Jesus kept his promise about not writing a letter until he reached Joppa. The reason for this lapse is still not clear to us. My family and I talked about this occasionally but could never reach a consensus, though I think Mama might have been the closest when she suggested that Jesus was too close to the truth. He was tired of his visions and explaining himself. It didn’t make complete sense to me then, but I see it clearly now: Jesus was weary of his pending Godhead. He was not ready yet. . . . Neither were we.
It was Joseph, himself, who sent us summary of their trip before they reached Palestine. From his short scroll, we learned that the Trident made landfall at Paphos, the port city and capital of the Roman province of Cyprus after leaving Cyrene in fair weather, without incident. Joseph had very little to say about this important stop—a city far more important than Cyrenaica. I would not learn these facts until I became Jesus disciple, for Jesus said almost nothing about this island when he returned. Papa, who had heard about Cyprus from Samuel, knew enough about its history to inform us that it was once ruled by Egyptians and then Greeks, and was a part of Cilicia before emperor Augustus made it a separate province of Rome. The Greeks and Jews on the island had behaved themselves so well that Augustus gave them a degree of independence greater than all the other provinces. The citizens and foreigners lived so congenially, Joseph and his entourage traveled easily by coach to several other cities on the island to meet merchants and magistrates without incident, and yet, in what should have been another highlight in their journey filled with information about the buildings, landscape, and people, Joseph said very little. Jesus said nothing at all. A note at the end of the scroll in which Joseph rambled awhile about the tedium of doctrine and the importance of knowing one’s priorities—God, family, and friends put Nehemiah and Simon to sleep. I must have dozed off myself, for when I perked up I could hear Papa discussing with Mama the silence of their oldest son and the apparent change of attitude in Jesus’ benefactor. These worrisome issues were the furthest thing from my mind. I looked upon Jesus adventures in the world, especially his last stop, as missed opportunities . . . . How could I have been so blind?
A thread ran through his letters transcending the wonders he had seen. Already in his youth Jesus saw our faith in a whole new light. The Universal God, Living Word, and power of prayer were basic to what he believed. The fundamentals, I mentally discarded in my childhood, were there in the beginning. More than mere catchwords, they were the foundation blocks for a new theology and revolutionary faith.
In the period of Jesus’ odyssey Papa’s carpentry business finally prospered. I heard Joseph say to James that much of his success was, in fact, due to Jesus absence, but there were other factors that contributed to the townsmen’s change of heart, not the least of which was the influence of Samuel, the Pharisee, upon the elders. The most important factor, of course, was that the closest other carpenters were in Sepphoris, almost a day’s ride from Nazareth. Many townsmen, who had shunned us in the past, were forced to bring him broken chairs and tables and occasionally an order for a new piece of furniture, though most of Papa’s important business came from men who had remained Papa’s friends or from clients in neighboring towns, unaware of our family’s reputation and past.
During this same period, without Jesus’ protective hand, my older brothers continued to harass Nehemiah and I in spite of my parent’s half-hearted attempts to monitor our games. Mama missed Jesus and worried about Papa’s sudden love of wine. Without Jesus presence, moodiness prevailed at dinnertime. Jesus was sorely missed, especially during those weeks we heard nothing at all from him. His antics, which I now understand, had entertained and confounded us. He was, in spite of his eccentricities, a stabilizing force in our lives. For James and especially Joseph, however, this wasn’t always true. Jesus very nature irritated the third oldest son. After slacking off on his duties in the carpentry shop, Jesus had, a short while before leaving on his trip, decided that he would accept his responsibilities as the oldest son. This came after James had become Papa’s apprentice, with Joseph next in line. Papa’s decision, based upon Jewish tradition, to place Jesus in charge of his brothers rankled even me. Since Jesus would inherit Papa’s business and his brothers would become nothing more than hired hands, the thought “what if Jesus never returned?” must have flashed through James’ mind. Jesus learned everything, including carpentry, quickly when he set his mind to it, which intimidated James in his effort to master the craft. Jesus self-righteous nature and habit of speaking his mind also diminished James in stature, making him that much more happy Jesus was gone. Except when Papa was around to protect us from their wiles and monitor James and Joseph’ work, they had been free of Jesus’ scrutiny. Joseph’s resentment, of course, was more basic. He disliked Jesus overbearing personality, too, but also resented his slipshod adherence to Hebrew custom and law. There was no greater critic of Jesus in our family than him. Because James was next in line after Jesus, Joseph felt less compelled to be a first-rate carpenter. By virtue of being the third oldest son, he was, my Greek friends might say, out of the equation. Even if Jesus never returned, he would still become, like Simon and I, a hired hand. His bitterness toward the favored son was not based upon such ordinary things as work ethics. It was, as it would one day be for the Pharisees, priests, and scribes, a matter of doctrine—what Jesus believed and who he was. On both accounts, however, whether it was Jesus the spoiler or Jesus the heretic, there seemed to be a good reason for James and Joseph not wanting Jesus to rush back home.
Simon, a slacker and idler, himself, had never shared their resentment toward the oldest son. Like Nehemiah and myself, his behavior no longer mattered. We missed strolling through the hills with him on nature hikes, sharing his wit at the kitchen table, and seeing him there by the window standing watch. There were, of course, many factors in our daily lives not affected either way by Jesus’ absence. Joachim, the rabbi, would always hate members of our family. The same town elders, as before, shunned us as if we had the plague. On the other hand, we had made new friends (at least in my opinion) in the Romans now guarding our house. The fear that Reuben might return to wreak vengeance upon us had seemed to be cancelled out by their presence. A begrudging acceptance of the soldiers had settled over Nazareth as they tramped through our backyard and clanked and galloped through town. All things considered, matters had improved for us somewhat in Nazareth. The only worry in our lives, outside of Jesus’ prolonged trip and Samuel’s health, was the condition of the newest member to our family.
Because he was so small, inconspicuous, and never complained, Nehemiah’s worsening condition was often overlooked. I recall having fearful thoughts about my friend as Papa read Jesus letter from Gaul, and yet the possibility was too awful to accept. All of us continued to be complacent, so that when we stopped finally to look more closely at him, Nehemiah seemed to be wasting away before our eyes. Despite my efforts to keep his spirits up, his body was failing him. After awhile, he could barely walk without labored breathing, he had little appetite, and he took frequent naps. As I watched him fade away, Samuel’s words weighed heavily upon my mind. If I hadn’t eavesdropped upon Papa’s conversation with him, I would still know something was dreadfully wrong, but because I had been a snoop Nehemiah’s fate seemed sealed. Samuel had said two startling things when he lay on his sick bed last summer: “Jude will serve two masters but will forsake Rome” and “I see the shadow of death in Nehemiah’s eyes.” I wasn’t sure what the first statement meant, but there was no mistaking the meaning of the second. Yet my mind revolted at Samuel’s words.
