least she had the grace to look back, guilty, at the one who fed her, who groomed her...and he knew, then, in the look in her eye, and the leap of his heart, what it was to be compelled by love to follow.
He left his cloak right there in the road and went after Y’shua on into the city, shouting all the way, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The colt was safe back in the stable (and the jenny with her) when he finally returned that night...but he never had another rider.
When they crucified the Galilean, when the rumor went around that he had risen as he said he would, he said to the wife, though he didn’t know quite why he said it... “We’ll just keep that colt, and pasture him.
You never know. The Master might have need of him if he comes this way again!”
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14 NIV)
Y’shua, in the dawn following a hot dry day on the road, and an afternoon on the back of a donkey, flush with the adulation of the crowd, the palm branches, the cloaks and garments laid down, the loud hosannas, the stone shouts of praise torn from a thousand throats, humbled (and just a bit frightened) by the naked hunger for salvation, by their mistaken idea of a Messiah, and (if truth were told) hungry himself (he had not eaten since the noon before), saw, off to the left in a sheltered spot against a garden wall on the way in from Bethany, a fig tree, already in full leaf.
He turned, his mouth watering in anticipation, and hurried across the field while his disciples, wondering, followed. Stepping out of the early sun into the shade of the tree he searched up among the branches, first with eyes, and then, unbelieving, with hands...no figs...not a one. He scanned the ground, walked, eyes down, all the way around the trunk. Disappointment turned the saliva in his mouth sour.
“May no one will ever eat figs from you again!”
It was a curse, deep and bitter, full of the anger, the fear, the disappointment of these final days in the City of God, his final days, he had to suspect, on earth.
“But master,” Peter, ever practical and to the point, “it isn’t the season for figs yet.”
Y’shua turned and faced him, hands at his sides.
“Nor is it the season for leaves, yet this tree has the right look. Is it too much to ask, then, Peter, for fruit out of season, early or late?”
He reached up and grasped a branch over head.
“Where, Peter, is the green fruit of the coming crop? Look about. Shouldn’t there be at least a wasp blown corpse of sweetness left over from a former age of fruitful glory?”
He sank down, squatted on his heals, and drew, as was his habit when thinking, in the dirt with a twig.
“Is every tree in Jerusalem, then, like its people, having the look of life all year but producing goodness only in season?”
He looked up.
“Tell me, Peter, which is the season of righteousness? What months mark off the season of grace?”
He stood, turned back and shook the branch sharply.
“Oh Jerusalem, I shake you like a fig to loose your fruit. You are planted, sheltered, in the crook of God’s arm, and you have, always, the look of life about you. Where, oh Jerusalem is your fruit?”
He turned and looked Peter in the eye.
“Surely hope, at least, should know no season...and hope disappointed is an awful thing!”
And he stalked off, maybe just a bit embarrassed, back to the road and on to his appointment with his destiny, with his anger, in the temple.
The next morning, on the way back from another night at Bethany, the disciples, full of chatter, full of plans for Y’shua’s triumph, for the coming kingdom, (for even then, they knew no better), came suddenly abreast of the garden wall and stopped, staring.
“Teacher,” said Peter, with naked awe in his voice, “the tree you cursed is withered.”
Judas pushed his way between John and Peter to the edge of the road, (this he had to see for himself) and turned back to Y’shua. “How can this be, master? It was green only yesterday.”
Y’shua came, silent, to stand beside him with his hand on his shoulder to stare across the field. He was as surprised as any of them.
“Have faith in God.” he murmured, so low only Judas heard it. He walked across the field, slower this time, to the tree—bent, picked up and crushed a dry leaf in his hand. He took a long shuddering breath, just at the edge of a cry.
“Have faith in God.” he said, more strongly, looking up through the bare branches. “I tell you that if you said to this mountain,” and he turned, sweeping his hand up and out, scattering the dust of the leaf, to take in the Mount of Olives behind them, “go throw yourself in the sea, and believed, without doubt, that it would happen, then it would be done for you, and such a splash! Whatever you ask for, if you believe, will be yours.”
He put his hand on the trunk of the tree, green and growing only a day before, and bowed his head.
“Be careful, then, what you ask for.”
There was fire in his eye and a rumble of distant thunder in his voice when he turned again.
“If you have anything against anyone, before you pray, forgive them. You will, yourselves, want the Father’s forgiving. Remember this.”
And he turned once more to look at the fig tree.
“Though God has every right, when the leaf is green—and you will be green if I am in you and you are in me—to expect fruit: you will want more mercy, more patience, more faith, than I showed my Father’s fig this day.”
He turned back to look down the road to the city.
“What hope, then for Jerusalem? What hope for me...?”
“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” (Mark 11:15-17 NIV)
He came out from the turmoil of toppled tables scattered coins, shattered crockery, freed goats, broken cages doves that made the air white with their frantic wings, the shouting and running, the curses, the twisted faces, the raised fists (the whip of cords still in his own hand), John and James, Peter and Judas, Thomas, the twelve and 30 more, trailing in silence, in shock—so blind in his anger that Peter finally had to take him by the arm for his own safety (and the safety of the pilgrims on the way to the temple who crowded all the streets all around) and lead him to a low seat in the shadow of the well, where, at last, he put his head down on crossed arms braced on his knees and wept.
“Master,” Peter leaned close, concerned, more than a little frightened, “why do you weep? Who do you weep for?”
Judas stamped, splashing dust, and laughed, short and high, in his nose. “Not for those vultures, that’s for sure: minting coin out of others’ misery, trading in guilt and grief, good riddance, and about time someone took a whip to them.”
Simon the zealot put his hand on Judas’s elbow and turned him. “You laugh? There is no humor here. He weeps for Israel, that we have come to this— for the temple of our fathers turned into a Roman bazaar, for the degradation and infection of those who worship only trade, whose only god is power.”
John sank down beside Y’shua, put his arm around his shoulders (as only he would dare), and caught Peter’s eye. “He weeps for his father and for all the children of God:” (and here John’s eyes turned inward in that way he was learning from the master, he hesitated over his words as though listening to a voice he was not yet sure of) “for how we...a nation of priests...find ways to cap the fountain of God’s mercy... dole the waters of life out...in dribbles...to those who will pay our price, play by our rules...and keep the very well-head of the temple sealed off from the thousands...the hundreds of thousands... dying of thirst, choked by the dirt and dust of their days.”
Peter turned back to Y’shua and put a hand on his arm, (he was getting, already, if truth were to be told, just a bit tired of John’s attempts at poetry) and he was just short of shaking an answer out of Y’shua, master or no.
Y’shua lifted his face at last, put his hand over Peter’s, shook his hair back, and smiled, clearly for Peter’s sake—tried to regain himself, to come back out of the temple and its turmoil, out of whatever grief had claimed him in the wake of anger.
He wiped at the tears with the arm of his robe and the whip, forgotten, came up in his hand. He stared at it and then threw it hard across the well court so that Thomas leapt aside.
“I weep for myself!”
He softened the anguish in the cry again with a smile.
“For my impatience. Where would any of us be if my father took the whip in his hand? I weep for how young I am, for how little time is left to learn. I weep to think what, if they do this to the temple of stone and wood, they will do to this temple of flesh, to this temple of words.”
He looked down and toyed with a frayed edge on his robe.
“I weep to think how this day’s story will be told.”
His eyes came up again and he looked around at each of them, so intent even Thomas took a step closer.
“And, yes, I weep for you, for us, for the father, for the whole thing, the whole relationship, gone wrong, so very wrong, I weep for what might have been. I weep not only for those who have made my father’s house a market, but, as our Thunderhead says,” and here he turned and messed John’s hair affectionately, “for those who have turned it into a temple.”
He wiped his eyes once more, pulling at the sleeve to find a dry spot, hitched his legs under him, braced himself on John’s shoulder, took Peter’s hand, and stood.
“But I am done with weeping—” that distant look, the original of John’s— “for now—and the temple, despite me, still stands, and is what it is.”
He turned to the well, drew up a skin of water, poured it into the trough beside, and washed his face, his hands and arms to the elbows, splashing the last of the tears away so that the water ran down over his beard.
He tipped his head back and raised his face to the sky above the well court.
“Oh, there is a cleansing to come, I feel it in my blood, I feel it in my wrists, I feel it descending on my brow like a crown of thorns, and, oh how I wish that it were done.”
He looked, once more at each of the twelve, opened his arms and drew them in so they crowed close, making a circle of embrace.
“Here, right here and beginning now, we raise another house for God my father, not of stone and wood and precious metals, but of human hearts.”
And he led them, the master once more, back through the pilgrim throng, out toward the Mount of Olives for another night.
Thomas hung back a step with Judas. “And I wonder how long it will take us to turn this temple into a market.”
Judas laughed, short and high once more, in his nose. “I wonder how long it will take us to turn this house of hearts into a temple.”
Y’shua hearing, turned in mid-step, and walked backward, the light once more in his eye and in his step.
“Thomas, Judas, the thing about hearts is that they are alive, and once I cleanse them, won’t they will love being clean, won’t they long, every day, every hour, to be clean? Surely they will come to the well-head of my life in them, morning by morning, and draw the waters of life and be washed.
“That’s it! Not a house only, but a home, my home, God’s home. Hearts. A temple worth cleansing, wouldn’t you say, Thomas?”
