The following day found Jesus, on his on initiative, back in the shop, sanding a table leg that had been clamped to the workbench in an unfinished state. It was true that he had, before leaving on his trip, taken over his responsibilities as the oldest son, but it hadn’t really taken hold until today. There was blazing conviction in his blue eyes. I was the first to see this wondrous sight—Jesus, not wandering in the hills or sitting under a tree in the garden, but acting as a carpenter’s apprentice once more! I ran to tell Papa who was still eating breakfast. When James and Joseph, who saw me race past, discovered Jesus in the shop, they grew angry. Jesus was working on the table Papa had assigned to them, diligently, without pausing to gaze into the unknown. There was sweat beading on his forehead. He was whistling happily under his breath without a care in the world. James exploded in rage when Papa arrived to see this miracle for himself.
“What is this?” he asked, gripping his head. “After all these months shirking your duties, you just walk in and take over?”
“Yes, Jesus,” Joseph shouted accusingly, “you never cared about carpentry. You’re a daydreamer and idler. What’re you trying to prove?”
“Enough,” said Papa, waving his hands, “leave Jesus alone!”
“What is happening?” Mama called from the kitchen window.
“James and Joseph are picking on Jesus!” I jumped and down excitedly.
Jesus now tried to diffuse the argument brewing. “That’s all right Papa, I don’t blame them. After being away so long, I had no right—this is their project, not mine.”
Papa shook his head vigorously. “That is nonsense, Jesus. This is a business—we all share the workload. What difference does it make who works on what?”
“It’s not fair,” Joseph ranted, “we’re the ones who helped your business, not him!
“Yes, Papa,” cried James, “we’re the ones who did all the chores, and he comes home and gets a fine feast! While he wandered the hills talking to God, saw the world and reaped the rewards, it was we, Joseph and I, who slaved in your shop.”
“My sons! My sons!” Papa spread his hands. “Don’t begrudge Jesus for whom he is. That’s God’s doing. He is also a fine carpenter. You, yourselves, have done well. I appreciate everything you’ve done, but it was right and proper that Jesus was given a feast. Your brother is back now—safe from danger. Embrace him and be thankful that he is home!”
These words I would hear later, though worded much differently, when Jesus gave we, his disciples, and a crowd of Galileans the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now, as Papa spoke it, it fell on deaf ears. James and Joseph threw up their hands in despair then fled from the scene.
By now Mama, with Simon and the twins trailing behind, had arrived in front of the shop. Ebenezer, one of the Pharisees in town we rarely saw, just happened to be passing by that moment, and slowed down to cup his ear. James and Joseph had run into the orchard, hollering insults against their heretical, “show off” brother. I was not surprised by Joseph’s behavior, but this was a setback in James’ acceptance of Jesus. Papa, though very upset, tried to console Jesus, who was on the verge of tears. Simon and I stood back in shock, as Mama glanced sheepishly back at the road. I was angry with James and Joseph, but I felt sorry for them for the punishment awaiting them now.
“You’re not to blame for your brothers’ mean-spiritedness,” I heard Papa say to Jesus, “I’m very proud of you for returning to the shop. You’re a good woodworker, my son, but your mother and I know God has plans for you.”
“I’m not a carpenter Papa—James and Joseph are,” Jesus argued gently. “Please don’t punish them for my sake. They feel as if I’m an intruder, coming back the way I did. I should not have touched this table—”
“Yes, you should,” Papa interrupted, handing him the shaver. “Please continue, while I round up those malcontents. I will not tolerant this behavior in my house.”
“Joseph, Joseph.” Mama grabbed his arm. “There are people watching us!”
On cue, after Mama’s words, we looked at the road to catch sight of three more onlookers: Habakkuk, Malachi, and Jubal—all fair weather friends of my parents, sniffing out heresy again.
“If you punish them harshly,” Mama counseled sternly, “you will make them resent Jesus that much more!”
“Well, Mary,” Papa sighed heavily, “what do you suggest I do?”
Sitting down heavily on a stool, as Mama searched for an answer, Papa glared at the elders malingering on the road. From this point on, my parents talked in muted conversation, which made it difficult for Simon and I to hear without inching ever closer.
“You heard what our sons shouted about Jesus.” Papa dropped his head into his hands.
“ ‘Jesus, servant of Beelzebub?’ ‘Jesus, who thinks he’s a god?’ Those are dreadful things, Mary, said against their own brother.”
“Childish things, Joseph, and silly things.” Mama placed her tiny hand on his wooly head. “For mere children, James and Joseph have witnessed drastic changes. They’ve stood back and saw their oldest brother do strange and wondrous things, but they’ve suffered because of Jesus’ strange ways. They have also suffered because their parents gave sanctuary to a woman considered to be a witch and then adopted her son, who the townsfolk thought was also possessed. Now we’ve adopted the nephew of a woman, who was a priestess of a pagan religion. Our son has been called by the town rabbi a heretic and blasphemer, and we are now under the protection of the Romans, which to our sons make us collaborators against our own people—”
“Enough,” groaned Papa, “you made your point Mary. For someone who can’t read, where did you get such wisdom?”