As I looked at the small, frail boy beneath a large olive tree, I grew irritated with Samuel’s forecast. Who was he to make such rash predictions? Did he think he was a prophet? Though Jesus wasn’t to blame, I was angry with him, too, for not being here to make Nehemiah well. It struck me as unjust that he promised old Samuel he would live to see him go on his mission when it seemed he might not be around to save my best friend. Nehemiah’s condition worsened so quickly, in fact, it seemed impossible for Jesus to arrive on time, until finally, one morning, he simply didn’t wake up. He was alive—that was all. Throughout the first hour everyone ran around in a panic. It suddenly seemed that Samuel was, in deed, a prophet, though I sincerely hoped he was wrong about me forsaking Rome. I had dreamed so often of my great white horse, shiny helmet and flowing cape, but when Nehemiah collapsed and slipped into that dark place, nothing seemed to matter but my stricken friend.
Now that Nehemiah hung in the shadow between life and death, I prayed for a great miracle: Jesus swift return. In the last brief letter he had said nothing. Joseph of Arimathea’s short scroll gave no timetable for their return. We had no idea when this odyssey would end, so, while we waited for Samuel’s physician to arrive at our house, Papa, with our coaxing and without thought for how it might be mailed without Justin, our courier, at our disposal, sat down to compose a letter to Jesus, while Mama tried desperately to revive the unconscious boy. That same hour a legionnaire just happened to ride past our house, carrying a satchel full of correspondence for his cohort. Moving faster than I have ever seen him run, Papa responded to the sound of horse’s hooves and charged from the house. Through gulps of air, he explained our crisis to the young man and begged him to take his letter to the relay station in Sepphoris and make them understand how important this letter was. The young man, whose name was Drusus, was aware of Papa’s standing with Cornelius, prefect of the Galilean cohort, and agreed to rush it to the relay station, but he couldn’t promise exactly when and how the letter would arrive if Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea were continually moving from place to place. There was no way of knowing where they might be, whether on land or sea. The problem was tracing the course of the recipients, explained Drusus. Where were they at a particular point in time? How could the courier know where they might arrive next? I was impressed with the legionnaire’s explanation, but he offered us little hope. Though James and I understood the foolishness of this enterprise, Papa had to try. We had all been patient, everyone agreed, through Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, and Cyrene, and we hadn’t complained. It was time, Papa declared, handing his scroll to Drusus, for his oldest son to return.
Unlike Justin, the one-eyed courier, who had brought us all of Jesus’ other letters, including the letter from Cyrene, the young man remained in his saddle as he reached down, snatched the letter out of Papa’s trembling hands, and placed it with all the other letters in his saddlebag. Refusing an offering of food and drink, Drusus saluted Papa smartly, gripped his reins, and, with a polite nod, quickly galloped away. That’s what I wanted to be, I thought, feeling a pang of guilt. Since, as Papa pointed out, it took so long for mail to arrive overland, Jesus’ ship could already be on his way home. That would be nice, everyone agreed. Time was running out. It seemed improbable, however, that Joseph of Arimathea would receive Jesus’ letter when his ship docked then race back to Nazareth through Judea and Galilee to arrive just in the nick of time. Even if Jesus arrived within the next several days, James observed grimly, Nehemiah might not last that long. It was time, Papa declared, with tears in his eyes, while we watched Drusus disappear, to join in a circle of prayer as Nehemiah lie unconscious on the table clinging to life.
It was another defining moment in the family of Joseph bar Jacob. Old Samuel, though clinging to life, himself, insisted on being present. To add the powerful prayer of a righteous Pharisee to our circle, we constructed a temporary pallet nearby; close enough to allow the old man’s hands to clutch ours. Ezra, who also joined our circle, had brought Abner, the village physician from Nain, who was able to bring Nehemiah to consciousness by smelling salts but had little hope that his tiny, frail body could withstand the illness much longer. We never found out what afflicted poor Nehemiah, but the physician reaffirmed what Papa already decided when Nehemiah had fallen ill. He had no signs of the plague. He didn’t even have a fever. He was suffering from a wasting illness he had carried with him since being rescued from his Aunt Deborah’s house. The physician agreed with Papa that Nehemiah’s miraculous recovery from the plague had only postponed the degenerating disease, but there was no cure for a malady, which had been caused by lack of a proper diet and neglect. And yet, as dreary as his pronouncement was, the physician, who was a pious man, himself, joined in our circle, as did several of our family’s friends, including Uriah, who had snuck away from his father’s house.
There in our house, crowded in our kitchen, surrounding Nehemiah on the table, were men, women, and children, who had misgivings about our eccentric family and yet demonstrated their loyalty by supporting us now. Samuel, whose influence was still very strong in Nazareth, had sent out the word. Our visitors had known and pitied the little nephew of Deborah, the village crone. They were moved by our parents’ tradition of adopting orphaned children, in spite of the notoriety of two of their sons. It seemed unjust to me that Jesus would be included alongside of Michael, my one-time friend, but Michael, who had been merely the son of the village witch, was gone now. Jesus, who Rabbi Joachim and many of the elders considered a heretic and blasphemer, would return from his journey, perhaps a greater heretic and blasphemer than before. With baited breath—good or ill, Jesus family, friends, and foes waited for his return. The realization filled me in our crowded kitchen: If only he was here now to personally show his self-righteous critics the power of prayer, instead of this motley gathering of fair weather friends.
“Let us join hands,” Papa called out gently, this time without his mug of wine.
Many of our visitors, who had come here to offer sympathy (as if Nehemiah was already dead), shook their heads at this foolishness and departed immediately from our house. Those visitors left, perhaps out of curiosity, joined hands reluctantly with us. Samuel, in his delicate condition, was given Simon and my hands on each side of him as he sat up on his pallet. I was forced to also to take with my free hand the unwashed, calloused hand of Joanna, Ezra’s oldest daughter, and poor Simon held with great disdain the hand of Uriah, who bravely attended the event. I could no longer harbor ill feelings toward the rabbi’s son, as I considered what Joachim might do to him when he returned home.
While the twins idled their time in the back room, James, Joseph, and our parents clasped hands with each other and those visitors standing beside them at the table. When the awkward circle was complete, Papa’s voice rose above the murmurs of its members, “Lord, we gather in your name, asking for your mercy on behalf of Nehemiah bar Tobias, who lies stricken below us, hovering between life and death. Call back your reaper and send down your healing light instead. Please receive the silent requests of those holding hands as one great force of faith and listen, as one voice, to our collective prayer.” “Let us now pray silently,” he said, looking around the group.