He caught Judas’ eye and held it for a heartbeat.
“Why, I might even be willing to die for that!”
Watching for a chance to get him, they sent spies who posed as honest inquirers, hoping to trick him into saying something that would get him into trouble with the law. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you’re honest and straightforward when you teach, that you don’t pander to anyone but teach the way of God accurately. Tell us: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 21: 15-17 The Message)
It had seemed so simple at the start.
There was this Y’shua, pointing people to a God who reached beyond the temple, who was as much in the street as in the scrolls, belittling everything his Pharisee teachers had taught him, redefining righteousness in his own terms, stirring up the Romans, giving the people ideas, the center of all this messiah talk.
Someone had to stop him.
So, when one day, the teacher said, “You know what should happen? Some of you smart boys should go, all innocent, asking questions. He himself is an innocent. He will say something against the Romans or Herod, just like that John, to hang himself one of these days. Who could stop a public minded citizen from taking information to the Governor? It’s only natural. We are people of peace. We want no trouble makers among us. Who can blame us if this Y’shua, by his own words, proves to be an outlaw?”
So he had gone, the very next morning, not to his classes, but to the temple square, with a few of his fellows, and one or two of the libertine Herodians (strange bedfellows indeed...but this Y’shua was as much, more, of a threat to them, with his rabble rousing) and the group of them had pushed their way to the front of crowd around Y’shua.
He was a good boy, raised in the synagogue by a devout father, a lover of the law from his earliest days, he wanted above all, as he grew toward manhood, a holy life pleasing to his God, so when first he came to Jerusalem, apprentice to a wealthy trader, and heard the Pharisee preacher in his master’s synagogue he had responded with his whole soul. Here was the way, the righteous path, the purity that answered all his desire for Godliness.
He had quickly, with his eager mind and open heart, drawn the attention of the teacher, who introduced him to others, other young men, other teachers, until now he thought of himself as a true disciple of the Pharisee party, preparing himself for the one life of righteousness before God.
And yet, this Y’shua, the things he said. They had come three days now, listening, and something had to break soon. His preaching was attractive. What he said made sense in an illogical kind of way, if you listened with the heart and not the mind, if you could just let yourself believe the tiniest little bit.
And there, he had to remind himself each morning, was the danger.
So on the forth day, he came with a question. The rabbi had suggested it the evening before, when he and some others had gone to cleanse their troubled minds with conversation with the teacher, to clear the words of this Y’shua out of their ears with some good Pharisee sense.
“Ask him,” the rabbi said, “if it is legal to pay taxes to Caesar?” He will have no answer. If he says no, the Romans will have him. If he says yes, he will loose the ear of the mob that follows him, rebels all, hoping for a messiah to free them from the yoke of Rome.”
But, face to face, he had to soften it...“ Master, we know you are a holy man who teaches the truth of God,” and his voice had caught on the truth in those words, and he had faltered to a stop until one of his fellows carried on,
“So tell us, master, is it legal to pay taxes to Rome or not?”
Y’shua had looked the would-be spy right in the eye, held his eyes, held his heart in his hand.
“Bring me a coin,” he said, and the disciple who had finished the question dug in his pouch and pulled out the first one. It was a Caesar.
“Whose picture is this on the coin?” He held it up for all to see.
“Caesar’s,” the crowd murmured.
“Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And the Pharisees and Herodians shuffled off, knowing they had their only answer and that it was of no use to them. The crowd nodded a collective head. “This man is wise.”
And the spy sat stunned, still under Y’shua’s eye, stunned by the audacity of the man, by his honesty, by his courage, by his, surely it was too much to believe it could have been luck...
“Master,” he finally got out, “what would you have said if it had been a temple coin?”
And Y’shua smiled. “It wasn’t, was it? And yet, I think you know I would have said exactly the same.”
“Yes he would have.” thought the spy. “Yes he would have.” It was the only answer that made sense. It was the truth.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17 NIV)
They had been sent on a similar mission not so long ago, sent to find a colt for the Master, so they weren’t surprised to find the man, just as Y’shua said they would, carrying water home from the well in a jar, hurrying, just a bit, perhaps trying to avoid being seen at this woman’s work, and they followed—and then, of course, owner of the house seemed almost relieved when all they asked him for was a room where the Master could celebrate the Seder with those he loved.
“Of course,” he said, “It is all prepared. Right up here. Follow me.”
And so they gathered that night around the low table in the upper room, swept clean, every cobweb banished, the table with its white cloth of fine linen, used but once a year, the lamb, the special plates with the boiled egg, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the cups for wine.
They gathered to remember the deliverance of their people, the people of the Covenant, that night, so long ago, in Egypt, when the blood of the lamb on the door post turned away the angel of death and left, in all that land, only the first born of the children of Abraham alive.
They remembered that those deaths, finally, broke the spirit of the pharaoh—that their freedom had been purchased with the blood of lambs and of children not their own—and they remembered the haste with which they fled in the unleavened bread, the years of rebellion in the desert in the bitter herbs—they wrapped all the mystery and majesty of God’s dealing with his people in a meal, in a memorial, and celebrated it together each year, as families, so that the children would never forget.
And yet, Y’shua, this final year, far from his own home, chose to celebrate the Seder with the family of God, with his fellows, his followers, with, as he said, the true children who did the will of the Father by believing in the Son, with those few who had stood with him, day by day, as he declared the increasingly demanding news of God’s favor, as he uncompromisingly revealed the Father’s will.
This night they were all children together, for this night, of all the different nights (“What makes this night different from all other nights?” was, after all, the Seder question)—this night the familiar story of the Passover would be renewed, revived, reformed, and forever changed.
And so it was that when it was time for the first wine of the meal, Y’shua, against all custom, filled a single cup and passed it.
“Drink this, all of you, for I will not taste the fruit of the vine again until I come in my Father’s glory.”
It seemed to Peter that the lamps guttered and the shadows at the edges of the room crept in as Y’shua said it.
John shuddered when the wine touched his tongue. Surely it was more bitter than it should have been. He hitched himself closer to the Master trying, unsuccessfully, to enter into the full enjoyment of the Seder as a child one more time.
And when, in the course of the story meal, it came time to reveal the hidden matzo, Y’shua broke the pattern once again.
“What was hidden is now revealed,” he said “What our ancestors saw in part, and sought after, you will see here in full.”
And he took the bread, blessed it and broke it, tore the thin round across, and across again, and passed it.
“This is my body, given for you. Remember, each time you eat it. This is the bread of life.”
The bread passed hand to hand, more carefully than usual, as though they did not want to lose a single crumb.
To John, now leaning on Y’shua’s shoulder, it came to his tongue, dry, dusty with flour, and flooded his mouth with the taste of all that is good, all that is clean, all that is full and ripe and holy—it filled him, and he felt tears of joy rise, a cry of pure thanksgiving coming up in him, and he wondered, “What is this? Surely unleavened bread has never tasted so before.”
Peter couldn’t get beyond the dryness and the dust. The bread tasted of ash from the fire of its making. (Though little did he know the fire that was so soon to come upon them all).
Who can say what it tasted like to Judas...
And then, later, when it was time for the last cup of wine Y’shua turned the story yet again.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out all. In it you are forgiven, all of you, and all who are to come. Drink it in my name until I come again.”
This time, when the cup came to John, it was sweet enough, and somehow salty. The wine clung to his tongue, and was a long time leaving. Days later, even on the hill of the skull, the taste of it was still there, sustaining him, keeping him at the Master’s side through it all, even to what seemed the very end.
And to Peter, the wine burned—it was fire in his throat, more like a distilled liquor (something he had never tasted) and he wondered if he would be able to keep it down.
Judas wet his lips, but did not dare to drink, and even then it seemed the wine raised blisters and stung his tongue where he licked it off. He looked up quickly, but the only one who noticed his discomfort, the only one looking at him was the Master.
Y’shua said, “Every time you eat bread, every time you drink the fruit of the grape, remember this night, remember what I have done for you. Eat, when you eat, my body: drink, when you drink, my blood, and I will be in you and you in me, forever.”
And they sang a psalm, and left that place to go to the garden for the night.
“The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.” (John 12:23-24 The Message)
“No, master. You’ve got it all wrong. You must have. What you are saying can not be true. You will live. You will rule. We won’t let them kill you.”
Peter, poor Peter, the rock, the rock that always has to be broken before he can hear, before he can see what is right in front of him.
And the worst of it was, Peter’s “no” found its echo in Y’shua’s own heart and head, the “no” that was always just behind every breath, that waited in ambush in the quiet moments, that coiled around his feet as he moved, trying to trip him up, trying to send him headlong into despair... or rebellion.
The “no” that battled the “yes” in him for control of his destiny— and his heart.
He turned to John and the tears in that good man’s eyes all but undid him. John knew.
It had grown in John as it grew in him, day by day, the certainty that there was only one end to all this. It grew with the look of rejection in the eyes of those who, in their own minds, mattered in Israel, the visible hardening of the hearts of those in power, in the Sadducees’ bitter rhetoric, in the way the Pharisees flicked their prayer shawl tassels and their tongues at him, the way they punished him with their piety, holding him up to the measure they had made of their own minds.