I let out a gasp as Mama gave Papa a strange look, her eyes moving to the sky.
“Don’t answer that,” he said with a grin. “It came from the Lord, right?” “Come here,” he crooked his finger, “let’s show our neighbors we’re not having a fight.”
Mama sat on his knee with a twinkle in her eye. Looking back over the years, it’s difficult for me to believe that my mother was a virgin, though Jesus admitted it to me himself. There was too much affection and love between my parents. This time, of course, they were concerned about more rumors spreading in town. It was, I sensed even then, far too late for that. Just these last moments James and Joseph launched more insults against Jesus. Ignoring their rants, Papa rocked the little woman on his lap back and forth gently as Mama once did, herself, to my brothers, sisters, and me. I looked at the table he had been working on and saw nothing wrong with his efforts so far. Sanding was something even Simon and I could do without much supervision, but shaving was another matter altogether since it reshaped the wood. Jesus must have understood this too. Papa had unintentionally handed him the wrong tool. Laying the ominous shaver down, he picked up the sanding block and resumed sanding the table leg with careful, even strokes. Simon and I sat down quietly in the shop and watched, as Papa and Mama murmured amongst themselves. With nothing more to hear, the four men across the street continued on their way. Habakkuk, the original eavesdropper, waved at Papa before ambling down the road.
Perhaps inspired by God, Jesus told us the story about the carpenter and his workers. I don’t recall ever hearing this repeated during my discipleship with him, and yet it was his first parable. This would become his favorite method of moral teaching to his disciples. Some of his greatest parables, such as the Prodigal Son, were inspired by events with his family in Nazareth. At the time, in fact, I thought this story was intended for Papa and his sons, until Jesus added the last line, which I know now was intended for posterity.
He blue eyes flashed with illumination as he said, “There was a carpenter in Galilee, who divided his work among his sons. Half of the sons worked hard all day but loved not their chores, while the other half did their chores in light-hearted good cheer but did poor work. When the carpenter saw the finished woodworks for each half of his sons, he saw smiles on the faces of those who shirked their work and frowns on the others who slaved all day. Knowing that cheerful workers would remain faithful, while unhappy workers would resent carrying the workload, the carpenter paid the hard workers more money, but also paid the shirkers too, taking special care to train these cheerful fellows in order to make them good workers too.” “In this way,” Jesus said, looking up at the sky, “the self-righteous are rewarded and those seeking righteousness may find the right path.”
One day, Jesus would explain to me privately that this parable, as the Spirit moved him, was intended for his family only, and yet he confessed to me that it had a greater meaning. In a wider sense, he clarified, James and Joseph, in their closed-mindedness, were likened to the self-righteous Pharisees, and Simon and I, in our carefree attitude and acceptance of Jesus, were likened to the common folk, who were slackers like ourselves. One day, he would scold the Pharisees with the rebuke “I come not for the righteous but for the sinners,” but that hour in front of the shop, it was a message of tolerance, aimed at James and Joseph, and also his youngest brothers who must become good workers too. Unfortunately, Jesus had mentioned “money” in his parable. Mama didn’t have a clue, at first, but the reaction in Papa was swift. Upon hearing the word “money,” his ears pricked up, jaws dropped, and eyes widened in alarm. Before Jesus had finished, Mama had climbed off Papa’s lap, and Papa was on his feet, shaking his head in dismay.
“Now, calm down Joseph,” she said with concern, “Jesus was just telling us a story.”
“Are you serious?” He stared at him in disbelief. “Am I to pay James and Joseph for helping me in my shop?”
“Yes,” he grinned, giving Simon and me a pat, “and we three must endeavor, under our father’s tutelage, to become carpenters too.”
“What does that mean?” Simon wrinkled his nose.
“It means Papa will teach you and Jude to be apprentices like James and Joseph and that I, as the oldest son, shall attend to my responsibilities, learn the business, and not waste time wandering the hills.”
Simon and I clapped our hands and cheered this news. Papa stood there frowning at Jesus, as Mama tried calming him down.
“There, there, Joseph,” she murmured, “take a deep breath, stop frowning. That’s it, smile. You knew this moment was coming.”
“Jesus,” he exhaled his name, “—always the do-gooder. You also said that James and Joseph are self-righteous yet must be rewarded for their work. You’re right on one account; those two don’t love their work. You’ve been much too kind with them, Jesus. Sometimes, if I don’t stand over them, they do sloppy work. Always they must work under duress. Do you really think they deserve to be rewarded after the way they acted today?”
“No,” Jesus explained, tilting his head, “not a reward for bad behavior, only a payment as wage earners. It will encourage them if you actually pay them and, as wage earners, give them a sense of pride.”