This last note caused a few more dissenters to leave our circle, but there was still, by my count, fourteen people linked around the table. Nehemiah, though briefly conscious, lapsed back into the shadow of death. I kept repeating the same words over and over in my head: “Lord please save Nehemiah, Lord please save Nehemiah . . . ” I will never know what everyone else mustered up in their minds, but I could imagine the power of my parents’ and Samuel’s prayers. More than the others, their lips moved in that feverish pattern of the pious, eyes tightly shut, and sweat forming on their brows, while many of the participants seemed embarrassed by this event.
This lasted for many moments. When I felt drained of thoughts, I looked around the group, wondering when it would end. I noticed, with surprise, that all of the remaining members, except me, at least had their eyes closed in the manner Jesus suggested during our first circle of prayer. For all of our efforts, however, Nehemiah looked to me as if the Angel of Death had arrived during our prayers. My friend’s eyes had popped open and he looked ghastly pale. I must have been in shock that moment, since I felt only curiosity at what I saw—was he dead or alive? Once again I wished Jesus were here with us; he would heal him as he had the dead sparrow and Levi in the house of the Gaul. Finally, as groans and grumbles erupted from our group, Papa inspected the circle, himself. Family members and friends were greatly agitated. Dropping his eyes to the subject of our prayers, Papa broke the circle, bending down with the physician close by. Sighing heavily, the remaining links followed his example and released their circle-mate’s sweaty hand, then stood gawking at the stricken boy. The physician waved us all away and sat down beside Nehemiah’s head to inspect him more closely. Samuel now patted my knuckles in a gesture of consolation. Joanna, Ezra’s boyish daughter, had disengaged her hand from mine and placed it gently on my head. Papa, who hovered in back of Abner, looked sadly over at me, as Mama handed the physician a mirror.
The mirror, Papa purchased for Mama after their flight to Egypt, was placed over Nehemiah’s small mouth. We all understood immediately what its purpose was, but it seemed so futile, after looking at my friend’s lifeless face, I broke down loudly in tears. Perhaps, because of their shared guilt, my brothers wept quietly amongst themselves. Also sniffling and dabbing their eyes, were several of our visitors, touched by the moment, as Abner now checked Nehemiah’s wrist then looked deeply into his unblinking eyes.
“Peace be unto you Nehemiah bar Tobias,” he murmured, gently closing my friend’s eyes.
“No! No!” I shrieked. “The circle of prayer never fails!”
“It’s God’s will,” replied Samuel, shaking his ancient head.
“The mirror doesn’t lie,” droned the physician. “The heart is quiet and the eyes are fixed. Samuel’s right; we must accept God’s will.”
“No, we mustn’t,” I screamed at him. “Nehemiah’s too young to die. If Jesus was here, he’d bring him back to life!”
“That’s blasphemy.” Abner turned to Papa.
Mama wrung her hands in grief, as I rushed forward to embrace my friend. Lifting Nehemiah’s frail body up with strength I didn’t know I had, I rocked him to and fro, as I recall Mama rocking Abigail when she injured her knee. The terrible injustice of it all overwhelmed me. Once again I blamed Jesus for not being here, and this time I spoke it out loud for all to hear.
“Jesus, why couldn’t you have returned to us,” I bellowed. “You keep sending silly information we scarcely understand. You should be here with your family. Only you can bring Nehemiah back to life!” “Oh Jesus!” The moment gripped me. “Speak to God as you once did to save the sparrow and the Pharisee’s son, as you once did to stop Mariah’s evil spirit, and as you once did to bring rain from the sky. God of my father and my people—universal and all powerful—listen to your son Jesus on our behalf.”
It was as if I had matured many years those moments. I had spoken eloquently to God. Samuel looked up at me in amazement. My parents looked at me in sorrow yet with great pride. But there was an undercurrent of shock and awe in the gathering, for I had spoken heresy in my brother’s name. Ezra, to his credit, didn’t protest this time, and Abner, the physician, seeing my grief kept his tongue. I released Nehemiah, laid him back on the table, and felt myself being raised up by my parents’ hands. As I looked down at Nehemiah, I saw something I couldn’t believe. Rubbing my tear-filled eyes furiously, I studied his face a moment then saw it again: his eyelids fluttered—once, twice, three times!
“Papa, Mama, look!” I pointed excitedly. “He awakens! Nehemiah lives!”
“Nonsense,” grumbled Abner. Bending over to see for himself, the physician announced calmly. “I’m sorry, child, I just shut those eyelids. The mirror doesn’t lie.”
“Give me the mirror!” I cried. “Let’s check him again!”
“Jude,” Papa shook my shoulder, “stop this at once! Let Nehemiah rest in peace.”
“Give me that mirror,” I shouted, stomping my foot, “Nehemiah’s not dead. He’s alive!”
“Mary,” Samuel called from his pallet, “give him your mirror.”
Mama handed me the mirror and I immediately placed it over Nehemiah’s chapped lips, parted now I fancied as he took the breath of life. Suddenly, as the mirror displayed the telltale smudge, Nehemiah’s eyelids fluttered again, his eyes opened, and he let out a gasp.
A few of the onlookers who saw this as sorcery, made the sign to ward off the evil eye but most of Nehemiah’s audience were greatly moved by what they just saw. Idly, in a dumbfounded state, I wondered if this is was how Jesus felt when he brought back the dead bird. The Pharisee’s son may have just been in the dark sleep, but the sparrow had been dead. Papa, Mama, Ezra, and Naomi looked down in pop-eyed and slack-jawed awe. Samuel found the energy, with James and Joseph’s help, to rise up on his shaky legs in order to witness the miracle for himself. Not only did Nehemiah begin breathing on his own, but he looked around the room, his lips twitching as if he wanted to speak.
At this point, I heard Abner grumbling “what sorcery is this? That boy was dead. Your son called upon Jesus to save this boy. Is this not the same son, who the Nazarenes say called upon Beelzebub to send rain?”
“You don’t believe that!” exclaimed Papa, shoving the physician aside. “Look at him. This is God’s will. That child, by your own pronouncement, was dead!”
I expected Papa to grab the physician’s collar now, shake him severely, and throw him out of our house. It would not be the first time Papa defended Jesus’ good name. This time, however, Papa and Mama were too overjoyed at Nehemiah’s sudden return from the dead. The physician shrugged contritely and shook his head. More reasonably now, he suggested that the boy had not really been dead but in a deep, dark sleep, but no one present could agree with that. It was agreed by everyone that hour that their prayers, topped off by my appeal, had brought the boy back to life. It really didn’t matter whether he had been dead or in a dark sleep. He was alive! It was, in the words of Samuel, merely splitting hairs, since it was obvious to everyone, especially after the physician’s own examination, that Nehemiah had not been breathing, he had no pulse, and his eyes were open and the pupils fixed. To give Jesus credit for this when he was so very far away struck everyone except me as absurd. Yet in my childlike mind it was, to coin a learned friend of mine today, cause-to-effect. I prayed to God, invoking Jesus name, and, as a result, Nehemiah was alive.