It grew in the crowds. For every soul that turned to the words of life he spoke ten turned away, ten set themselves against, ten chose death.
He saw them, making the sign of evil as he passed in the street, warding themselves against what they could not, from what they would not, understand, from the possibility, even, that the spirit they saw in him might be, actually, startlingly, frighteningly, the spirit of the living God.
He saw them talking at the back of the crowds like crows, waiting, plotting, calling in something with real jaws for the kill. Calling down the Roman jackal to do the job they could not, that they would not, do themselves, (and of course they would blame him when the jaws closed on their own flesh) and their shortsighted anticipation, the eager aspect of scavengers who couldn’t see beyond their next meal, all but turned his stomach.
He knew that every heart that turned to the kingdom of God was counted against him, was one more reason, in the crows’ eyes, that he should die.
And then the scriptures...the scriptures he had known since boyhood…the prophesies…sorted themselves in his mind, wove themselves into a net to catch the fish of his days. Some of them, not all, but that certain some, came alive under his hand, on his tongue, took on unavoidable substance from what he saw and felt and did until it seemed as though his life were scripted, until it was all but certain that in living the pieces of the life foretold he would, unavoidably, die the death that was also written there. A death no man would will.
“Oh Peter,” he thought, “If you only knew how like a rock I am myself; if you knew how close to breaking I am, how much I want to shout out my ‘no!’ to crack the gathering clouds and strike down all doubt, to wield my ‘no’ like a sword and deal death to those who oppose God’s kingdom, to do anything but speak the ‘yes’ that is my death, even if, in the end, it means the salvation of the world.”
“Oh Peter,” he said aloud, “Get behind me, you tempter. You speak for the man in us. I answer to my Father God!”
“Oh Peter,” (again in thought), “it is hard enough already! Don’t make it harder than it has to be.”
It was hard to see beyond the end. Hard to see beyond death. Human eyes were not made for that. For, along side the certainty of death, there had grown the possibility of life.
Poor John. This, this other face of prophesy, he had not seen yet, could not see, even with the eyes of love.
Y’shua had not found, might never find, the words to tell him, to tell them all, but it was there, if you could hear it, beating at the edge of the words, beyond the sense of them, the promise.
It was there in his heart if he dared...hope...a final hope that turned death inside out, that made sense of what no man could comprehend, that made the end into a beginning, that might, that just might, make even death worth it.
Y’shua was learning to hold to that, to say “yes” to that hope that was, if you could only believe it, a final “no” to death. It made no sense. It made perfect sense.
“I will die. But I will live again? I will die, but in dying I will kill death itself? Death will choke on me, and in its throws, throw me, like Jonah from the belly of the whale, back on the shores of life? Yes. I will see you again my brothers. You will see me. You will see me again, John, my heart. Take courage! Death will not end me. How can I tell you? How can I dare, myself, to believe? I will rise. I know it! I feel it beating me, the great “yes” to life, the final “no” to death. Oh my brothers, hearts of my heart, can’t you join me in my “yes?” I am the “yes” of life to the “no” of death. And though I stand here trembling in the flesh at the thought of it, I will rise and in rising, set free my spirit with a great shout of “yes” to life to live forever in the hearts of those who believe, who die to themselves, who say “yes” and receive the free gift of life from their Father God. You call me God’s son. Only let me go do this thing, only let me have the courage, come and stand by me so I will dare to die, stand beside me in my death, and you will call yourselves the sons of God. And the whole world, all with ears to hear and tongues to tell, will sing the anthem, yes and yes and yes to life, to love, to hope, to God.” But how could he tell them that?
How often had he wished for a thousand hands to heal the broken lives around him? How often had he wished for a thousand tongues to match the ten thousand, the ten hundred thousand ears of Israel, ears eager to hear, hungry to hear, the good news? How often, when he looked at the crowds who came for healing, when he looked at the crowds who came for hope, when he looked at the children still too young to understand, when he thought of the smallness of this land where he lived and the vastness of the world, of the smallness of this day, and the next and the next, of how short the human life is when measured against the generations of man, when he thought of the hurts of those not even born, who he could never touch, never heal, never tell, never bring to the love of God, how often had he wished for a million hands, a million tongues, a million lifetimes to do the simple job of touching lives with God…for an eternity to be the truth of God in the world.
And yet, he was only one man. He had only one life, and though it was the very power of God in flesh, yet it was only one: two hands to touch, two eyes to see, one tongue to tell, never enough, never enough even to touch and tell a small fraction of those who hurt and hungered in this tiny land, in this single second of time…and he knew then what it was all about, what the prophesies meant, why the death, why the “yes” was needed, why the answer could only be, “yes.”
Still, in the long watch of the night, when the stars turned over him and the distance thundered in his ears...
In the heat of the day when the crowds crushed the life out of him and the need beat at him with hot hands...
In the moments of intimacy with his brothers and sisters, almost too sweet to bear, when their minds opened and he could touch the soul within...
In the dawns, when the doves called, and the sun stroked the earth, a lover, and her breath rose as dew, and it was as though Adam had not listened, as though Eve had not dared, as though God in the flesh might come walking over the horizon, out from behind a hill to take his hand and join in the hymn of the morning...
Then the “yes” was nothing more than what it had to be: A breath. The dew. The exhalation of his soul beneath the loving hand of God.
A “yes” to love. A “yes” in love.
“Yes. Though it cost me everything I am and everything I might become... Though I die, though I die alone and broken: Yes Father. Yes. I love you. Yes.
While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22: 47-48, NIV)
This wasn’t going where he thought it would go. This wasn’t coming out the way he had hoped.
He had seen the miracles and believed.
Hell, he’d done the miracles himself, touched the broken and seen them whole, seen the hope come up in people from a well they had forgotten, that they had buried, drawn by the message of the Kingdom come, and come in Y’shua, the miracle man, the healer, who came proclaiming the day of the Lord, and he been in awe, in absolute wonder, and, to be honest, half terrified the whole time.
What was this man? Who was this man?
But it had all gone bad.
They never should have put him in charge of the purse. Surely Y’shua, who apparently knew all things, who got it directly from God, his Father, surely he knew when he placed the purse in his hand that he’d claim it, that he would spend the money as he saw fit, that he wasn’t the type of man who could see a friend in need, who could see the movement flounder, while he had cash about him, and not do something.
It was never for himself.
It was all Kingdom work, paving the way, buying hearts, establishing strongholds, making sure the swords were on the right side when push came to shove, as it surely would, as it must, and it was up to him, since they put the money in his hands, to make sure the way was well oiled, but they would never understand, they never trusted him, they never listened.
That Peter, with his hot fisherman’s hands counting over the change, and counting it for a third time to be sure, and that John, that look, like a big, raw boned, beaten hound, and Thomas, wanting an accounting down to the last penny, and Matthew, ready to give it, ready to audit the books with his taxman’s mind.
So he had spent some on what he thought they needed? So he had spent some on the poor? Was he to be condemned for that?
Whole jars of nard, poured over Y’shua’s head, running down his beard, the smell in the place so overwhelming it made him retch, and that woman, weeping over the master’s feet, touching him with her hair, and hungry decent mothers with their legitimate children in street outside, and brothers with their hands out, and swords to buy.
The waste. The extravagance. It was disgusting.
(Oh no... I don’t want to think like that! I don’t want Y’shua’s eyes on me when I am thinking like that! I love him. I love him!)
He had given his all to this man, the first man he had trusted in, in forever, and now look. Y’shua was hell bent on his own destruction. He talked a good line while he was still out in the country, but now, here in the seat of power, all he did was talk.
Days in the market, days at the temple.
Oh there was the scene there with the toppled tables, but, honestly, what were a few loose doves and sheep, a few scattered coins...the stalls were back up, busy as ever. Nothing changed.
When was Y’shua going to do something? Oh God, he loved the man, but when was he going to do something but talk of his coming death. The cross? The cross!
Well, if Y’shua wanted a cross, maybe it was his job to get him one. That was, maybe, what he meant at the Seder. Someone had to “betray” him if the final confrontation was to come. Someone he loved.
Apparently it was his job.
(Oh, but why me? Why me? Why do I have to be the one to do this?)
Not that it would come to crosses, of course. He’s seen what the man could do.
The storm on the lake. Walking on water. Blind men with sight. Dead men walking out of their tombs. With power like that it would never come to crosses. It was some kind of test. Some obscene ritual Y’shua felt he had to live out because it was in one of the prophets somewhere, some act of holy sacrifice to this Father of his in heaven...well if that was the God Y’shua believed in, maybe they were right, maybe it was a demon.
(Oh I don’t want to think that. I love the man. What kind of wretch am I to doubt him? What kind of fool?)
He couldn’t help it though, the thoughts came, and he saw so clearly what was needed.
He knew they would all hate him. He knew it was his own death, but someone had to do it. This couldn’t drag on forever. The crowds where here now, for the Passover. Now was the time. Now was the time to seize the popular passion for holiness and shape it into a weapon to overthrow the Roman swine and set up the Kingdom of God on earth, right here in Jerusalem, right here on the holy mountain.
These people would never let Y’shua be crucified.
Why, they loved the man as much as he did, and didn’t have the sense to fear him.
They would rise up and take Y’shua from the pussy footing Pharisees and the bully Romans. They, the unwashed crowd, were the real power in Israel. Oh they wanted a messiah, did they?
