Flight to Jerusalem
I felt wound up like a ball of gardener’s twine, and yet I would fall asleep, as I did last night between Simon and Michael. James and Joseph, still feeling the effects of wine, had been the first to tumble onto their pallets. The age-old excuse that ‘wine made me do it’ appeared to have exempted them from further discipline. Mother led Mariah into the next room cooing softly to the addled woman, as she had to Uncle Ahab. Afraid that Mariah would dip into his wine jug, Papa hid it in the carpenter shop. Before I drifted off to sleep I heard him tell this to Mama and also give his impression of what was happening in our town.
“Like many years ago,” he began, “I watched soldiers riding back and forth down the road in front of our house, in those days when Judah’s rebels were crucified throughout Galilee. Cries would erupt day and night as men were dragged from their homes. Though Judah, himself, was never caught, two thousand rebels were hung on crosses. We lost a score of young men and two elders, Moshe and Rehoboam, accused of fomenting revolt.”
“I remember,” Mary sighed wistfully. “Those were terrible days!”
“I pray,” he spoke solemnly, “that my trust isn’t misplaced in Cornelius and nothing like that happens again. I’d never forgive myself if our good deed causes more deaths.”
“Joseph,” she scolded gently, “stop worrying. Cornelius is a good man. The children are trying to sleep. You are exhausted and should get some sleep too.”
After that, I heard muted voices in the next room. I wondered how they all fit—Mariah, my parents, and the twins—crammed in one small room. The back room had a door as well as a window, as did the kitchen, and a wall facing the back of the house. If there weren’t Romans on the premises or rogue Nazarenes roaming around town, Papa and Mama could sleep in the courtyard and under the thatched roof. I doubted if they would do that tonight. For a few moments, as idle thoughts played in my mind, I conjured up my white horse, which I rode fast, along with my fancy armor, flying cape, and long shiny spear. Once again, as sleep overtook me, I found myself in a prophetic dream. Of course, I had no such name yet for this experience. I wonder now if Jesus put these revelations in my head. I could see Papa coming toward me in slow motion. I felt sluggish in my dream, as I often did when I was really tired. The orchard around me was distorted, as dreamscapes often are. As I walked toward Papa, I heard Jesus call from behind me “this is our adopted father, husband to the Virgin Mary. Greater is the love for spiritual children than those of the flesh.”
Unlike my strange dream about Cornelius, I barely understand this message as I awakened in the dark. Who was the Virgin Mary? How was it possible that Jesus was also adopted? Papa admitted that Mama gave birth to him. So who was the Virgin Mary? As I listened to the snoring of my brothers and the song of a nightingale in Mama’s garden, it came to me in a rush of emotion that this was my family—the parents, brothers and sisters who made up the house of Joseph bar Jacob. Nothing could change this—not the fact that we were all adopted, not the fact that the oldest brother talked constantly to God, and not even the fact that there was a witch sleeping in our house. What kind of parents would take in the orphans of their relatives and love them as their own? What sort of parents would shelter anyone, even a woman who had practiced witchcraft, under their roof and would trust any person, even a Roman soldier, who had a good heart? James, Joseph, Simon, Michael, Martha, Abigail, and I seemed to be average, unspectacular souls, but my parents, Joseph and Mary and my brother Jesus, were special people.
Those things Samuel told us about—the star, magis, and new king—excited our imaginations, but they seemed remote from our lives. What we had seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears couldn’t be dismissed as legend or hearsay. The raising of the dead bird and the cloudburst I now accepted as facts. I was certain James, Joseph, Simon, and Michael did too.
In the morning, at first light, I remembered the dream I had last night. In spite of the disclosure of our adoptions, it made little sense, and yet I was filled with expectation. The memory of my father telling me I was special and Jesus telling me that I had a purpose in God’s plan made me wonder if I was, like my brother, touched by God.
I could hear the voices of my parents in the next room, as they got Mariah ready to travel. Ezra had not yet arrived, and everyone else, including Jesus, were still asleep. I was shaken awake by my own fear, mentally imprinted with nightmarish imagery of wild men running through Nazareth with torches and Roman cavalrymen chasing them down with long, sharp spears. I saw nothing significant about this nightmare, especially after everything that happened in the past two days, but my first dream seemed important to me. I decided, as I arose from my pallet, to tell Jesus about it. I had forgotten to tell anyone about my last dream, which was so similar to my actual encounter with Cornelius and his men. This time I wanted to share my dreamscape with someone. My memory, which was like an endless scroll, should allow me to present the details of my dream to Jesus exactly as they happened in my head. The problem was, when they reached my mouth, I could not easily put them into words.
