The Journey Begins
When Joseph of Arimathea finally came to take my brother with him on his trip, only a small group, those faithful to my father’s house throughout the controversy of Mariah’s escape and tolerant of Jesus’ peculiarities, came to bid him farewell. The exception, which made it seem worse, was the silent vigil of Longinus and a detail of Romans, sent by Cornelius to watch over us at this special time. This would give our enemies something more to talk about. To make matters worse, it looked as if it might rain, which would be a bad omen for the journey. All members of the family of Joseph put on their best faces, even James and Joseph. Mama wept. The twins, Abigail, and Martha, wept. Simon and I wept too. Michael had fled to the hills to show his grief. What had not changed since the grand event thrown by Samuel, the Pharisee, was the surliness of Josephs two sons, Matthias and Levi, who looked at Jesus as an usurper of their father’s affection and esteem. I knew, of course, that this wasn’t true. Joseph of Arimathea had more concrete reasons for taking my brother along.
Samuel came to visit us a few days ago to explain these reasons, perhaps to bolster my parents resolve by showing them what an educated and worldly man his nephew was, which only heightened their fears. While Jesus sat at the table with our parents listening to the old man’s prattle, Simon, Michael and I eavesdropped again below the window. James and Joseph were working in the shop, and Mama was busy in the garden, assisted by the twins. Samuel explained to my parents, though I wonder now if the all-seeing Jesus didn’t already know, that Joseph of Arimathea was not merely a Pharisee and successful merchant but he was a man of great learning. Along with his understanding of religion and vast knowledge of our people’s history, Samuel told them that his nephew had also studied philosophy and was interested in astrology, in spite of the potential heresy in such thought. This interested me very much after watching Jesus study so many things. I had I accepted his estimation of this man without argument, but I was still suspicious of Samuel’s nephew. This man saw Jesus as an oddity to be studied up close. Jesus, himself, had studied all manner of plant, animal, and rock to understand the mystery of life. Now Jesus was Joseph’s mystery, and I feared for his safety on the long adventurous road ahead.
With the hour upon us, Mama wrung her hands and cursed Papa for ever agreeing to this trip. We could not console her without bringing down her wrath, so we stopped trying. Embracing Jesus once more before he climbed up into Joseph’s fancy coach, I bid him goodbye and tearfully turned away. Jesus lifted the twins up and hugged them one-by-one. Simon surprised us all by his grief. Papa, James, and Joseph were more solemn and dignified, and yet were forced to pull Mama away from the coach, as she pleaded with Jesus to change his mind.
“Jesus, I had a bad dream about this,” she called out finally. “I didn’t want to worry you, but you must not go with that man!”
“Awe, you’re always having bad dreams,” pshawed Papa. “Please Mary, Joseph of Arimathea will take care of our son.”
“No, my dream was real,” she screamed, as they pulled her away. “Don’t you see, I have the gift. I’ve always had the gift.”
“What’s she talking about?” James asked Papa. “Did Mama have a prophetic dream?”
“Yes, Mama, what was your dream?” asked Jesus pulling open the flap back and looking out of the coach.
For several moments, as Joseph and his sons waited inside, the Nubians and Syrian guards sat uneasily on their mounts. Phineas, the driver, smiled good-naturedly, as he reined in the four black stallions pulling the coach. Jesus now gave his apologies and stepped out of the coach. As I came close to behold one more time the mighty black warriors guarding the merchant and his sons, I could hear Matthias and Levi grumbling inside. As Jesus approached our mother, the clouds broke for just a moment, the sun lighting our portion of Nazareth as if the Lord had finally gave his blessing to their trip. But mother could not be consoled so easily.
“You remember the night Reuben and his friends fled Nazareth?” She looked at Jesus pleadingly, gripping both of his arms.
“I remember,” Jesus answered with a frown, “but you must not worry about those men. Rome never forgets. After they almost killed that soldier, Cornelius and Longinus will continue hunting for them. Reuben, Josiah, and Asa dare not come back.”
Mama sounded desperate. “In my dream, Reuben and a band of brigands attacked your encampment in the desert. I remember Joseph of Arimathea’s voice shouting for his guards. I remember torchlight and other voices, one of them—the gruff voice of Reuben, shouting ‘where is he? Where is the Son of Man, that I may strike him down.” “Then I awoke next to Joseph,” she smiled weakly. “He was snoring as usual. I never told him about my dream.”