Unfortunately, his eyelids slammed shut again, his chest rose and fell ever so faintly, and a drool escaped his lips. The physician apologized for repeating the rumor he heard about Jesus, sat down beside his patient, and tried making sense out of what he just saw.
“Praise be to the Most High that he lives,” he declared, shrugging his shoulders. “But how much longer he lives cannot be determined unless we know what made him sick.”
“I thought we agreed,” Papa argued, “that it’s the wasting sickness. His aunt practically starved him to death.”
“Perhaps,” Abner replied shaking his head, “this might have contributed to his illness, but I think there’s something else more serious here than improper diet. I bear witness, as you, to his miraculous recovery, but he’s not out of danger yet.”
“Will you stay and help him?” Mama asked tearfully.
“Yes, of course,” he nodded thoughtfully, “but I have other patients in Nain and your own town.”
He motioned to Samuel, who had sat down shakily between James and Joseph on a stool, adding finally, “. . . . I might be able to oversee both patients, Samuel and Nehemiah, for a while.”
“I have money saved,” said Papa, grasping his hand. “You will be paid.”
“That’s not my concern,” Abner replied, looking passed him at the sleeping child. “Until this day, I thought I understood the power of prayer. . . Never have I seen such a display. I find it hard to believe that one young boy could change God’s mind, after all of us seemed to have failed, but Nehemiah lives. We’re all witness to this fact!”
Abner walked over to me and bowed, as if I was royalty, smiled quizzically, and shook my hand. “I will do all I can for your adopted brother and best friend.”
I had changed my mind completely about the doubting stranger in our midst. Lurching forward to give him my best hug, I beamed up passed his scraggly beard and discovered a kindly face. The townsfolk, imparting their best wishes, had begun filing out of our house. Abner and Samuel’s chamberlain, Mordechai, who had waited patiently outside, escorted the old man to his house. The last ones to leave, Ezra, Naomi, and their oldest daughter, remained a few moments longer, staring in wonder down at my friend. Ezra, a man of few words, had more of our heresies to chew on, but this time he stood in quiet contemplation, uttering a blessing to the house of Joseph, his wife, and children. Naomi promised to return with her daughters to help in any way they could. Ezra, always faithful in spite of his stubbornness, would remain Papa’s closest friend.
For several days following the miracle in our house, Abner applied his art to Nehemiah with little or no response. Occasionally the boy’s eyelids would flutter or his lips would twitch, but he didn’t awaken. With Samuel’s insistence, they moved the boy by a wagon to his villa into a fine bed, where Abner could keep both he and Nehemiah alive. Samuel wanted very much to see Jesus again before he died. The physician promised us that the old man was in less danger than the boy, but it would be convenient and practical if he could watch them both in the same house. Ezra had provided the wagon, which he had used to cart wool from the shepherds. Papa modified it temporarily by cushioning it with lambs hides and pillows so that Nehemiah would have a comfortable ride. When Nehemiah was settled for his convalescence in the house of Samuel, we remained there in his home watching the physician administer medicine and food into his parted lips. We knew he was in good hands, and yet a great sorrow filled me as I wondered whether or not he would be this way until he died. . . .When would that terrible day be? As before, during the festive day of Samuel’s feast for Jesus, I ran from the house and into the orchard by the house.
I lie down with my knees tucked up to my chin and wept. Every wondrous thing that happened to me had no meaning if God let Nehemiah die or remain in his death-like sleep. I called upon God and I called upon Jesus. The next moment I was looking up into Papa’s darkened face. He was but a shadow against the sun overhead but I recognized his earthly voice.
“Jude, Jude, Nehemiah has awakened,” he was saying over and over again. “Come-come my son,” he coaxed, raising me up, dusting off the leaves, and leading me back to the house.
Mama was waiting at the great doors with my brothers and sisters. Ezra’s family also appeared in the background. We were lead by the physician, who begged us not to tire his patient, to Nehemiah’s room, where Samuel and a servant sat on each side marveling at the little boy lying in the big bed. He still appeared dreadfully pale and could barely speak or move as he looked up at me, yet it was such a marked improvement over the condition he was in before I yelped with joy, touched his face, and then hugged the physician again.
“I’m not sure my potions did that,” he sighed. “I suspected he might come to but not so soon. Praise be to the Most High. One moment I was looking down at a sleeping boy and the next, his eyes were open and he was attempting to talk.”
“Ju. . . Ju. . .” he struggled, his lips trembling and eyelids fluttering.
“Yes, I’m a Jew,” I said playfully. “We’re all Jews in this house.”
“Don’t tease him.” Mama frowned. “He’s trying hard to say your name.”
“Jude. . .” he looked up into my eyes. “I-I saw them.”
“Who, little one,” Abner asked gently, feeling his pulse. “Did angels greet you in your dream?”
“No, . . .” Nehemiah continued to struggle. “I saw my parents standing over me.”
“What a nice dream,” Naomi offered sweetly. “We all miss Tobias and Susanna.”
“What did they say?” I grinned happily at him. “Did they tell you you’d be up and about soon?”
Nehemiah thought about this a moment and shook his head. His voice returned to its old form: “No, . . . they said they were waiting for me with my brother and sisters. . . . There was light behind them, so bright it hurt my eyes, and they became shadows against the white background, until I saw my little sister’s face once more. She asked me to hurry up, so I could be with them soon.”
“It was only a dream.” Papa reached down to ruffle his hair.
“Yes, Nehemiah,” Mama said reassuringly, “your family are with the Lord, but they want you to live a long life.”
“But my sister asked me to hurry up,” he replied fearfully. “What does that mean? Can someone interpret my dream?”
“Nehemiah,” Samuel said, patting his head, “the Prophet Daniel had such a gift. If it’s a God sent dream, I believe that meaning can be found by any faithful soul.” “Often the Lord speaks in symbols,” he added, glancing at Mama. “This time your dream seems quite easy to understand, yet it must be false. I can’t believe that any member of your family would want you to die, just so you can be with them in Paradise.” “It’s not your time.” He looked down severely now. “No one, except the Lord, knows when your time will come. Look at my old carcass, Nehemiah, I’m living proof of that.”