Jesus was at the table, sleeping on his arms. The lamp beside him cast an eerie light upon his face, as he looked up. I stood there a moment waiting for the sleep to leave his mind
“Jesus!” I told him excitedly. “I had a funny dream. I was in the orchard, but it was all fuzzy around me. Papa was in front of me, and I heard your voice.”
“Oh, what did I say?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.
“Uh, lemme see,” I said, scratching my head. “…. ‘This is our adopted father, husband to the Virgin Mary,’ whatever that means. Then you said ‘Great is the love for spiritual children than those of the flesh.’ Was this not a good dream?”
Jesus looked at me in disbelief, glancing around the room as if he didn’t want to be overheard.
“That is a very good dream Jude,” he said discreetly. “You are so very close to the truth. Most sleepers don’t remember the substance of their dreams. The Lord has blessed you with a good memory.” “But you must never tell anyone else about this dream.” He drew close to me. “The Lord was telling you in your dream that we brothers are blessed to be Joseph’s adopted sons. Giving birth to children in the spirit, unlike the flesh, binds our family forever. The spirit is mightier than the flesh!”
I gave this some thought, a frown playing on my face. These were fine words, but something was missing. Jesus had not given me the full interpretation of my dream. He had deliberately left out the most important part: the Virgin Mary. It might have been true, as he said, that we were born of the spirit, but this didn’t explain his own mysterious birth, and it didn’t clarify Mary’s special relationship to her oldest son. Today the answer to this riddle is obvious to me, but such a conclusion is hindsight now. I was a young child when we had this conversation. Today I am a man, who has seen and heard great miracles. I have witnessed my brother’s ability to stir men’s souls. The Jesus who spoke to me that morning in Nazareth would not admit his own divinity. He was only fifteen years old. That he was he was born of the flesh from a virgin would be hard even for him to accept and would never have of occurred to a ten year old boy.
Jesus smiled as I digested his words. It was much too simple of an interpretation, and I sensed that it was incomplete. Nevertheless, I gave him a faint nod as he waited for my response.
“So that’s what Virgin Mary means:” I replied dubiously, “in the spirit, not the flesh? That’ll be a hard secret to keep.”
I’m not sure if Jesus detected my sarcasm, but he shook my shoulders. “You must keep this secret little Jude. I don’t care if you tell anyone about the rest of your dream, but promise me that you’ll repeat those words ‘Virgin Mary’ to no one.”
“Aw, all right,” I puckered my lips. “I guess I can do that.”
“Remarkable!” He muttered under his breath. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. But James, Joseph, and Simon aren’t ready for this information. Michael may never be. You aren’t either Jude—I barely understand all this myself. And yet there it was in your head.” “This shall bind us especially, you and I.” He gave me a firm hug. “. . . Our secret—for no one else’s ears!”
Jesus had nothing to fear. I had no intentions of telling my brothers about my dream. They would think I was touched in the head. None of my dream made sense to me. How could anyone be born of the spirit? Were not all of God’s creatures born of the flesh? Those secret words, Virgin Mary, were an even greater riddle for me to solve. I was afraid to ask Jesus for a better interpretation of my dream for fear of what I might find. I am in awe even now, as I write my chronicle, when I think of what all this implied.
Jesus and I watched our parents emerge from the back room with Mariah in tow, guiding her as they would a nervous, frightened child. Ezra stood silhouetted in the doorframe, sunlight streaming in, as Papa and Mama approached. Because she remained mute and they were so very silent, the other boys continued to slumber on their pallets. I was, by now, thoroughly disgusted with Michael’s mother. She was abandoning him without a fight, her only fear being for herself. Jesus, however, saw Mariah as a lost soul. Though he sat calmly, a smile playing on his face, I could see concern in his blue eyes. His lips were moving in a silent prayer.