Well he would give them one!
And the heavy purse at his belt? The one thrown to him in contempt by the High Priest’s secretary?
Well, they would see. They would all see. His “friends” when he paid back every cent they accused him of stealing, and heaped up the rest, and those Pharisees... why they didn’t even know they were playing a role, dancing to his tune. They were so stupid they thought they were in control.
Ha! He’d show them who had the real power!
Y’shua the hand of God, and Judas, the man who made it all happen.
What did the cost to himself matter? What did it matter what they thought of him? What did it matter if his love wasn’t big enough to make the thoughts go away? It had to be done. It had to be done for the people, for Israel. It had to be done for the Kingdom. It had to be done for Y’shua who was not able to do it for himself.
It was the ultimate act of love.
And so they came to the garden.
And so Judas Iscariot betrayed Y’shua, the Son of God, and the Son of Man, with a kiss.
“Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” She said. (Matthew 26: 69 NIV)
It was a shock to see him come, at last, through her door, the high priest’s door, the door of the house where she was in service. She never expected that. Oh she had wanted to see him this close, more than a year now, since last Passover when her cousin Rachel, down for the festival, had been so full of him, of his miracles and his healings, of his words, of the hope that had gotten hold of her and floated her, it seemed, right off her sandals.
It was a daughter of a cousin of her mother’s friend’s brother who had been there on the hillside when he fed them all on loaves and fish, and a servant, just like them, in a house not four streets off who sometimes used the well when theirs was low who had told her, one day last summer, that he had healed her father’s nephew’s boy of the demon.
But mostly it was the dreams.
She was walking a road, somewhere far off, walking on the Sabbath, far beyond the Sabbath limit, and guilty with it, but there was some where she had to go, some thing she was compelled to do, and do that day, and it was getting late, the sun falling in the west, and she wasn’t nearly there, and her feet hurt, and she had lost her sandals (and not floated off them either), and she was afraid her feet were bleeding but she didn’t dare look; she kept the hem of her robe over them carefully as she walked, but it slowed her down, and she didn’t look back for fear of seeing the footprints, but then she did, and the blood on the stone was all the evidence they would need of her Sabbath breaking, and she turned to run, but when she did, there He was, standing right in front of her and he bent and lifted the hem of her robe, and she let him, though her face burned, and he touched her feet and she felt the weight go off them, and the heat of the road cool, and the skin grow baby soft and whole, and He said, “Pay no attention to the sun. This Sabbath will never end. This is rest, that I have touched you. You are where you need to be and it is all done.”
And she always woke with such love in her heart. Since he had come to the city, she had haunted, in stolen moments, the edges of the crowds where he spoke, knowing that if she, a servant in the house of the high priest, were caught listening to this Y’shua, it would go hard with her, that she would lose her position and shame her family, but already, his words were in her, alive and working, and she couldn’t help herself, she had to hear more, but she had never been close to him, never close enough to really see his face, until this night when the priest’s guards dragged him stumbling over the door sill, roughed up, by the look of it, and he looked right at her when he passed, and it was the face from the dream, with tears, and her heart almost burst, when she saw his bruised feet on the stone of the passage, the stone she swept and washed each day, and oh, his bound hands.
And she had turned to the crowd, looking for, she wasn’t sure what, for one of his followers, for someone who was with him, for someone, anyone, who knew what was going on, what they wanted of him, here in the house of his enemies, and one, oh she was sure it was one of his men, swept past her, following the master close into the house, right behind the guards, and though she clutched at him she couldn’t get his attention, and she turned again and there was another, maybe, hanging back by the fire, head down, and she went to him and took him by the arm and turned him to her, looking closely.
“You were with the Nazarene?” She said, making it a question, loading it with all her hope and confusion, but he shook her off, his eyes wild, stepped back into the man behind, threw up an arm as if to ward himself from a blow.
“Woman, I don’t know him!” he swore, and surely he saw the hope in her eyes dim, the light fade in her face, and surely he saw her read the lie in his, and surely, if he hadn’t been so deeply into his own fear, he would have realized that what he had just done was more than a denial, it was his first betrayal, but it was a long time until cock crow, and the blood of the high priest’s servant was still fresh on his hands, and he wasn’t counting denials, yet.
They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:30-31 NIV)
The humiliation? It was over. What more could they do to him? The trial? The soldiers? The crown of thorns? The taunts? The whipping? The endless journey through the crowd with this cross?
It had all passed in a blur once Pilot had pronounced his sentence, or his lack of sentence, and turned him over.
He had been terrified, of course, of what was to come—he’d seen men crucified before—but more than that he worried about his friends, about John following every step of the way, and the Marys, trailing, with their tears, about their good hearts that were breaking for him, and about Peter.
He could feel Peter’s pain in the face of his failure, his denial, across half a city, and he wept with him, for him, willing him even now to appear, though he knew he wouldn’t, to come and take the cross from the shoulders of this random Cyreneen, and walk this last mile with him, but he didn’t come, and the others, out there somewhere, frightened out of all faith and hope, huddling until it was over, until he was finished, until he was—“Oh God! Let it be quick”—dead.
And then the nails.
The pain? It was past endurance, and his body had long since separated from his will. It fought it’s own battle now, spasming, straining against it’s own weight, which was slowly driving the breath from it, tearing at the nails as his legs pushed up with each aborted breath, wrenching muscles across his shoulders that had screamed themselves to silence long before, and he couldn’t do a thing to help it, he’d let it go, had had to let it go: it was dying, plainly, painfully, dying, and he was not, yet—not yet ready to die, now that he had time, all the time in the world, to think, to remember.
He supposed this was his life flashing before his eyes, just as they always said, every moment so vivid, so precious, he would have wept if there had been tears left beyond the pain, if that body was still his to command.
Himself as a boy in the sheep pastures, fresh in the knowledge of his Father’s overwhelming love, all but arrogant with it, oh yes; and his mother with her eyes always pulling him back, always pushing him forward, such love; those days in the temple when he was twelve, the amazed, amused, angry responses of the scholars to his questions, to his assurance; and Joseph, Joseph’s hands guiding his on the plane to make a first board in the shop, Joseph’s laugh when he said some outrageous thing about his Father, their Father, in heaven—how much the love of that good man had taught him, after all, about the love of God; and then the crowds, the wine at Cana when he first knew what he could do; and Peter’s mother and her fever; the man, he didn’t even know his name, God did, in the synagogue with the shriveled hand on that Sabbath, and the faces of the Pharisees that day—he could have laughed, but laughter was as far beyond him as tears; Jairus’ daughter, in that room where death had thought it had the victory; and old blind Bartimaeus; and the fig tree; and feeding the crowd in the hills that day with five loaves and two fish; and walking, that night, out to the boat on the water, and Peter, God help him, willing himself to walk as he did on the waves, and then, typically, so typically, floundering (but there was deeper pain there and he turned from it); and Moses and Abraham on the mountain, and the look on Peter and John’s faces when they woke; and Lazarus, dear Lazarus, walking out of that tomb, trailing the grave clothes; and Martha, busy Martha with her overdeveloped sense of responsibility—and John, and Mary...two who he loved as he loved no others, two who asked, in the end, nothing of him but to be; and the last smile on Mary’s face...but it dissolved, even as he watched, into her look of horror, her screams, as the nails went in...and he was back, too presently back, on the cross, looking out over the walls into the city,
“Oh Jerusalem, you have always killed the prophets! You are killing me!”
And then, they were there again, all those others, at the foot of the cross, and his eyes locked a moment with his mother’s, sought John, found him near, “Dear woman, see your son.” he said, “Son, see your mother.” and that was done.
And then the city, once more the city, his people, the Romans playing out a part they did not begin to comprehend, “Father,” he cried, “forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing...” and that was done.
And all the while his body, fighting it’s lonely battle with the pain, with this death he was dying...he wished he could help it, he wished he could, somehow, ease its passage, it had served him well and deserved better than this, this cross—but it was, now, forever, too late, far too late to turn back, to make any other choice—there had never, in the end, been any other choice...and then…it was as though the light went out—not in the day, it had been dark for hours while he hung— but inside, where he lived, where the “I Am” of him resided, as though the living substance of his Father’s life in him withdrew, as though a door closed between them, as though the cord of love and life that had always bound him to the Father had been cut, and he was adrift, alone, really alone, for the first time ever, empty of all presence but himself, present to nothing beyond the cross and this pain and these lost souls before him…and their taunts hit him like blows, and their boredom while they waited for him to die, their utter indifference to his life, rose up to smother him, to take what breath the cross still left, and he knew, suddenly, what he had never known before, that this was what it was like for them, this blind butting through a shadow life, this vain struggle with the empty flesh, this absence, this aloneness, this abandonment, this unequal battle with a world that did not care, this wresting, day in and day out, of self-life out of the indifferent substance of others, out of death itself, and he cried out inside, “No! No! Father, not this! You never said it would be like this. You never said you would leave me by myself to die, to die alone. Oh Father, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone!”
“Oh Father,” he cried aloud, echoing the psalm, “why have you abandoned me?”
But he knew: he knew it had to be this way.