Papa kept me busy with him in the shop so I wouldn’t worry about Nehemiah’s health and continue running across the yard to see if Jesus was on the road. I had learned to sand very well, but the shaver, which had sharp edges was left to James and Joseph’s experienced hands. Simon had been forced out of sloth to assist me in preparing the wood and grew closer as a brother to me during this period. For the first time that I could remember, he acted companionable toward me, taking my side in disagreements. Even James and Joseph were treating me civil now that Nehemiah was away. This both gladdened and saddened me, since it came at a price—Nehemiah’s illness. On the one hand I welcomed my brothers’ friendship, but on the other hand it was only because I was not being monopolized by Nehemiah, my best friend. Would they continue to cavort with me as an equal in the orchard and hills when Nehemiah regained his health? . . . I was not so sure.
One day, when our chores were done, Papa gave us permission to romp, as a group, in the hills if we assisted his friend Ezra in carting wool down the Shepherd’s Trail through the hills. The last time Uriah, Nehemiah, Michael, and I helped, Ezra swore he would never employ us again, but, because James and Joseph were assisting in the enterprise, he agreed reluctantly to Papa’s request. It was, I knew, another diversion to occupy my mind. Joanna and Meira, Ezra’s two big, gruff daughters, whom no man in Nazareth would dare trifle with, would allow us to assist them with the wool pickup at the shepherds’ camp. Ezra, who had full confidence in his daughters, was busy at the loom, but would be along shortly to make his transaction after the pickups in Odeh’s camp.
On the way down the long winding hill to the shepherds’ camp, I temporarily forgot about the crisis in our family and when our oldest brother would be home. I wasn’t sure how my other brothers felt about all this. James and Joseph had never been fond of Nehemiah and wouldn’t miss Jesus bossing them around. When Jesus returned, all puffed up about his great adventure, he might lord it over James, Joseph, and Simon even more. When Nehemiah got well, he and I would need Jesus protection from our brothers, so our adventure today had special meaning. If Jesus was on the Jerusalem road today, it might be the last time we shared such a moment.
Joanna and Meira did all the work, taking turns pushing the wagon down the hill. They would also take turns hauling the loaded wagon back up through the hills, which is the hard part of the job. After the last disastrous time we helped Ezra, he would not trust us helping him haul wool, ourselves, so we were allowed to carry the many excess pieces in our arms. The first transport was a merry jaunt down the hill, James and Joseph good-naturedly pelting us with dirt clods and Simon and I returning fire, until we reached Odeh’s camp. A Roman soldier stood among Odeh and his brothers, which excited me very much.
“Where are Longinus and Cornelius?” I asked pertly.
“Jude, shut up!” James thumped my head.
“Ah hah! This must be the younger brothers of the sorcerer Jesus,” the young officer announced blithely. “I see you often in the carpenter’s yard. Where is Jesus, the miracle worker now?”
“He’s not here,” grumbled Joseph. “Right now our brother is somewhere on the Great Sea.”
The Roman appeared to be disappointed that Jesus wasn’t here. He also disapproved of my older brothers treatment of me and gave James a scornful look. Odeh stepped forward, motioning politely to Joanna and Meira to begin filling the cart, then turned to introduce Joseph bar Jacob’s sons. When he came to James, the Roman snarled. Odeh, who seemed intimidated by the soldier, bowed differentially, allowing the Roman to introduce himself.
“Four unlikely brothers. Quite an assortment,” he seemed amused. “My name’s Regulus Valentinius, Optio for Aulus Longinus, First Centurion of the Galilean Cohort.” “I’ve heard about your friend Michael.” He looked down at me. “If he’s not careful, he’ll run afoul of Rome.”
“Michael has been gone a long time.” James glared at Regulus.
“Michael’s not who we’re looking for,” Regulus returned James glare.
Though a mere child, I knew that James was acting foolishly now. Suddenly, at Regulus’ signal, from the nearby hills, several legionnaires strolled down the path to gawk at the sorcerer boy’s brothers.
“These are some of my men: Falco, Priam, Leto, Diblius, Zeno, and Gratian.” He motioned flamboyantly to each man. “We’re looking for a rogue named Reuben and his band. Odeh and his brothers have seen him in the hills. Several of your neighbors have seen them in town.”
“Then its true,” gasped Joseph. “We thought it was just a rumor.”
“Why would they be around here?” James asked in disbelief. “I’ve never caught a glimpse of them ever.” “Have you?” he turned to Simon and me.
“No-o-o!” we answered fearfully.
“Are you certain Regulus?” Joanna came forward now. “My sister and I have been up and down that path many times recently and not seen a thing.” “Those boys,” she jabbed a finger, “romp in these hills constantly. If anyone’s seen them, they would’ve.”
“And what’s your name?” He appraised the muscular girl.
“Joanna,” she said tossing her wooly head, “and that’s my sister Meira.”
“Well, Joanna and Meira,” said Regulus, removing his helmet to scratch his dark curls, “this path you speak of is the back door to Nazareth, running all the way to Jerusalem. Before Rome built its famous road to your holy city, this was used by merchant caravans, but it’s now popular with brigands and misfits who wish to hide from Roman eyes.” “Frankly,” he admitted, walking idly over to inspect the cart, “Nazareth, with its pell-mell buildings is a perfect place for such persons to hide if relatives are willing to shelter them in their homes. If we come sniffing around, they merely scurry into the hills and wait until we go back to our camp. The only way we’ll catch these rogues, without searching every house and having to comb every inch of those hills, is for folks to step up with information like our friend Odeh here.”
“It means nothing if he’s still out there!” Odeh pointed accusingly.
“What will you do if you catch them?” James asked, frowning at Odeh.
“Rome will crucify them,” Regulus answered quickly, “and don’t look at Odeh that way. Those men stole one of his sheep. I understand your Jewish zealots—they hate informers, but Reuben and his men are thieves and murderers. They almost killed one of our men and went on to rob a caravan on the Jerusalem road. During their robbery, they murdered two men and they’re now on the loose in your fine town.”
“Are you going to protect us again?” I inquired in a quivering voice.
“We’ve never stopped.” Regulus looked down at me. “Because of the bad feelings between Reuben and your family, Longinus has a permanent patrol protecting Nazareth and your house. It has been Cornelius plan from the beginning to make this an around-the-clock post. Now because bandits might be hiding in town, we’re posting guards posted permanently here, especially in these hills.”
“Unacceptable!” Joseph slapped his forehead.
“The Romans are spoiling our good name,” cried James.
“Are they serious?” Regulus looked at the rest of us in disbelief.
Simon and I nodded our heads. Joanna, the largest of Ezra’s daughters, walked over as if she just might knock James and Joseph to the ground.
“I’ve been watching you two.” She looked at them with contempt. “You’re both morons! If the Romans don’t watch over us, who knows what those men might do?”
“Well said!” Regulus gave her a nod.
“My thoughts exactly.” Meira looked at her sister with respect.
“What about you little fellow.” He swaggered up to me. “Do you want the Romans to leave?”