“Then let me calm your fears,” said Jesus, taking her small hands. “The dream speaks for itself. It was unfinished. I can imagine the ending. God help Reuben and his band if they go against Joseph of Arimathea’s guards.”
“But Jesus,” Mama cried, “what if I have another dream, and there is an ending? What if Reuben does strike you down?”
“That won’t happen Mama.” Jesus kissed her hands. “Have you forgotten who is watching over me and our house? The Lord will be with Joseph Arimathea and his guards too. Please give me your blessing as Papa has. I won’t go unless you do.”
Mother whispered “Very well” to Jesus, kissed his forehead, and then pivoted on her heel. We all rushed forward to embrace him one final time. Jesus once more lifted up each twin, kissed their beaming faces, hugging his mother, father, and each brother tenderly again.
As Jesus reassured Mama for a third time, I could hear Matthias ask his father in the coach “Who is the Son of Man?” It sounded like nonsense to me, until I heard Joseph and his sons discuss the meaning of these words.
Matthias’ replied “In the Psalms and Book of Job there is reference to frail, corruptible humanity, which the Psalmist called ‘Son of Man.’ What a strange thing for that fellow in her dream to say.”
“You forgot the Prophet Ezekiel,” Joseph began to quote, “‘Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you.’ When the Lord spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet. I heard him say ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, a nation of rebels, who’ve rebelled against me, whose fathers transgress against me to this day.’”
“Sounds like us all right,” Papa called from a distance.
“The Romans have enslaved our people,” grumbled James.
That moment Joseph, affected by his own words, looked out of the coach, a troubled expression on his face. I knew it had been more than an exercise of he and his son’s knowledge. Samuel, the Pharisee, who had already visited our house earlier this morning to say goodbye, appeared suddenly. Perhaps he had never left and had been idling by the road, but his reappearance would partially answer the riddle of Mama’s dream. The fog began to clear, just a little, that moment. Both men turned and looked at Jesus—a moment that would haunt me until it was clarified one day by Jesus, himself.
In a thin, wavering voice that rose increasingly until he almost lost his breath, Samuel quoted from the Prophet Daniel: “I saw in a night vision, in the clouds of heaven, one like the Son of Man, who came to the Ancient of Days and was presented to him. To him was given dominion that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him, an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and a kingdom that shall never be destroyed.”
“Ah,” exclaimed Jesus, “another prophecy of the Messiah—one of my favorite passages!”
As the coachmen waited patiently, Papa and my other brothers stood by listening to this exchange. No one understood where this was leading. My own illumination would come later. The two Pharisees seemed troubled by Mama’s dream, the more so because it did, in fact, seem prophetic. Jesus had tried to make light of all this with light-hearted words, but I sensed that in the words “Son of Man” there was a relationship between the prophets quoted by these learned men and Mama’s dream. I drew close, from sheer curiosity, rather than bated breath. Nothing seemed to surprise me anymore. Joseph of Arimathea put his arm on Jesus’ shoulder and led him back to the coach. While the remainder of my family lingered in the background, I stood close to my mother. She was breathing heavily, as she did many times working in her garden or carrying water from the well. The old Pharisee now spoke to her in a muted voice. Though I didn’t understand it yet, I alone, among my brothers, heard Mama and Samuel’s strange conversation.
“Mary,” Samuel reached out a frail hand to touch her face, “tell me the truth. Have you ever heard those words before?”
“What words?” Mama looked innocently into his face.
“The Son of Man.” Simon searched her blue eyes. Her pupils were without guile. Already the Pharisee knew the answer.
“No,” she answered with a sigh, “but I understood it when Reuben said he would strike him down.”
“Mary,” he whispered. “Don’t trouble your blameless mind with dark thoughts. Jesus is still in many ways a child and too young to accept who he might be.”
“Might be?” She inclined her head.
“Yes, might, not will,” he exhaled, stroking his beard, “there is an inconsistency to all this. It could have been nightmare based upon your own fears. “Also, Mary,” he added thoughtfully, “what are these images doing in your head? Why didn’t Jesus have that dream?”
For a moment, as they stood there, the sky turned dark again as the clouds regrouped. “It’s an another omen!” My brothers gasped. Recalling Jesus and my encounter with the specter in the orchard, however, I wondered if it was not the Evil One, himself. Papa called to Mama impatiently to let them proceed, but she gripped Samuel’s sleeve and, as I craned my ears, asked under her breath “Who is he Samuel? I gave birth to him. I raised him. I saw his miracles. To me he’s still a carefree boy. Who’s my son suppose to be?”