He had to die as a man died, as men too often died, alone in their flesh with no hope of anything beyond, that this, this dying alone, this eternal absence, this utter separation from the source of life, was the final price, the real price, to be paid, and he knew it was time, time to let go, time, at last to put his faith to the ultimate test, to leap blind and alone into darkness.
“Father,” he said into the great absence, “I put my life, my spirit, in your hands.”
And a great thirst rose up in him, a hunger beyond any he had ever know, and emptiness beyond endurance, and he must have spoken aloud because someone was there with a vinegar soaked sponge on a spear, wetting his lips, and he looked up to the closed heaven above him and, with all the breath left in him, yelled, “It is done. The price is paid!”
And it was.
(Done, but far from over!)
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:1-3 NIV)
He woke to blackness...not the black of night, but the utter black of blindness; a dark so heavy it pressed his eyes back in his sockets, sealed his lids tight shut, and would have smothered him if he had been breathing...breathing?
He drew a deep breath and felt the air invade the living tissue of his lungs, the oxygen rush to the blood. Almost he could feel each individual union as the living air bonded to the red corpuscles, each joyous chemical embrace...and now, he heard his heart beating, felt the blood like a tide in the far reaches of his finger tips and toes.
He flexed his ankles where they lay, bound together, felt the skin draw over the fresh wounds and remembered: The cross.
Like the memory of hard labor after long rest, it didn’t, somehow matter as much as it might have, as much as it should...it only added to the sweetness of this dawn, of this waking.
He stretched as much as the grave cloths would allow, and in that realized he should, reasonably, be frightened. Here he was bound hand and foot in a dark tomb, sealed behind the stone; man’s worst fear, to be buried alive...and yet he knew, he hadn’t been. He remembered his death all too clearly...
And yet he was, strangely, content, at peace, willing to lie a while more in this good dark, to wait the dawn he now knew would surely come.
And in that thought, something kindled in the darkness, something sun-bright, even through the shroud, but far more present, a living light right in the tomb with him, and he felt ministering hands upon the grave cloths, was lifted, effortlessly it seemed, upright and unwrapped, like a precious package. As his head came loose, his face, his eyes, he looked into the glowing radiance:
“I remember you. You’re Michael.” and the being laughed, a joyful sound as though liquid sunlight rippled over stone. A voice behind him said, “You see, I told you he’d know you...” And he knew the voice as well. “Gabriel, you here too?”
And from behind again, “You must be kidding. Would I miss this? If your father hadn’t sent me I’d have come anyway, just to have the privilege, once in my life, of unbinding the Master of the universe.”
Michael laughed in turn. “He’s so used to my showing up to get him out of trouble; he wanted to see what it felt like once to do it himself.”
They had the last of the grave cloths off now, and Y’shua stood beside the bench. They stepped back and looked him over, head to foot. “Man. Now there’s a piece of work.” said Michael.
“The son of man,” said Gabriel.
“The son of God,” said Y’shua, “and don’t you forget it.”
And again, the sunlight rippled. “The stone, Michael,” said Gabriel, and when the other looked blank, “let’s get it off!”
And they were gone, leaving Y’shua alone and the dark heavy on him once again.
He heard the grate of stone on stone, the gradual grind of tons of rock, and slowly, a crack opened, wider, wide, and the tender, natural light, of a new dawn, crept in. Then, all at once and with a rush the stone rolled away, and he looked full out upon the new day. What rose in his heart, through his throat, and out his mouth was simple and profound:
“Thank you, Father!”
He stepped out through the tomb door and drank the morning. There were doves. He loved doves. There was dew. He bent and tasted the dew from a blade of grass. From the city came a whiff of wood smoke and all the delightful odors of domesticity, the morning baking, bread, and suddenly he was hungry, and in that, knew, as never before, what it was to be alive. Again, everything in him cried, “Thank you!”
He turned to Michael. “There will be someone by to finish burying me in a few moments, no doubt. Why don’t you wait here? I just want to get up a bit higher, to see the sunrise on this new day.”
And so it was that the women, coming with their spices and their tears, found the tomb empty, and Y’shua...already gone.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:1-2 NIV)
Peter crept in shortly after cock crow and lay all day huddled in the corner, weeping and moaning, berating himself in incoherent snatches and mumbles, a quivering mass of broken man, an open wound without the grace to bleed anything more substantial than the bitter tears of disappointment in himself.
Simon the Zealot barred the door. Convinced the guards would be close behind Peter, he stationed himself as lookout in an upper window, but then, exhausted (as were they all) fell into a troubled sleep some time after noon.
Thomas was not with them. No one had seen him since they took Y’shua down.
John sat at the bench at the end of the table staring at his hands, still stained with Y’shua’s blood where he had held him, where he had helped wrap him in the shroud before he, and Joseph and Nicodemus, had taken him off to the waiting tomb. His palms were scraped raw with the weight of the stone they had rolled in to seal the vault; his back ached with that, and with the weight of Y’shua as he had carried him the quarter mile, (every step a mile in itself) between the Hill of Skulls and the Garden tomb.
Behind his eyes an image burned. A last ray of the setting sun had found a crack beneath the solid cap of cloud that closed the sky and made the afternoon more night than day. It leaked in around the edge of the stone as it sealed to lap the head of the shroud, to sculpt the muted profile of Y’shua beneath the cloth, and, he swore, the beam had kindled there, had filled the chamber with a bright white blinding light before the stone rolled home.
It was, almost, as though another sun was born within the tomb, and it branded a crescent of wonder into his soul, seared the image of the closing stone across his retinas like a curved blade, sharp enough to cut, and left him all but blind in a world gone unnaturally black, to stumble back among shadows down streets he could not remember to this door and in, to huddle here and wait for sight and the light to return.
No one ate. Bread and cheese and wine lay untouched on the table. No one spoke. It was as though these last days, from Judas’s betrayal in the garden (how could he have??) to the lightning and thunder shaken moment when Y’shua breathed his last up on that cross, had wrung all words out of them, had left them empty husks of men, without hope, huddled around the brittle shards of their regrets, nailed to the cross of their own betrayals and failures as surely as Y’shua ever had been.
They wanted nothing so much as to die right there...they feared nothing quite so much as death...
They barred the door of their hearts as they barred the door of the house, against the overwhelming fact of death, of his death, of the utter failure of all their hopes.
Sundown came and went, the beginning of the third day, (though no one was counting days yet).
John stood, finally, and went to the ewer in the corner, dipped water in a bowl and began to wash his hands on a rag hanging there. The sight of the water running red, staining the cloth in his hands, finally released the tears, finally washed the image of light out from behind his eyes, and he put his head against the wall and sobbed, sank down there in the corner, and, as a child might, cried himself to sleep.
And so, Mary Magdalene, coming to the door in the dark before dawn, had to pound, had to plead, looking over her shoulders for fear of the neighbors, before anyone opened for her.
Simon pulled the bar, and John met her at the table. “He’s gone. Someone rolled the stone away in the night and took his body. He’s not there.” and she put her hands up and tore at her hair. “Why? Why would anyone do that? Have they no fear? Have they no shame? Where can they have taken him?”
“The Romans!” Simon thundered. And to John’s looked question, “Well who else? Oh, maybe the Sanhedrin put them up to it, but you know the Romans did the dirty work, as always. Now they are afraid. Now they fear their deeds will come back and haunt them. Who else?”
“Make sense man!” John took Mary’s hands in his and forced them down. “Mary...what do you mean, he’s not there? I sealed the tomb myself. I saw him laid within.”
And, for a second, the image of that crescent, that living blade of light returned, a memory now, to haunt the back of his eyes, and something like hope choked his words. He could feel the contradiction of his heart overruling both reason and his tongue as he spoke. “He’s...he’s dead. He could not have moved.”
“Someone’s taken him, I tell you!” Mary’s eyes, deep in their wells of ruined shadow and pain, pleaded, willed him to believe, willed him to have an answer for all her doubt and fear and guilt. “The stone is rolled back, the tomb is empty. He’s gone...” and she threw her head to one side and sobbed.
John gathered her against his shoulder and, without thinking, stroked her hair, comforting her as he would a child or a sister.
And then Peter was there at his shoulder. He grabbed Mary away and held her at arm’s length and shook her. “What do you mean? Woman! Tell me! What do you mean?”
John put a hand on his wrist where he gripped Mary’s, and Peter turned. Anger had shattered his mask of guilt, and something dangerous looked out of his eyes.
John stepped back and Peter let Mary fall. As John stooped to catch her, Peter was gone, out the door and into the dawn.
Simon shouldered John aside. “I’ll see to her. Get after Peter. Who knows what he will do?”
And John ran. Threading streets he did not remember, getting lost and confused, but finally coming to the gate of the garden in time to see Peter there ahead of him standing just inside, staring at the open tomb, frozen where he stood, in indecision, in doubt or fear or awe.
John passed him at a run now; barely saw him, drawn to that impossibly open door.
He came up sharp with his hand on the stone lintel, hesitated only a second to catch his breath and then dipped his head and looked in. The linen of the shroud lay across the bench and floor. The head covering was neatly folded where the head had lain. There was no one there, nothing there at all.
Peter coming up now, stepped around him and through the door. He turned slowly in the center of the empty tomb, then gathered the shroud in his hands, touched the head cloth, sank down, leaned his own head against the stone of the bench and wept: a final wrenching, tears, real tears of the blood now, tears to tear his soul free.