“No,” I whispered, “Cornelius and Longinus are our friends.”
“Well, by Jupiter,” he replied with a chuckle, “Regulus is your friend too!”
Ruffling my hair, as all adults do, Regulus promised us that Rome would watch over Nazareth and catch Reuben and his band. Having hitched their horses in town, he and his men now made the trek back up the path. With different emotions, we watched the Romans depart. Simon, I sensed, shared my awe of our Roman protectors, whereas Joanna and Meira simply admitted what many townsmen secretly believed: the Romans were necessary for Nazareth’s protection. James and Joseph, I’m afraid, represented many youths in town, who had been influenced by Rome’s past treatment of insurrectionists. I write this in retrospect now, for the word insurrectionist, as many other words I use in this chronicle, would not yet have crossed my mind. Although James attitude about Jesus seemed to be softening, his anti-Roman attitude, like Joseph, was still strong. My understanding of Rome’s importance to our survival was far better than James and Joseph’s foolish notions of patriotism. I was convinced more than ever, as we plodded up and down the hills assisting Ezra’s daughters, of what I wanted to become. I had the very strange feeling that this heresy, which my family tried not to think about, would be all right with God if I did it with the honor and courage of the valiant Romans I had met.
I’m certain that James and Joseph thought I was a collaborator and turncoat, but I no longer cared. Though he had no desire to become a soldier, himself, Simon now shared in my admiration of the Romans. Our older brothers, deeply affected by Joanna, Meira, and our solidarity or perhaps worried about Jesus’ imminent return, left us alone. The following evening, as we waited expectantly at Samuel’s house, along with Ezra’s family and several more friends, we celebrated the news arriving that morning by our courier that Joseph of Arimathea was bringing Jesus back to us as soon as his carriage could traverse the Jerusalem road. The letter from Joppa had arrived! The look on James and Joseph faces—eyebrows raised and mouth open—belied their raised mugs when Samuel proposed a toast for Jesus speedy return. Nehemiah, who had been too weak to sit at the table, sat on a couch nearby with his mug upraised with both his withered hands.
“Thank you Lord for these blessings,” Mama rejoiced in a loud voice. “Jesus is returning, Nehemiah’s health is returning, and Joseph’s business is returning too.”
“To Jesus!” Papa cried, taking a long abandoned swig.
“I’ll drink to that!” Ezra shouted.
“To Jesus!” The men, women, and children echoed.
“To the Most High for a safe journey.” Abner shook his goblet. “May they arrive soon!”
“To the Most High!” Samuel cried weakly.
The children were supposed to drink grape juice, not wine, but Simon managed to sneak a long gulp from Habakkuk’s mug as he sat it down and turned to chat with Ezra’s wife. I would learn many useful things from Simon, including sneaking a swig or two from unwary drinkers. When Jubal, Joachim’s neighbor, wasn’t looking, I poured half his wine into my fruit juice, making a sort of wine punch. It was delicious!
The plan, of course, since Jesus would be here at any moment, was to have a servant lead the weary travelers into the hall and, when they entered the room, all of us would rise in our chairs with loud, happy cheers. This had required Papa talking Drusus, the cohort’s messenger, into riding ahead to ask Joseph to drop Jesus off at Samuel’s estate rather than his father’s house. Though they should be only a short distance away, not far beyond the Roman fort, the messenger was given several coins, provided by Samuel, to pay for his time. We all hoped that this incentive would hurry him along to catch the entourage before it arrived in town. It seemed foolish, claimed Ezra, for us to expect the travelers to come here, when the messenger might pocket the money and return immediately to camp. Ezra was always skeptical, especially of Romans. His suspicion was not shared by Papa, who had been impressed with Drusus’ polite manners, and yet, as one hour passed and then two, and the sun descended lower and lower over the hills, our anxiety mounted with our hunger. Many of Samuel’s guests began to doubt that Jesus was going to arrive at all. To relieve our hunger pangs, our host provided candied fruits, including dates, and all manner of pastries and nuts. As we enjoyed Samuel’s hospitality, Papa, Ezra, and several of the men’s concern over Jesus’ tardiness was dulled by Samuel’s fine wine.
Mama, as the other mothers, tried to prevent us from gorging ourselves on sweets and spoiling our appetite, yet she failed to prevent Simon and me from getting tipsy on wine. As I looked around the room at the faces of the guests, I felt light-headed, though not really drunk. The fruit juice had evidently diluted the wine considerably. I hoped it had done the same for Simon, who has snuck wine from Papa’s stockpile before, undiluted, and managed to hide its effect.
When a servant finally ran into the room announcing the arrival of Jesus and his friends, pandemonium broke in the dinner hall. Looks of dread for the imminent appearance of the “great one,” befell James and Joseph’s faces. Simon and I were jumping up and down with glee, as Nehemiah, a wan smile on his pale face, looked on. Everyone, including the doubting Ezra, forgot the original plan and ran as school children to the front door, spelling out the entrance in anticipation of Joseph of Arimathea’s carriage appearing on the road.
Just as the sun set on Nazareth’s western hills, we heard the clatter of wheels and the sound of horses’ hooves. In the distance silhouetted against the sunset, a coach escorted by six riders approached, cheers went up, and typical of the ostentatious Arimatheans, his oldest son, Matthias, charged ahead whooping and waving his sword. I knew immediately that it must be him, for Levi, the second son, whom we learned from Jesus letters had been quite sick, galloped in behind his brother, his sword still in its sheath. With great dignity the four Guards followed in, reigned in their mounts, and waited with stony expressions for the two young men to dismount. Though Matthias enthusiasm made up for his brother’s entrance, we, who were privy to Jesus’ letters, were not impressed.
Most of us were caught up in the moment, but Jesus was our concern. As Joseph’s sons pranced around on their steeds a moment, Levi shouted a humble greeting, while his older brother reared his horse up in a show of horsemanship I’ve never seen. Ezra and Papa carried Samuel out and sat him in a cushioned chair.
“You’d think they were conquering heroes,” grumbled Joseph. “Look at the way they’re carrying on!”
“That one waving his sword is Matthias.” I informed Ezra’s daughters. “He was possessed by a demon before Jesus cast them out. We think he’s addled in the head. The other one, Levi, was very sick until Jesus healed him, and now he’s Jesus’ friend.”
“That’s enough,” Papa’s voice blasted into my ear, “let’s not dredge that up.”
“Here come the guards: Loftus, Strabo, Glychon, and Tycho!” I clapped with glee. “They’re Jesus’ friends too.”
“The two black men are carrying banners.” Mama looked down at Samuel. “What do they mean?”
“They’re crests of the House of Benjamin,” he cackled, waving his mug. “Ho-ho, I wonder what the Romans think of that!”