“I’m not sure,” he answered with a shrug. “I think he’s been touched by God, like the prophets, themselves. Moses, performed miracles and so did Elijah. If I can believe what I heard, Mary, your son has done them one better.” “Humph, that business with the sparrow—very troubling.” He made a face. “And, oh yes, casting out demons—In deed!—and making it rain. Good gracious, what am I to believe?”
Mama seemed disappointed by Samuel’s equivocation. Though this analysis is hindsight on my part, even then, I could see illumination growing in the old man’s face. All his training as a Pharisee and man of logic was being put to the test.
“I think…,” he groped for words, “Jesus will one day be a great teacher or rabbi. Joseph of Arimathea is about to introduce him to the world. What an education that will be. Frankly, Mary, I’m not sure my nephew would believe in Jesus’ miracles, which is just as well for the boy. This journey will get Jesus away from his critics in Nazareth and show him, in gradual stages, what he’s meant to do.”
“Meant to do?” her voice trembled. “. . . . Please Samuel, I’m a simple woman. I don’t even know how to read. What did those words ‘Son of Man’ make my son?”
“If your dream has meaning as you believe,” Samuel continued in a strained voice, “the words Son of Man indicates that he’s the deliverer—the one we’ve been waiting for.”
“No, no,” she clutched her mouth fearfully.
“Now-now,” he tried making light of it, “I didn’t say he was. After all, Jesus is the town carpenter’s fifteen year old son, not a royal prince or traveling magi. For pity’s sake, woman, this is Nazareth, not Jerusalem. I’d be happy to see him become a great teacher, like Hillel or Shammai. He certainly has the mind!”
Samuel had answered her question indecisively and in an off-handed way, yet there was great concern in his gaze. Though I hadn’t a clue yet what all this meant, I knew that all these words—Samuel, Mama, and the merchant’s were important. I had been standing behind my mother and heard everything she and Samuel said. Samuel frowned at my subterfuge but then reached down to pat my head. His voice was low now, as if what he was about to say should not be overheard.
“ I once told my long departed wife that I hoped I would live to see the Messiah come. I suppose my bones will be gathered up into the bosom of Abraham before then. My tired eyes and failing ears have seen enough. I won’t see the Messiah or your son again in this life.” “All this talk about miracles and Jesus being touched by god will make our fellow Nazarenes think Jesus is deranged,” he warned Mama gently. “We must wait and see what God has planned for this prodigy. I won’t be around when he finds out. I have lived long enough.”
“But Jesus said you would live to be really old,” I exclaimed too loudly. “He said you would live to see him go on his mission.”
“Mission? That could mean many things, Jude, but so he did,” Samuel laughed softly to himself. “Does he not seem grown up now? I dare say, he’s more mature than my nephew’s sons.”
“No,” replied Mama, stroking my locks, “he’s still a child. If Jesus told you that you’d still be alive, it means only one thing Samuel. Jesus has a great purpose—a mission on earth. You’ll live to see this happen.”
“Ho-ho,” the old man’s eyes twinkled with mirth, “now that would be a miracle, wouldn’t it? Considering my great age, do you honestly believe that Mary? How long do you think I want to live?”
“A long time. It’s true, Samuel. I believe what Jesus said,” she murmured, dropping her gaze.
Then their eyes locked: the dark raptor eyes of Samuel and unnaturally blue eyes of my mother. They looked down at me and smiled as if I shared their understanding, but that would come later for me. What I write now is written in retrospect, as a disciple of the risen Lord. I was still ten years old the day Jesus’ odyssey began. I was very confused by all this talk. I could tell that Mama, Samuel and Joseph of Aramithea were perplexed too. After hearing mother’s dream, I feared the worst for Jesus safety. I don’t care what Isaiah, Ezekiel or Daniel said.
When the caravan, with Joseph’s fabulous coach in the lead, made a wide turn in the fallow field by the road, I waved goodbye to Jesus, my brother, whom Samuel now implied was touched by God. I also waved at the guards, though their hard gaze was now set upon the road ahead. I didn’t want to believe that Jesus was this Son of Man the Pharisees spoke of, let alone the Messiah (a notion that even my parents could not possibly except). The cloak of mystery surrounding Jesus, I now understand, was kept in place by his Father, and yet the truth was staring all of us, Samuel included, straight in the face. In spite of all the wondrous things that had happened to us because of Jesus, we loved him just like he was. But we were in denial. This I can see so clearly now.