John took a deep breath and followed Peter in. That crescent of wonder, that remembered light, seemed to bloom within, seemed to flare within him to show him every corner, every minute detail, every tiniest texture of the empty tomb and that hope that had never quite died rose up and swept him over into belief.
It would be days before he understood, weeks and months and years before he knew what it meant, but in his heart he already he knew what mattered, though he dared, as yet, say it to no one but himself.
“He’s alive!” he whispered, “I know Y’shua lives...”
After they had gone—John with a secret smile, Peter more confused than ever, but somewhat lifted out of himself, half way to healing now—Mary crept out from hiding by the gate.
Johanna and Salome, supporting Mary, Y’shua’s mother, one on each side, as they came with the burial herbs, and with their wailing and their tears, found her there, stalled in the path, afraid again, alone, to approach that door with her own jar of nard. “He’s gone,” she said, her voice as flat as her heart. “Someone has taken him.”
That silenced them. “Peter and John were just here. There is no one in there now.”
The three shuffled forward, all in a huddle, with Mary trailing a few paces behind. Just as they reached the door, a sudden light flared within the tomb, casting their shadows back, bringing them up short, and they fell to their knees, wailing again, there in the path.
Mary could see, over their heads, two men, two beings, dressed in light, dressed in lightning, within, too bright to look at, one at either end of the bench where Y’shua should have lain.
One spoke as he refolded the shroud, and she wondered how such a being of power could do such an ordinary thing, even while the touch of his eyes was like fire in her soul, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is risen, just as he said.”
And Mary turned, and saw a man coming up the path toward her. Half blind from the glowing robes of the two within, she ran a step, thinking here was the gardener, someone, at last, who would know where they had taken the body.
“Why do you cry, woman?”
“If you have taken him,” she said, her eyes on the ground, a woman speaking to a strange man, “just tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary,” he said, and she knew him. Her eyes snapped up. That face, so familiar, his hand held out to her as it had been so often before, welcoming, those eyes that saw through her sin to who she was, the man of all men who wanted more of her than she knew how to give, the one she had seen broken on the cross, there, impossibly, before her once again, and she fell at his feet, her arms around his legs.
“Oh Teacher. My Master.”
And he sank down, to touch her head, to lift her face. “Mary, Mary... why do you hold me? I am on my way to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God. Go tell my brothers. I go ahead of them but I will see them where they look for me.”
And he stepped out of the circle of her arms, and she dropped her head and wept again, caught between this wild hope and her own disbelief, between her certainty of death and her hope of life, between her guilty mind and her cleansed heart.
When she looked up again he was gone.
She ran. Again. Pounded, again, on the door. Was let in. “I have seen him.” she shouted. “I have seen the risen Lord!”
And still, except perhaps for John, they did not believe her.
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:33-34 NIV)
Peter remembered best, most clearly, the empty tomb, and that was what?—only this morning?— it seemed days ago, but it could only have been hours even by this unexpected slant of the sun.
The rest of the day was a blur. He had a vague memory of walking, street after street, of shouldering his way through market crowds, of finding, at last, the half deserted residential districts, where he wandered, hour after hour, past the stares of barefoot children, the hooded glares of women washing laundry around the wells...
He must have passed a hundred wine-shops, they stood out of the general pall of the day... at each door the pull had been almost more than he could stand: To turn in, to seek oblivion and solace in a cup.
But he couldn’t. He feared, on some level behind consciousness, that to let go of his grief and guilt would be to lose himself forever—that if he once descended into the cup he would never climb back out—but all he could say for certain was that the idea of wine, while it pulled at his mind, turned his stomach.
And so now, at sundown, he found himself in an unfamiliar part of the city, on a street he couldn’t name, coming to himself and around a corner to a well all at the same time.
The whole neighborhood appeared deserted—wives and mothers inside preparing the evening meal, men still off in the fields or at the shops, children driven, at last, off the streets by the heat, or hidden, at least, in some shady corner playing quietly.
The courtyard around the well was empty...or almost.
A man stood at the well, back to him, dipping a drink from the gourd that hung down into the wet darkness on its long cord. Something about him, something in the set of the shoulders, in the way he, apparently, examined the water in the dipper before drinking (or prayed over it) brought Peter up short, framed in the way between two close buildings.
It was as though he had walked into a raging furnace. He flinched back. It was as though he had stepped into the icy sea of midwinter in Galilee. His flesh shriveled and his heart all but stopped. He wasn’t sure he could draw the next breath. It was as though the two buildings on either side fell on him, battering him, burying him in stone blocks and blocking his path. He stopped so fast his shins hurt, his knees popped, his arms flew forward, and he had all he could do not to fall flat on his face.
“Master?” he croaked, not believing it! No not for a moment! The word was forced out of him, expelled as though someone had punched him in the stomach— extorted from him like taxes under a dishonest collector— yanked out of him like a bad tooth in the hands of sadistic healer...
And, unbelievably, the man turned. Those eyes!
Peter’s heart, that he had believed broken beyond repair, broke at last in truth, and the shards of stone, as they fell, ripped his soul apart. He could only groan.
“So, Simon, my rock, you remember me now? Now you know me?”
And, though he didn’t know how it could be, yet another heart, a deeper heart, broke in him, a final pebble heart, a cinder heart, that was the utter I Am of him, crumbled into dust and flooded his mouth with the ash of death.
He found himself at the foot of the Master, on his face and it was the dust of well court that filled his mouth.
Y’shua bent, took his arm, compelled him to his knees, forced him to struggle up, to stand and then led him, tear-blind to the sill of the well where they sat side by side.
“Simon. Simon, you didn’t think I’d let you sink this time, did you?” And Y’shua reached out, touched his eyes, wiped away the tears, and, like all the other blind men under that touch, Peter saw again.
“Master. Oh my Master!” and he grabbed the ministering hand and kissed it.
Y'shua, with his other hand, dipped up water and offered it to him. “Remember, Peter, the well in Samaria, and the woman?”
Peter nodded as he drank. He was more thirsty than he had known. He all but sputtered, “Living water, you said...a well of living water, and we would never thirst again.”
And Y'shua nodded in his turn, smiling at the memory or some private vision, and took the dipper back. “Not long now Peter. You must go back and gather your brothers. I have a lot to say before I go to the Father. Much I could not tell you before. Go give them heart for my coming.”
“But Master,” Peter’s face betrayed deep doubt and dawning wonder, the birth of hope, “I betrayed you? How can you trust me in this?”
And Y’shua laughed. “You betrayed yourself Peter. I knew what you would do before you did it. Remember? I told you. I forgave you already, and I forgive you again. You did only what you had to do, you did all you could do. The rock must be broken before the builder can build.”
He reached out and shook Peter by the shoulder, as though testing his resilience, molded the shoulder with his hand, as though testing a block of stone for fit. “You are a ready now. Go. Strengthen your brothers. Take strength from them. I will see you soon.”
And he was simply not there.
The dipper lay in the last of the sun, a bit of water in the bottom of the gourd catching the fire were it slanted between two rooftops. Dust danced in the air where Y'shua had sat—and that was all.
And Peter was up and running shouting at the top of his lungs, his voice echoing off the unresponsive walls along the street, too eager to tell someone to wait until he found his fellows...“I’ve seen him! He lives! I am forgiven and Y’shua lives...”
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:24-25 NIV)
Well, good for them, good for them all; they had seen Y’shua alive; they all said it, clamoring at him as soon as he entered the room.
The cross? Well evidently that had been an illusion— the ill-begotten Romans and their mockery of justice?— the God-forsaking Pharisees and sin-besotted Sadducees and their jumped up council, their self-styled court?— his broken, bloody body, the spear in the side, and the nails in his wrists (he had heard it all from John)?—none of that, apparently, mattered—they had seen him, if you could only believe it (if you could only believe them), alive...
Oh the tomb was empty, right enough, he had seen that himself, had run his hands along the empty bench, touched the grave cloths as Mary held them (she handled them like the cloth of gold cover of the ark of the covenant itself) had seen the blood stains on the linen, put his shoulder to the stone to see if he could move it...but if they were half as shattered as he was, half as weak with want...well, let it be said, he would not trust himself, his eyes, or his ears either.
He wanted Y’shua alive too much to trust himself in this.
The Master hovered always right at the edge of his awareness; he couldn’t count the times he thought he had seen him in the past three days, out of one corner of his eye or the other; several times he had turned right around in the crowd and gone back to track down a voice, that voice, impossibly his voice; and oh the disappointment!
His dreams were all about Y'shua, Y’shua talking, Y’shua walking, Y’shua’s eyes and hands and his smile, his laugh, and he woke every day to secret tears and unbelievable absence.
Oh, he wanted him alive as much as anyone! He couldn’t, in fact, believe he was dead, believe he was gone; he couldn’t believe he could have left them so, after all those promises, after all those miracles, after all they had given up to follow him—three years!—three years of dusty roads and milling crowds, of the adoration of the people and the open disdain of the leaders, of the Romans watching, half amused and half afraid, from the shadows…and words, such words (who would ever hear the like of them again), the kingdom of God so close—after all that hope, that excitement, after being so impossibly alive, that he had simply hung on that cross (curse the Romans and the Jewish dogs who fed them) and let himself die, let himself leave— that he had left them, after all, alone, alone, alone...