“But why is that fellow waving his swords?” Ezra asked with a frown. “Is he drunk—or just showing off.”
“Showing off,” Papa decided, as the carriage drew to a stop. “According to Jesus letters, he has won Levi over, but Joseph has had trouble controlling his oldest son.”
“Jesus is the conquering hero,” I cried with sudden inspiration, “he discovered an unknown god!”
Mama clamped her hand over my mouth. “Let’s not bring that up!”
As Phineas, the regular coachman, jumped down and opened the carriage door, several greeters turned to the source of my outcry. I had, I thought proudly, blasphemed twice now. I was, like Jesus, a heretic. I understand these words quite well since Jesus cured the dead bird, but that was before all his other miracles, including the raising up Josephs’ youngest son. Now, as I stood among my family, Papa’s loyal friends, and the servants of Samuel’s house, I watched my oldest brother emerge first from the coach dressed in fine clothes and a turban on his head. For the first time in his life, Jesus was, in fact, dressed as royalty. It almost seemed like a premonition, though in retrospect, as I look back. All he needed was a gold crown, instead of the silly turban on his head. Following Jesus, also in his finest garments, was Joseph of Arimathea, bejeweled, with elaborate Pharisaic headgear. Dismounting from his horse, Matthias swaggered up after sheathing his sword, followed modestly by his younger brother. In spite of what should have been a life-changing experience, Matthias had not changed. With his robes swishing and sword clanking in its jeweled sheath, he carried the same arrogance on his snarling face we saw the last time he was here, but Levi had been transformed by his miracle. Standing on the sidelines deferentially, as they passed through the small crowd, stood the four guards, which I remember clearly from our first gathering with Joseph of Arimathea. From Jesus letters, we had learned that the Nubians, Loftus and Strabo, and the Syrians, Glychon and Tycho, who had guarded Jesus, were still pagans, though Jesus had such high hopes for them. This only made them loom larger in my eyes. Those mighty black men and fierce looking Syrians had protected my brother. They thought he was divine. Those Gentiles during his travels and aboard ship, who heard about Jesus miracles from his guards, also thought he was divine. Yet, as I watched Jesus embrace our parents, his brothers, then bend down to kiss the twins, I saw only Papa’s oldest son and our brother, whom we had grown to love more each day.
I was tired of mysteries and fine talk. I wished for things to get back to normal. My protector was back. Life would be interesting again now that Jesus had returned. That night, during our feast of lamb, Galilean fish, and assorted dishes and dainties, I could tell that Jesus was exhausted from his journey and yet he was, as usual, the perfect conversationalist. Even now, with an adult’s understanding of language, it’s difficult to put my impressions into words. I am no longer innocent. There I was in the crossfire of the two Josephs: the father versus the benefactor of Jesus. In spite of his misgivings about Jesus miracles and his views during their journey, Joseph of Arimathea still had big plans for Jesus. Papa, of course, wanted Jesus back in his shop. Jesus could, the Pharisee boasted, with the proper education, become a great religious teacher. Joseph of Arimathea offered to pay for his education in Jerusalem, but Papa, who had drank much wine, laughed at this suggestion. Jesus already knew more about the law than the Pharisees. When he was just a child he debated with the priests and scribes in the temple. What need did he have of the arguments of old men? This, of course, inspired Joseph of Arimathea’s loudmouthed son Matthias to huff and puff and grumble under his breath. No mention was made by either son of the miracles performed on their behalves. Though Levi remained quite civil, Matthias reminded his father of Jesus’ improper understanding of the Torah and heretical behavior in several cities during their trip. Many of the Jews they encountered, thought he was a blasphemer and heretic. Papa’s replied to Matthias “then we should all be such heretics and blasphemers!” Everyone, including Samuel, who could barely sit up, broke into laughter at Matthias’ puffed up expression. I saw Levi frown with disapproval at his brother, as Matthias bristled and squirmed at this banter. He would probably have run and fetched his sword had not his father understood that my father was slightly drunk. Instead, Joseph of Arimathea gripped Matthias arm and good-naturedly dismissed the matter as the servants brought in the second course of the meal. Papa apologized, after Mama’s silent coaxing, promising to leave it up to his oldest son. Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea had only made his offer out of the goodness of his heart, because he didn’t make an issue of it. In fact, he changed the subject entirely.
It seemed plain even to us children, after Jesus’ letters, that he had lost favor in Joseph’s eyes. With a dreamy look on his face, he related one incident Jesus had covered in his letters: a storm in which Jesus presence seemed to calm the sea. There was, of course, a second such miracle at sea, but the Pharisee went on to another episode Jesus had also written about: the great whale surfacing from the waves, that caused Jesus great joy. A geyser of water, higher than the masts of the ship, spewed out of its nose, exclaimed Joseph. The beast rose up in a great arc, so that when it hit the water a great wave of water engulfed the side of the ship where the onlookers stood. Matthias, Levi, and himself, he explained with mirth, were shocked and angry, but Jesus stood there with his arms outstretched and eyes uplifted, whooping with joy. It seemed to me that Joseph was dodging Jesus’ miracles by concentrating on this event, and yet the thought of such a creature filled me with wonder. As I listened to the great Pharisee expound upon other episodes in their journey—their tour of Greece and Rome’s temples and Simon and Jesus’ adventures in the Old One’s caves, I daydreamed for a brief moment about my own desire to see the world. Would my family give me a feast when I returned? What brought me quickly down to earth was the thought of leaving them behind. In spite of my ambition, could I do such a thing?
As I listened to Joseph of Arimathea, I knew he was a good man, in spite of his oldest son. Who could blame the Pharisee for having misgivings about Jesus, when practically everyone else except our family and closest friends rejected his miracles and special relationship to God? I wonder now, as I write my chronicle, after such a disappointing finish in their friendship, if Jesus’ infinite mind understood the role this man would finally play in his life. The subject of his education never came up again—at least not for the carpenter’s oldest son. The fact that Jesus had all the knowledge he would ever need was not the reason he would not leave his family again. The hills of Nazareth, the olive orchard, Mama’s quiet garden, the warmth of our small kitchen, and those times we sat together at the table for discussions, prayer and meals—these more than any education or worldly travel, helped shape the Son of Man.