As I stood watching the distant coach, horseman, and camels laden with merchandize disappear in a great cloud of dust, doubt crept into my stubborn mind. I wondered if he would come back different after his trip. For the first time I could remember in my short life, I had to accept certain facts about Jesus at face value. I could not hide from his divinity—or whatever Samuel or Mama might call it. I had seen his miracles with my own eyes. I had heard the wisdom from his mouth and seen his effect upon others. I witnessed tenderness from my brother that I would find in no other man. If these traits made him the Son of Man or something even greater, it was too overwhelming for me that day. Yet suddenly, as I thought of the words Reuben said in Mama’s dream “Son of Man, I shall strike you down,” I was filled with dread. I didn’t know then what I know now. The symbolism in the dream pointed to one terrible and wonderful event that Jesus, himself, predicted, but we, his disciples still couldn’t accept: his death. What could this dream really mean? The Messiah couldn’t die. Was he not indestructible? Is it any wonder back then that a mere child was so overwhelmed?
Confused yet filled with a strange peace, I found Samuel’s hand on my head. My family moved slowly toward the house. Papa was the first one to enter, pausing long enough to wave at onlookers on the road.
“Shows over!” he called out wryly.
“There,” Samuel sighed heavily, “you’re a good boy Jude. Give an old man a hand. Do you suppose your mother will fix us all some lunch.”
“Yes,” I replied, chewing on my lip, “but what does all this mean?”
“I would answer it better if I understood it clearly myself,” he answered cautiously. “Your mother doesn’t want to burden you children with this. I also think you’re much too young.” “Besides,” he added with a cackle, “she, and I, barely understand it ourselves. We’re treading on matters not explained in scriptures. There are things about this that defy our very tradition.” “This is,” he struggle for a word, “. . . a great mystery. I hope my nephew takes my advice and doesn’t ask Jesus too many questions. All those words you’ve heard, Jude, and all the things you’ve seen are emerging as shadows in a fog. Their muted voices are telling us their secrets one-by-one. Perhaps we aren’t ready for the answers yet and the Lord will tell us in His own good time.”
“Good,” I offered eagerly, “Jesus likes mysteries. He’s always looking at animals, plants, and rocks.”
“Jesus is a mystery,” his voice dropped low, “and our ignorance is the fog—a God sent cloud, hiding its answers inside.”
“I remember once,” I sputtered, jumping up and down excitedly, “in the orchard light came through the clouds and lit Jesus’ face.”
Samuel nodded, as we entered though the gate and walked up to the house. Abigail and Martha were laughing inside.
“I heard about that day.” His pace slowed. “Rumor has it Jesus breathed life into a dead bird.”
“Jesus did breath life into that bird.” I nodded enthusiastically. “I was there. I saw it with my own eyes!”
“Fascinating. Quite incredible. And that other story,” he said, pausing in the garden, “about Jesus causing it to rain. What a storm that was. Did you see that too?”
“Yes,” I exclaimed, “he put out the fire. Later he cured Mariah by saying ‘be calm!’”
“Humph!” Simon grinned thoughtfully. “Casting out demons? I’m not sure about that one.” “Tell me the truth,” he cackled with glee, “was Mariah really a witch or just addled in the head?”
Unable to answer without lying or telling the awful truth, I hung my head and kicked up a sod, which told him exactly what he wanted to know.
“Don’t worry Jude,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes, “she won’t bother you again. Jerusalem is a long way away.”
Having put on a cheerful face, Mama stuck her head out the window and chimed in a cooing voice “Oh, Samuel, would you please join us for lunch?”
Amused yet troubled by my reaction, Samuel dropped the subject. “Thank you Mary,” he called to my mother, “you’re most kind. Ho-ho, Jude has been entertaining me with stories about Jesus.” “I hoped your right about his mission, young man,” he murmured to me as we walked up to the door. “I’d like to be around when he returns!”
“You will be!” I gave him an impish smile. “The fog will lift. Jesus isn’t a mystery, Samuel. He’s going to be a carpenter like Papa or maybe he’ll become rich and famous like Jesus’ new friend.”
“No,” Samuel whispered discreetly from the corner of his mouth, “your brother is not like us, Jude. He’s very special, perhaps even touched by God. You must get used to this fact!”