On the day he had been brought back from the dead, Uriah awakened the same little boy he had been before being stung by the scorpion. He would not change from being a whiner, complainer, and annoying friend. We could not expect this miracle to occur—at least not as long as Uriah was Joachim’s son. Believing that Joachim would see what happened today as a healing point in their checkered friendship, Papa escorted Uriah to the rabbi’s house. Everyone from our house, except Mama who stayed home with the twins, came along in a festive mood. Hearing about the miracle from my indiscreet mother, who called out to him as he strolled down the road, Ezra tagged along, as did Gideon and Ichabod, two idlers, who had been snooping around our house. Soon, some of the rabbi’s neighbors Eleazar, Jubal, and Caleb, their wives, and their children were also drawn to the parade, led by little Uriah, whose expression changed from bright to dark as he approached his yard.
“What’s wrong?” Papa asked, as the boy halted at the gate.
“I’m afraid!” Uriah’s face was streaked suddenly with tears.
“He’s always afraid,” grumbled James.
“There’s no need to be afraid,” Papa said, with a chuckle, “Joachim and I are going to have a little chat, that’s all. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear what we have to say.”
“No, he won’t.” Uriah shook his head categorically. “Papa found writings like the kind at Mariah’s house on the walls of the synagogue. He and some of the elders painted over it, but he was really angry. Elijah, who now runs Reuben’s tannery, saw a boy running from the scene.”
“Who was it?” asked Papa, clutching his forehead in disbelief.
“Michael,” Uriah answered with a sob.
“What?” rose a collective response.
This news changed everything for us. For a moment, as the audience crowded at the gate, I felt my old loathing for Uriah return. As I rushed forward, Papa tried reaching out for me. James, Joseph, Simon, and Nehemiah also gave him a murderous glare.
“Michael’s here in Nazareth?” I grabbed his tunic. “When did you see him? Why didn’t you tell me Uriah? How could you keep that from us?”
“That happened last week.” Uriah gave me a hurt look. “I didn’t know Michael left.”
“You didn’t know Michael ran away?” I searched his perspiring face.
Uriah shook his head, his chin dropping to his chest.
“That’s not the only issue.” Papa frowned severely at him. “You should’ve told us you didn’t have permission to visit our house. Admit it, your father forbid you to see Jude. Now you’re telling us that Michael desecrated the synagogue without us knowing about it. Why didn’t you tell us he did that, Uriah?”
“Because he’s a coward!” Joseph spat.
Suddenly, the rabbi’s door opened and he flew out of the house, his robe streaming in the breeze. Our grand entrance had been ruined. There would be no peace between Papa and Joachim. The fat little man hurled curses at us for this intrusion and asked God to send down his wrath upon the house of Joseph for harboring that son of Satan and for ever saving Mariah, the witch. When he included a remark about Jesus’ blasphemies in his imprecations, Papa came forward, his fist doubled up in righteous anger, ready for a fight. Before he could thrash Joachim soundly, however, Ezra, Gideon, and Eleazar grabbed his arms, Ezra pleading with him to control his temper. As they restrained him in Joachim’s yard, Ezra shouted at Joachim “Get back in your infernal house or I’ll turn him loose!”
Ezra’s tone seemed to enrage him that much more. Joachim was so angry he slapped Papa on the cheek as he was held in place. All of his pent-up hatred and jealousy for my father had already been let loose as he charged across the yard. The slap had been but the result of his rage. That was the cue for the other men to let Papa go. Ezra had warned him; his conscience was clear. Backing up with the other men, he folded his arms, allowing Papa to charge ahead. Terrified at what he had done, Joachim pivoted on his heel and began to run, but Papa tackled him, brought him down to the ground, and began pounding him with his fists.
“Joseph,” Ezra cried frantically, “you must stop this at once!”
“Hit him! Pound him! Smash his face in!” chanted James.
Uriah was screaming. The wives of Joachim’s neighbors were crying. Though Nehemiah was frightened, Joseph and Simon shouted refrains similar to James. I was surprised to hear Caleb, Jethro and Obadiah’s father, cheering Papa on. Though pleased with this at first, I had mixed feelings as I looked on. On the one hand, after what Uriah said, I agreed wholeheartedly with them. On the other hand, I didn’t want Papa to beat Joachim to death. He would be murderer—all for a stupid peace effort that should never have been made. Ezra, himself, having a change of heart, ran forward just as I made my move. Uriah’s neighbors, Eleazar and Jubal, also joined our efforts in pulling Papa away. During the commotion, at least a dozen more Nazarenes had become onlookers. I moved clear of the men, hopped up on a stone in the rabbi’s yard, and shouted at my brothers to take Papa away. But it was too late to prevent disaster. The rabbi had been bloodied. His turban lie on the ground, to expose his shiny bald head. James, Joseph and Simon, acting as children again, wept at the disaster. Clear-eyed but in shock, I looked out upon the growing crowd and saw Roman sentries riding past. Peering over the heads of the townsfolk, was Longinus, the centurion sent by Cornelius to keep the peace in our town. He was sitting on his mount, his eyes riveted on this scene. I waved to him. When he climbed off his mount, the crowd parted. A dozen Romans advanced with swords drawn, as many of the onlookers fled. Men groaned and women screamed. Longinus deep, gruff voice caused everyone to cringe.