I felt a strange honor that he had spoken to me as a confidant, so I said nothing disparaging about Mariah. I was convinced that Jesus shielded us with his prayers. I had seen him cure a dead bird and bring forth a storm. In the afterglow of my dream was born a greater knowledge I now shared with Jesus. I tried not to think of the substance of our conversation for fear I might blurt out the question looming in my thoughts: how is it possible that our mother is a virgin after being married to Papa all these years? Though I was only ten years old, the seeds of revelation had been planted in my mind.
Out the door Papa and Ezra exited with their charge, Mariah looking back a moment at her sleeping child. At this point I could take it no more and shook Michael awake so he could bid his mother goodbye. The two men paused angrily as Mariah embraced the child she would make an orphan. Jesus, without saying a word, had told me this. I hoped he was wrong. Now, as we watched mother and son break apart at Papa’s insistence, I wanted Jesus to tell me this aloud.
“Is it true Jesus?” I felt my eyes fill with tears. “Will Michael never see his mother again?”
“Yes,” he whispered in my ear, “but you must never tell him.”
“Oh, another secret,” I nodded slowly. “Can I tell Papa or James?”
“Keep this between us for the time being.” My oldest brother ruffled my hair. “Michael is your brother now.”
Mariah was stationed between Papa and Ezra at the edge of our property and beside the orchard, where the Shepherd’s Trail begins. After Jesus ran over to lead Michael away, his mother gazed forward, without a backward glance, a blank look on her face. Because of the danger that Reuben and his friends might be in the hills, Papa had forbidden us from traveling too far. For the time being, until he could trust the guards, the pomegranate bush was our limit. Beyond that point in our backyard, we couldn’t travel. Likewise, the vegetable and herb garden was the boundary line in the front yard. Jesus, despite his confidence in the Lord, agreed with these security measures. Mama didn’t even want us to leave the house. Whispering another prayer, as he held Michael’s hand, Jesus motioned for me to stay put. Mariah just stood there, a virtual captive of her fate. Michael stared, with sorrow and disbelief, at his mother. To prevent him from bolting after her, Jesus and I gripped his shoulders, moving him behind the bush to blot out the heart-rending sight.
It was there, peeking over the branches, that we witnessed the exchange. A handful of Roman soldiers, accompanied by Odeh and another, much younger, shepherd received Mariah, after Papa and Ezra gave her a goodbye embrace. I could imagine Papa saying “Peace be upon you Mariah,” but even at a distance I could see a frown on Ezra’s face. Mariah looked back finally in the direction of the house, and then, as the Romans and shepherds hustled her further down the path, disappeared forever from Michael’s life. I sensed that something terrible would befall her one-day, but I didn’t blame Jesus. He would say, if I asked him what Mariah’s fate would be, “It’s up to God.”
Michael wept uncontrollably, as Jesus and I guided him back to the house. For a moment, as we approached the back door, he went limp in our arms because he was sobbing so deeply, but then a tranquil look fell over his freckled face as Jesus whispered to him, and he simpered quietly as we led him inside. When we reached the kitchen table, James, Joseph and Simon were stirring groggily on their pallets but had not yet risen to their feet. After a few moments of gloomy silence, I watched Mama exit the back room with the twins in tow, an expression of sadness on her haggard face. It was over, I thought that moment, as Jesus attempted to comfort my friend. Mama came over and ran her hand through Michael’s red hair. Martha and Abigail stood before us perfect images of each other, except for a scrape on Abigail’s chin she had received after tripping in the garden. As I thought about it, they looked less like Joseph and Mary’s children than any of us. I don’t remember any of my relatives having such blond hair. Were some of our relatives Greeks? None of us resembled each other very much. The only one who looked like one of my parents, for that matter, was Jesus, who had our mother’s blue eyes and her light brown hair.
As I sat at the kitchen waiting for mother to fix breakfast, a wave of resentment swept over me. For the first time I could remember, I clearly saw a resemblance, not only in their hair and eyes, but in their oval shaped faces and perfectly formed noses. The dream about the Virgin Mary resurfaced in my mind. We knew that Mama and Jesus, my brother, were mother and son—in the flesh. That was an accepted fact. I was struck with a terrible thought that I couldn’t accept. In fact, considering he was born from a virgin, I can barely comprehend it even now. . . . What if Jesus really was God’s son?