Oh he wanted him alive as much as any of them, maybe more; maybe that is why he couldn’t afford to let himself believe...
And it was all so mysterious, the way they said Y’shua just appeared among them, behind locked doors and solid walls in the inner room...he hadn’t been there, he couldn’t say, but it made him uncomfortable.
It was one thing for Y’shua to heal, or raise the dead even, or to still the waves, or multiply the loaves and fishes, he’s seen all that and more with his own eyes...it was quite another, as far as Thomas was concerned, to pass through solid stone and good Jerusalem sycamore...”
And yet the body was missing...
No. No. That was madness... “No,” he told them all to their faces, “until I see the nail holes in his hands, until I put my finger right in the bloody sockets and stick my hand in his bleeding side...I won’t believe it!”
And so, eight days later, Y'shua had found them all together in the inner room again, and Thomas with them.
Reports had come in all week, Y'shua on the road to Emmaus, Y’shua comforting Peter, Y’shua here, Y’shua there, and Thomas had become somewhat of a connoisseur of rumor, collecting each sighting, weighing it, and the mass of the accumulation, in the balance of his mind, and finding it, always, still wanting.
He clung, perversely, to his doubt as the only thing that kept him, in his grief and in his anger, sane.
It was the least he could do for the Master: to hold out against this hysteria, to guard the memory of what had really been, to treasure the days they had had together and not go off chasing moonbeams that made it all into a fairy tale, magic show, mockery of wishful thinking.
He would not dishonor the grief he felt by joining this insane, this surely premature and ill-advised, celebration. No, Thomas, among them all, would be true to the fact that Y’shua had died because they had not had the courage to save him—there it was!—he could face it and say it!
Y’shua had gone to the cross and died and they had done nothing, nothing to help him, nothing to save him, and how could they, any of them, ever live that down, ever forget, ever forgive?
No, it was simply too convenient for Y’shua to be, somehow, by some extraordinary miracle, still alive. He couldn’t believe that!
But, here he was. Right here in the room, and what was Thomas to think now?
“Thomas, look at me. Touch me. Here are my hands.” and the Master held them up and out to him: “Take your finger and explore them. Here is my side.” and he lifted his arm and parted his robe to show the wound: “Put your hand in... Oh Thomas,” and he said it, impossibly, with something like his old exasperated laugh, “don’t always be so slow to believe...hop to it man, leap at any chance to exercise, you will need that muscle when I am gone. Believe!”
For a second he was transfixed on the cross of his own disbelief, nailed to the cross of his grief and guilt, suspended, breathless and broken as Y’shua himself must have been—for a second—and then something in him, everything in him, died...he parted from himself with a silent scream, and yet lived, his whole life now hung on the risen one, on the fact of Y’shua before him, and he was, himself, reborn, resurrected into belief...and he fell to his knees before the Master. “Oh my Master and my God!”
It was as much a plea for forgiveness, for acceptance, for love—it was as much the cry of a new born for a milk never yet tasted, as anything else.
Y’shua laughed, and reached down to pull him up to his feet. “So, you believe at last, Thomas, and only because you see me with your own eyes?”
And here he swept his awareness around the circle of believers in the room and addressed them all. “You must continually die to your unbelief to live in me. Blessed are those who don’t need the evidence of their eyes, who see without seeing, who hear without hearing, who die to unbelief and are born again by the living Breath, the Holy Wind, the Spirit of the living God.”
“Thomas,” he said, “I’ve given these others a taste already, but you missed it.” And he breathed into Thomas’s face. “Here is the Holy Spirit...”
And Thomas breathed in and somehow turned over inside himself so that death was under and life above, so that doubt was buried and belief was uppermost, so that certainty bloomed in him like flowering vine, like a mountain pine, like a mighty oak, solid and firm, alive with the life of the living root of Y’shua in him, unshakable, death-defying, and he knew he was face to face, but more importantly, heart to heart, breath to breath, mind to mind, at last with the living God in his Son, Y’shua, the Christ.
It was a taste only, a hint, a preview, of what would be loosed on the unsuspecting world, in just a few days now...at Pentecost, after Y’shua went to the Father, when the promised Spirit fell in fire and force beyond all doubt.
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 NIV)
Here I was thinking, you are just like any other man, like all the men I’ve ever known before...you built my hopes up, you made me believe in your love—that it was, this time, forever, and then you left me...
You let them nail you to that cross. You let them kill you. You let them take you from me and left me, like all the others, all alone.
And I could have hated you for it...I could have been so angry...but, while you left me, the love of you did not. I clung somehow to that love, clutched it back from bitterness and despair—I nursed that little light in me, not strong enough for hope, but too bright, somehow, to let me just die in my sorrow. Forgive me Master. I should have known. You told me. You told us all.
“This is the love of the Father for the Son—a love stronger than death itself. I will not leave you or forsake you,” you said, “and not even death will part us.”
And then, in the garden, I couldn’t see you through my sorrow, and then, with a word, you were there...you said my name and I knew you, that you hadn’t gone, that you hadn’t left me, that you had, beyond hope and despite my unbelief, come back for me...for the world...for us all...
Y’shua, you have filled what was empty in me and I am filled. You have opened the spring of love in me and I overflow. Y’shua, you are not a man like any other man, you are the man all men were meant to be.
Somehow, I had seen him without seeing, known him without knowing, heard him without hearing.
It was like he was a different person all together. Like what I had known, those three years tailing him around all up and down Galilee, over the lake and back so many times, to Jerusalem in the end, was one of those Egyptian paintings on a jar of a man, of a master, of some kind of royal being, half a God maybe, made somehow to move and speak, and now...here was the man himself in the flesh.
It was like before, I was watching a play, “The Messiah Comes: a history,” with some traveling troop of actors playing the parts, on a stage set up in an inn courtyard...a great job by that guy they got to play the Messiah, and the one playing me wasn’t half bad, and I was the author and director and stage manager and audience all in one, and it was somehow got up just for me, and then, I turned, in front of the sage there, and found the real Y’shua, the real Messiah had been standing next to me all the time, and suddenly I saw what a shabby, hollow, amateurish production my little play was, how tiny and inadequate compared to the real thing that had been going on all around me my whole life, that had come to me in this living man.
It wasn’t exactly like the mountain even that day he met with Moses and Elijah. That day the light was all around him, and he wore it like a robe, too bright to look at...like a kind of special glorious shell that had come over the man I thought I knew, like a mantle that God had thrown over him, that he could take off if he wanted, a nice stage effect, a wonderful costume, that he would have to take off to come down from the mountain, not something he would dare to wear out in public...now, after he rose from the grave, that light was right in him, was the life of him, deep down inside, bursting, every moment, out of his eyes, coming out in words, as he made the things of heaven clear to us...as he explained, over and over, the way it had to be, the why of it all...you could see the light, the life of God, moving in him when he flexed his hands, in every little gesture and alive in every touch, and I kept thinking, how did I miss this, how could I have not known...?
Oh, I called him the Son of God right enough. I believed my heart somehow, when God spoke to me where I could hear him, even when my head wasn’t in it…but I had no idea what it was really all about...what it meant, what it would mean for him, for me, no conception of what the risen Christ would be, could be, of what it would be to see God, to see the Son of God, and really know you’d seen him, and that seeing him changed everything you thought you knew about God, about yourself.
I couldn’t conceive that he really meant to die. I couldn’t believe that God would ask him to pay that price. I couldn’t believe, come right down to it, that God would choose such a crazy way to save his people, that the Messiah would have to suffer and die for us, that it would mean he’d have to go through death like a man diving under a wave, that the weight of all our sin would have to fall on him like a breaker, and grind him into the gravel and sand, and he would come up on the shore of life, reborn, and call us to him there.
It wasn’t in me to believe.
I should have heard it. He said it often enough. I should have known it when he walked the water of the sea. I should have suspected when he called Lazarus out of that tomb. I should have seen it that night when he broke the bread, I should have realized it, I might have known it, in the way he took the cross (if I’d been there). I should have seen it in the empty tomb.
But no, he had to come back from the dead to forgive me, personally...it took his reaching down into my brokenness, through my betrayal, to touch me...to forgive me... I didn’t get it until I understood that compared to the life in him, no little thing like Simon’s failure mattered.
Why, death itself did not matter compared to the life in him!
He called me his rock. He was the rock. The life in him the sure foundation, the one solid mooring in all the world.
I never knew what life was. I never knew what love was. I never knew what a man was. I never knew who I was. I never knew God.
But now I do! Now I have seen myself reflected in his eyes in love. Now I have seen a man. Now I have seen life. Now I have seen God.
And that is something, God helping me, I will not forget.
The play is over. And though he is gone again, risen up in glory in the clouds, I know, now that I have really seen him, now that I have truly known him, that real life is finally about to begin.
So, all right...
In this birth I had no part. In this birth the earth itself, the cold tomb was the womb, and death the midwife.
He is born again. I have no part in him (but love, and all own that part). He is all yours now God. I have no claim on him (but love, and all share that claim). He belongs to all now, equally, who believe, who, as he said, do the will of the Father, those who he calls his own.
I understand that now.