“In the name of Imperial Rome, cease and desist!”
Longinus shouted this several times. Most of the onlookers vanished as sheep before a roaring lion (or so I write), until only Ezra, Joachim and members of my family remained behind. The Romans stuck their swords back into their sheaths. When Longinus was face to face with Papa, he asked calmly, “What’s going on?”
“This man assaulted me,” cried Joachim, “I demand that you arrest him at once!”
Longinus, who recognized my father, ignored the rabbi completely. I had heard that Romans hated Jewish religious officials. Longinus had said as much himself. I was also aware of the intolerance they had for unlawful assemblies, which is what he might think this was now. Among the soldiers were Priam and Falco, who had been with Longinus the last time he appeared. Both soldiers swaggered forward, as they did before, ready to knock heads together. That time, however, after Joachim insulted Jesus, Longinus arrived in time to prevent Papa from inflicting serious injury on the little man. This time Jesus had not been here to defuse the situation with his charm, and Papa had gone berserk. The deed was done.
The other soldiers must have heard about my oldest brother, for like Priam and Falco they grumbled with disappointment that he wasn’t here. I know now that many of the Romans from the Galilean garrison thought Jesus was a magician, who had great powers. The miracle at Mariah’s house had circulated among the soldiers chasing Reuben and his friends into the hills. Back at the garrison, the rumors of Jesus sorcery, also included the miracle of Jesus raising the dead bird, which had spiraled into a legend that Jesus had, in fact, resurrected a man from the dead. As I listened to their murmurs, however, I sensed only a subdued disappointment for the missing son. Longinus’ stony expression I couldn’t yet read.
“Ah, Joseph, the Carpenter!” A smile twitched on his lips. “What did this blackheart do this time to bring on your ire? I seem to remember an altercation between you two before!”
“I’m sorry Longinus,” Papa answered calmly, “the rabbi insulted us. Words are no longer enough for that man.”
“So, you struck a holy man,” Longinus said, watching the rabbi limp forward, anger darkening his face.
“I demand that you arrest that man!” Joachim shrieked, wringing his fist. “He assaulted me in my yard!”
“No,” Papa shook his head, “I wanted to make peace with him. He didn’t give me a chance. He insulted my family. When he called my son a blasphemer, I lost control.” “But you attacked me first.” He turned and pointed accusingly. “As they restrained me, you slapped me in the face!”
“Is that true?” The centurion looked over at Ezra and the men and women crowding into view.
All of them nodded vigorously. Ezra stepped forward as an unofficial spokesman now and spoke his mind.
“Rabbi Joachim is under the delusion that Joseph has done something wrong. I can attest, as his friend, that he has done only good all his life. He helped save a widow from being unjustly stoned. He tried to help Michael, her disturbed son, who thanked him by running away. Joachim begrudges Joseph for his charity. In his self-righteous mind he sees only black and white and no shades of gray. But what he said about Jesus is an outright lie. Jesus in no blasphemer. He has done many remarkable things—this no one can deny. But he is righteous and walks with God. If he’s blasphemer, then I and all of Nazareth are blasphemers too.”
When Ezra had mentioned Joachim’s insult of Jesus, the Roman soldiers had stirred angrily. After worrying about what the Romans might do, I was greatly strengthened by this response. Already Jesus, whom Samuel believed might was touched by God, had won over the Romans. I could not help thinking that moment about my big white horse. All was well. Longinus’ expression had actually softened into to full-fledged grin.
“So,” he laughed softly, “he got what he deserved.”
Ezra looked at Papa and smiled. “If the rabbi had slandered my family the way he did, I would have done the same thing!”
The Romans all murmured in agreement. Caleb and Eleazar came forward in support. Most of the bystanders, including Nehemiah, my brothers, and I nodded with satisfaction. Longinus, for his part, stood there mentally chewing on the thought. Heaving a sigh, he motioned to his men, who began returning to their mounts. Standing on the stone, I could see it all so clearly.
Longinus reached out in the Roman manner to grip Ezra’s forearm. It was, I understood, a gesture of respect.
“You are a loyal friend,” he said with a nod. “If I had but one friend like you, I would be content.” “But, as a military man, I’ve learned to trust no one,” he added, looking around at the group, “not even a righteous man.” “Righteous men have given Rome much grief. They have caused strife and insurrection. Your Judas, the Galilean, thought he was a righteous man and he was crucified.” “I prefer honest men, true to their friends—this is something a Roman understands.” “As for you,” he said, gripping Papa’s shoulder and looking deeply into his eyes, “the world would be a better place, if it had more men like you!”
“Have no fear,” Papa’s seemed embarrassed, “I’m not righteous.”
“No,” Longinus looked quizzically at him, “…but what of this Jesus? I’ve heard much about him from my men. Will he be a righteous man?”