As we sat around Samuel’s sumptuous table, the hostility in Joseph’s oldest son was eased by good food and fine wine. Levi ate sparingly and drank modestly, a far off gleam in his dark eyes. At one point, I caught a look passed between Jesus and Levi: the smile of friendship I’ve seen so often on my brother’s face. Though a onetime antagonist like his brother, Levi had been won over, as many people, by Jesus embracing character. Joseph of Arimathea’s educated mind, I now understand, became a barrier to his full appreciation of Jesus’ views. The Pharisee continued to chatter light-heartedly about their trip, while Matthias, Papa, and many of the men grew progressively drunk. Jesus did not mention controversial subjects at the table, perhaps at Joseph of Arimathea’s request. The unknown god of the Greeks he told us about in his letters and his views on the universal God must have been on the tip of his tongue, as well as the wondrous miracles he performed on behalf of the Lord, but Jesus, as his benefactor, talked only about the sights and sounds he had experienced in some of the great cities. He spoke kindly of the guards on their journey, Loftus, Strabo, Glychon, and Tycho, as well as Simon of Cyrene, their best host, and mentioned his favorite moments on their trip.
It was decided, as the feast drew to an end, that Joseph, his sons, and his guards would not depart for Arimathea until tomorrow, but everyone else were anxious to break away. Drunkenness and overeating had taken its toll. Jesus, once again belonged to his family. We were anxious to draw out more information from him not imparted in his letters. After our feast, Mama tucked in Nehemiah, thanked Abner again, and checked on Samuel once more. Unlike the last time Joseph visited Samuel’s house for Jesus “going away” feast, his final words with Jesus during his “welcome home” feast were brief. None of us heard what was said between them, as we waited tactfully at a distance during this exchange, but we saw Joseph and then Levi embrace Jesus, while Matthias merely gripped his forearm in the Roman fashion and gave him a curt bow.
Ezra and his family and the other diners had greeted Jesus warmly in a long line of guests before the meal, but they dispersed quickly after offering their goodbyes to Joseph and his sons, calling out their farewells briefly to Jesus before disappearing into the night. Jesus had chatted with each guest personably before and during the feast. I had felt jealous at this attention, until I reminded myself that Jesus would go home with our family tonight. Some of Samuel’s guests, I was certain, still thought Jesus was a heretic and blasphemer, yet had begun taking my brother’s eccentricities in stride. Those who thought he was touched in the head probably found his antics entertaining and were just satisfied having a fine meal. I could care less at this point. I was tired of these festivities and the issues that would one day shake the foundations of the world and was glad we were taking Jesus home.
We visited Nehemiah one more time before we left, but found him asleep. Abner, who promised to stay on awhile, looked worn out from his care and vigil of two very sick patients. Samuel was incorrigible and difficult for the physician to manage without the servants’ help, whereas Nehemiah needed someone there all the time to check his vital signs and make sure his air passage was clear. Looking up wearily at my oldest brother, as everyone else filed out, Abner smiled crookedly and uttered a tired laugh.
“So,” he reached out in the dim light, as if groping through a fog, “you’re the famous Jesus I’ve heard much about!”
“Well, I hope what you heard its good,” my brother laughed softly.
“Jesus cured a dead bird,” I chirped, looking expectantly up at him.
“Nehemiah’s not a bird,” replied Jesus, “he’s a little boy under the care of a physician, who will make him better. Sometimes God must take his own good time.”
“All right,” I challenged, folding my arms, “but you cured the Pharisee’s son.”
Abner shook his head with amusement. “Are you saying that this story is true, Jesus? I can do nothing more for this poor boy.”
“Pray,” Jesus whispered faintly.
“It works!” I nodded eagerly. “Jesus.” I tugged on him, as he made a motion to leave. “You can do it yourself. Come on, show Abner your stuff.”
“Just pray,” Jesus repeated, leading me out of the room.
Abner rose up with a troubled look, calling out irritably, “What stuff is this? Magic? Sorcery? You think I can save this boy with prayer?”
“Pray!” Jesus called back.
As we joined the others heading home, Mama promised the chamberlain that she would return tomorrow afternoon, unless Nehemiah’s condition worsened, which was true for Samuel too. For the boy, however, the urgency was greater, since he was unable to clearly explain how he felt. Abner or one of the servants would have to stand watch over him day and night, whereas the physician only had to check on Samuel once in a while. If a crisis occurred, the chamberlain would send a runner to bring Mama and Papa back to Samuel’s house.
This was the plan. Though I was disappointed that Jesus would not do this all, himself, I was glad to have him back. Jesus was modest about his God-given powers. He had always told us to pray for what we wanted and that we had the same power as him. So Abner must pray that Nehemiah and Samuel get better. Perhaps, I would once again pray for them, myself. As Jesus held my hand and we followed the others down the road, I promised him this. He smiled but said nothing. I didn’t tell him that I would also pray for a big white horse. I might also pray that Michael had found his mother in Jerusalem. Except for the warning Regulus gave me about Michael, I hadn’t heard a word about him for many months. It seemed no one wanted to talk about him anymore.
Jesus, whose message would one day light the world, held a lamp in one hand, as did Papa and the other men. As I listened to Papa bid Ezra and our other friends good night and watched them breakaway with their lamps and head home, I felt a strange—what was the word?—disquieting peace. Though I was confident Nehemiah, as well as Samuel, was in good hands with Abner, the physician, and was very happy Jesus would be home with us, I felt guilty for not thinking about Michael, who had once been my adopted brother and best friend. As we filed into our yard through the gate, I turned to Jesus, who was also wrapped up in his thoughts.
“Jesus,” I murmured, not wanting to be overheard.
“Yes,” he replied, tilting his head, “what is it little brother?”
“I’m worried about Michael,” I whispered discreetly. “We haven’t seen or heard from him for a long time.”
So that the others would not hear, Jesus slowed us down, allowing our family to move ahead. Papa looked back with curiosity but followed Mama and the others into the house. The lamp cast a golden and silver glow on Jesus fine clothes. I wondered if this was not how the Magi appeared as they approached the manger. My brother had come back dressed like a king!
“You want to know where Michael’s at,” he spoke slowly. “. . . . Only Michael knows this. How can you spot a shadow or see a ghost skirting the dark? Michael will be found when he wants to be found. Pray for him Jude. If you pray very hard, you may find him. Until that day, its up to Michael to find his way.”
“But what if he’s lost?” My voice quivered. “What if he can’t find his way?”
“Michael isn’t lost,” Jesus corrected gently, “he’s chosen his way. All who walk in darkness, yet know the light, do so deliberately. They have forsaken God. For these souls, we must pray that they change their path, a change that begins in the heart, so no matter where they go in the world they’ll find their way.”
It was a message I would hear again and understand perfectly as a disciple, but that moment, looking at the King of Kings, I grew impatient with all this fancy talk. What was my brother trying to tell me about my one-time friend? Would I see him again?”
“Do you suppose he’s gotten himself into trouble somewhere?” I asked, looking back at the road.
“Jude,” Jesus sighed, leading me up to the house, “do you really want to know?”
“No,” I answered with a shudder, “if it’s bad, I don’t want to know!”
“Then let’s go inside,” he coaxed gently. “I want to get out of these silly clothes. I could use some sleep!”