And, though the world may still call me blessed to be the mother of Y’shua, the son of God, I count myself blessed only to be among those he calls his own!
Once I had a dream: I dreamt that God sent his son right down to live and work among us...that he walked the earth as a man...that he talked to us and ate with us...joked with us...sailed the sea with us...slept beside us on the hard ground of the hills and valleys of our land...walked the roads with us... and that, as God loves me, so I loved him.
I dreamt that I followed him, from the first moment I saw him there, beside the Jordan, from the moment he came up out of the water of John’s baptism with the heavens shouting and the spirit falling like a dove, through Galilee and months of miracles, to Jerusalem and back three years running...
I dreamt that I never left his side.
I dreamt that he walked on water, that he healed the blind, that he raised the dead, that he fed these huge crowds on nothing, and I was there to see it. I dreamt that he fed us, day by day, the words of God’s rule in us, of his Father’s, our Father’s, love for us, of the opening of the doors of faith to all who would enter in, and that I was there to hear it...and I dreamt, more miraculous than any sign or wonder, that he loved me...
I dreamt that, in the end, he went to the cross and died. I dreamt that I was there, that I saw them drive the nails in, that I heard him cry his last despairing cry, that I held his mother while he died...and I dreamt that I died with him...that all that was good and alive in me died right there on that hill above the city when Y’shua breathed his last.
But then, as I turned in my sleep, the dream apparently over, I knew I waited for something...that the story was not done...that something more was coming.
I hovered right on the edge of that dream, awash in anticipation and I knew that one thing that had not died in me was hope...that, above all, my love had not died, his love had not died, and where there is love how can there not be life?
And I woke standing in an empty tomb.
Dawn took me, and I was wide awake in a new, unlooked for day, where that man I dreamed was as real as I am, where he touched us and taught us awake, without the veil of sleep between us.
I woke to the reality of the dream where, I knew, I know, he will never leave us, and I will never sleep or dream again.
Though the world may not see him, he is here with us. He lives in us. He lives wherever we are. He is ours forever. He loves us. He loves me. He has always loved me (and always will) and, in his eyes, I have always been awake.
Awake! The dawn has come! We live. He lives. Awake!
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4 NIV)
When John came in that morning, the upper room was as it had been for most of a week now, the witnesses of the risen Y’shua, all of them, gathered, waiting, as the Master had told them, for the coming of the Holy Spirit...for the promise...waiting for what they could not even begin to imagine, for a baptism in fire? For some mysterious thing that would empower them? For some one last thing in the work of the Master that was left undone.
The room was full, as always, with the shush and swell of hushed prayers, the gentle rise and fall of the voices of people on their knees before God, of people remembering and telling over the wonder, of people reminding God of his promises, of his mighty works in the past, together and singly, filling the room to the rafters with a sound like the surf at the edge of the sea, like the lapping of water at the shore.
Now and again some single word hung out, rung out, some single word was cast up like spindrift, as someone, in the ecstasy of prayer, raised his voice, or as the same word, somehow, chimed together from tongues across the room, and, more often than not, that word was the name: Y’shua.
They were bound together by that name, made one by the fact of their witness— they had seen him, each of them, alive beyond the grave and could testify to the mystery and the majesty—to the wonder.
They had been there when he left them, when he rose into the clouds. They had heard the command to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and they waited, and they prayed.
The only difference today was that, outside the room, beyond the house, it was the feast of Pentecost, of weeks, and the city was full of jubilation and Jews from all over the known world: the smell of fresh baked bread for the altars, the bleat of sacrificial lambs and goats for the wave offering, the joyous celebration of the bountiful harvest and the abundant love of God.
Even this early, John had been forced to shoulder his way to the house through the laughing crowd.
He caught sight of Peter there already and worked his way, stepping carefully, threading a path through the packed room, nodding here, clasping a shoulder there, a hand in passing, murmuring encouragement, “Not long now, surely, maybe today, certainly soon.” “We live in hope.” “Pray brother. Pray sister. This would be a good day, the harvest festival, maybe today it begins.” “Remember the promise. Hold tight to that.”
They were remarkably clam. They were remarkably confident. They were remarkably patient, but then they had a lot to remember among them, and the time not spent in prayer was spent telling over the life of Y’shua, until they all knew the stories, even those who had not seen this particular sign or heard that particular word, until their shared experience of Y’shua was, somehow, greater than the sum of all its parts, greater than any of their individual memories, so great it took them all to hold it.
Y’shua lived here in this upper room, in these people, in these living hearts and minds, as surely as he had ever lived on earth.
Then too there was endless speculation, and a thoughtful turning of the scripture and all Y’shua had said—what was this coming baptism—fire—the Holy Spirit?
John finally reached Peter’s side and sank down, using the fisherman’s shoulder as a crutch, folding himself into the inadequate space beside him.
Peter nodded greeting and then...with a sound like a mighty wind the whole building shook. People cried out and staggered, clutched each other for support, and still the tremor went on and on and the sound, strumming deep in the rafters overhead, vibrating the floor under them, tossing them about like chips on a restless sea...and then...the fire came.
It came down through the roof like tongues of flame, touching one head here, another there, lapping, flowing down, sinking deep into the flesh, entering into each living soul so that, for a moment, they glowed like embers in the fire, they burned like charcoal in a bellows blast, white hot, and some shell of ash, some final ashen self of unbelief, blew away in that mighty wind, and they burst out praising God in a thousand tongues, telling the wonders of God, it seemed, in all the languages of the world.
And...as the fire swept through the room, as it swept toward Peter and John where they sat at the far edge, they turned to one another and staggered to their feet.
“It comes!” John crowed over the rising sound of tongues. “He lives!”
Peter turned his eyes up as though he could see through the roof to the heavens where Y’shua had gone. “Now it begins.”
And they were swept up and in, filled with fire, and found their tongues.
And so the life of Y’shua goes on, unending, unfinished, and comes, at last, to each of us, on winds of fire, in words of living flame, to burn away our unbelief...to enter in and make us new, reborn, transformed, alive with that same unending life.
The question is (as it has always been): what will you do with this Y’shua, what will you do with this unfinished life?
I believe that each of us encounters the living Christ at least once in our lives. I believe that we have a persistent God for our Father, and that he, through the Holy Spirit, keeps after us, in Christ, until, one day, he gets our full and undivided attention.
Then we have to decide. Because of the life Christ lived, the death he died, and the life he lives today through the Holy Spirit in believers’ hearts and minds and actions, each of us has to decide what to do about Christ and his (our) Father, God. Are they going to be part of our world? More to the point, are we going to be part of theirs? Are we, in fact, going to die to ourselves and live in Christ? Or are we just going to die?
It is a good deal, when you stop to think about it. We all have to die. Yet, if we die in Christ, we get to live, to live forever, and can live, beginning now, with the quality of life that will make an eternity worthwhile. Seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? The only way to explain such a deal is that the one offering it (God) loves us more than we love ourselves.
Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it.” (John 3:16-18 The Message)
What made the decision for me was the realization that life in Christ was of a different kind than life in myself. It became an issue of reality. If Christ, and his life, are real, if God’s reality is the real truth of the world we live in, then not to be in Christ is to deny reality—to live, always, short of the truth—to live short of everything we can and should be. It became an issue of who I was. Was I of human kind only, or was I intended to be of Christ’s kind? Was I intended to live just for myself, or was I intended to live for others—to live so that others might live? And if I was intended to be Christ’s kind, how could I become that? Hadn’t I already done my best and failed? Well, here was the offer: “Yet to all who received him (Christ), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God—children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13 NIV). Eugene Peterson has it: “But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.” As Jesus said, “You must be born again” (or, in an alternate translation, “you must be born from above.”) There is no other way to enter into the reality of Christ’s “kindom.”
Die to yourself, give up on yourself, stop trying to fix yourself—put your faith in Christ, let him do the work through the Holy Spirit, and you will be born again (from above) and become a child of God—you will lose your life and find it—you will become everything you were meant to be.
I would not presume to say that you met the living Christ in these pages, but maybe something here has been, so to speak, another stone in your load, another nudge with the goad, one more instance of the Father’s persistent love, attempting to get your attention, to reveal himself to you in Christ. If so, you may be at that point of decision. What will you do about God in Christ? Who do you want to be?
All it takes is faith—the proverbial leap of faith—all it takes is putting your trust in God to do what he has said he will do in Christ. He will do it. He has done it for me. He will do it for you. Get yourself a Bible. (I recommend the New International Version or The Message). Read the book of John. Find someone, someone in whom you see the possibility of Christ’s kind at work, to talk about God with. Finally, pray something like this:
“Jesus, I believe in you. I am ready to die to myself to live in you. Forgive me for always being less than I know I ought to be, always doing less than I need to do. Forgive me for every time I fail to love. Come into me. I am ready to be born again. I trust you to do everything you have promised—to make me Christ’s kind—to make me alive as you are alive, with the life of God, our Father. Yes, Jesus! I say “yes” to you.”
If it works for you like it worked for me, you will experience the forgiveness of your sins. You will experience a new birth into kinship with God. You will want to be baptized. You will want to be part of a Christian community. And somewhere, all around you, every true child of God will be rejoicing in the Spirit to see another son or daughter of God come at last to reality—come home at last to your true self in the family of God.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
Yours by faith in Jesus Christ