“. . . Yes,” Papa replied, after a long pause, “Jesus is righteous, but he will never be an enemy of Rome.”
Joachim was so upset by his treatment his mouth opened and closed as a freshly caught fish, but the centurion wasn’t impressed. Spitting on the ground, an obvious sign of contempt, he dismissed him with a wave of the hand. When words finally gurgled out his mouth, Longinus pointed to Joachim’s house and hissed, “Go!”
“Goodbye Jude.” Uriah sniffled unhappily.
“This is not your fault,” I was inspired to respond. “We know that now.”
“The fruit is judged by its tree,” replied Longinus.
In spite of his cryptic remarks, the centurion left on a congenial note. There was no question that Joachim had become our mortal enemy, but Longinus, as Cornelius, was now our friend. Papa and his friend Ezra had found favor in his eyes. Everyone was so relieved and puffed up with pride, the remarks about righteousness and the fruit and the tree faded against our merriment, until that evening around the dinner table when they surfaced again.
Mama scolded Papa for losing his temper. When he explained everything that happened, her anger softened. Then, when Papa told her what the centurion had said, it was as if a dark cloud fell momentarily over her bright face.
“What’s wrong Mama,” I asked, sensing something in her mood.
“Joseph,” she said, gripping Papa’s knuckles, “tell me exactly what were Longinus’ words.”
“Let’s see,” Papa replied, stroking his beard. “Righteous men have given Rome much grief. They have caused strife and insurrection. Your Judah, the Galilean, thought he was a righteous man.” “Wasn’t that a strange thing to say?” He gave her a comical look.
“Joseph,” her voice constricted and tears formed in her blue eyes. “I had such a dream.”
My brothers and I groaned. Nehemiah who was not privy to Mama’s first dream gave her a dumbfounded look.
“You never told me about this.” Papa took her small hands in his. “Was this like the last dream?”
“Yes,” Mama’s voice leveled off. There was a far off quality in her gaze. “It’s like one of those Syrian puzzles where, instead of being set in by our fingers, the pieces come together in dreams, nightmares, and daytime thoughts. As in the Book of Daniel, you told me about, the words, as symbols, actually mean something else. I didn’t quite understand that, but I do now. The dream about Reuben, who I believe is a symbol of our people, and his words about striking Jesus down, cut into me like a sword. Do you remember what Rebecca, the seer, once said to us when we took Jesus to the temple?”
“Yes,” Papa swallowed, “ ‘and a sword shall pierce your heart.’ ” “What are you trying to say Mary?” He leaned forward anxiously. “What does this have to do with your dreams?”
“Don’t you see Joseph?” She frowned, looking around at us. “From that Roman came prophecy. . . A righteous man? . . . Judah, the Galilean? Are we not descended from Judah, the line of the Messiah? Doesn’t this mean something to you?”
“Mary, this is nonsense,” Papa shook his head. “Romans are pagans. We all know the Judah he was talking about: the Galilean. In a very gentle way, he was giving us a warning: behave yourselves, that’s all.”
“A warning,” she sighed, “exactly that. What’s the difference?” “Did he say anything else?” She asked with bated breath.
“Well, there was something else,” Papa admitted, “. . . the fruit is like the tree.”
“Oh, Joseph,” she gave him a sad smile, “you are the tree. Jesus is the fruit.”
By now James, Joseph, Simon, and Nehemiah were, as myself, gripped by this mystery, though we hadn’t a clue to what it all meant. Even the twins, Abigail and Martha, seemed to hang on Mama’s every word. For a few moments, in spite of the suspense and weariness we all felt, Mama found the energy to fill our mugs with fruit juice and present Papa with a cup of wine. In the middle of the table she laid a plate of Uriah’s famous rolls. Papa looked into his cup and laughed with delight.
“Mary,” he marveled, forgetting completely his train of thought. “I thought we were out of wine!”
“I have my ways,” she replied sweetly. Then, the cloud came back to my mother’s face. “I remember something else in my second dream that I can’t believe,” she struggled this time.
“There-there,” Papa took a long swallow, while patting her trembling had.
“Joseph, don’t humor me,” her voice wavered. “Drink more wine. That’s it—a big gulp. You need it. I know there’s more to what the Roman told you. My dream last night was so real and the voices so clear. . . Tell me if there’s more.”
“I don’t remember anything more,” he said scratching his head.
“I do,” I volunteered innocently.
“Mary,” Papa looked sheepishly around at the children. “Should they be hearing all this?”
The twins ran off after a signal from Mama. My brothers were wolfing down the rolls as if they had not eaten in days, but Nehemiah, as my parents, now hung on the final words on this subject.
Puffed up with importance, I stood up, took one more bite from my roll, washed it down with a mouthful of juice and said in a most cavalier manner, “Longinus said Judas, the Galilean thought he was a righteous man and he was crucified!”
“Oh yes, I remember.” Papa took another gulp of wine. “Two thousand rebels were hung on crosses on the Jerusalem road. Those were dreadful times!”