“I can’t afford that,” Papa said flatly. “I had to buy special lumber. I’ve been saving to rebuild the shop.”
“Did not Samuel offer to give you money for this?” asked Jesus bluntly.
Mama, Simon, and I nodded with approval at his reminder. An agitated look fell over Papa’s face as he looked around at the group. Draping an arm over his shoulder, Mama cooed softly, “Now Joseph, Jesus is right. Samuel offered to pay for this. It’s your pride that prevents you from accepting help.”
“Pride nothing,” he fumed, stomping his foot, “it’s plain wrong. I don’t like the way you’re all ganging up on me. I’m surprised you would suggest such a thing, Jesus. Did the Lord tell you this?”
“Yes,” he nodded slyly, “accepting charity is not wrong. You said so yourself when you helped your neighbors. It’s spirit in which it’s taken that matters most.”
“That would be greed.” Papa uttered a bitter laugh. “You think my neighbors would be charitable to me?”
“They might not,” Jesus confessed, “but we’re the family of Joseph bar Jacob. Did not the Hillel once say “What’s offensive to you, don’t do to another?”
“Hillel?” muttered Mama. “Whose Hillel? Where does he learn these things?”
“He was probably a scholar,” Papa snorted. “He certainly wasn’t a carpenter. It says in the Torah, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Moses wrote that!”
Jesus laughed at his wit. Having been reminded of his vast knowledge, Mama beamed with pride at Papa too, but Papa wasn’t won over by our smiles. He was, thanks to Jesus, being shamed into paying us as wage. Until hearing Jesus’ story, I hadn’t expected being paid at all. Like Simon, I did as little work as possible, especially in the shop, and yet Jesus, who included slackers such as us, implied we would get a wage too. Papa must have read the expectation on my face. As I stood there alongside of Simon, he raised an eyebrow, smiling wryly at me.
“Humph,” he grunted, “I suppose you’ll be wanting a pony.”
“Uh huh,” I nodded eagerly. “I’ll save up and buy it myself?”
Papa folded him arms and shook his head. “Jude—you rascal! It’s bad enough I have to pay Jesus, James, and Joseph. What makes you think I can afford to pay you and Simon, too? Samuel has said several strange things lately. I think he’s addled in the head. Right now, I must decide what punishment is fitting for two of my sons.” “Do you agree with your mother,” he called to Jesus, “that James and Joseph shouldn’t be punished?”
Jesus nodded, while Simon and I vigorously shook our heads.
“Does not Proverbs tell us ‘the man who spares the rod spoils his child?’” he challenged.
“James and Joseph aren’t little children anymore,” came Jesus reply; “they’re almost as old as me.”
“Then they should grow up,” snapped Papa. “I’m running a business here!”
“Why won’t he take Samuel’s gifts?” I whispered to Simon.
“I dunno,” he said with a shrug. “Let’s go spy on James and Joseph. Boy they’re gonna get it now!”
As my parents and Jesus discussed punishment and reward, I hoped Papa didn’t give in, but I knew it wouldn’t be resolved this hour. Whether or not they would get punished for their misbehavior or get paid for their lackluster work, Jesus would follow Hillel’s adage. One day it would be rephrased by him when he was speaking to the multitudes, but that day it seemed very indulgent after what James and Joseph had said. In a way Jesus was, as he would one day counsel his disciples, turning the other cheek. Hopefully, if he had his way, Simon and I might also get paid. Until then, we would continue being one of those cheerful workers in Jesus’ tale.
“Papa,” I interrupted artlessly, “can Simon and I go visit Nehemiah at Samuel’s house?”
“No,” he shook his head, “I’m still not comfortable with you children wandering around town with rumors of Reuben being on the loose.” “Which reminds me Mary,” he gave her a concerned look. “Our two malcontent sons are roaming the hills where Reuben and members of his gang were spotted.”
“The Romans are protecting us,” I reminded Papa.
“Oh yes,” Papa groaned again, “ I just wish they’d be more discreet.”
That very moment Falco and Priam, two of Regulus’ men, saluted us as they finished making another pass from the orchard to the front yard. Papa groaned but Mama grinned and waved. Simon and I ran over to inspect their short swords, which the Romans called a gladius. Already, I knew several of the soldiers in Nazareth. Leto, Gratian, Diblius, and Zeno, the other guards we met in Odeh’s camp, were at this moment patrolling the hills in back of our house. Regulus, himself, I suspected, would ride past our house, during his rounds, checking various posts in town. Credit for our special relationship with the Romans, however, began with Cornelius, whose duties, as prefect of the Galilean Cohort, kept him moving around many Galilean cities and then Longinus, the centurion responsible for the legionnaires patrolling Nazareth and other Galilean towns. Because Regulus was directly in charge of the sentries patrolling our property and the nearby hills, he had become the most important Roman to us now. He had, as Cornelius and Longinus, promised that Rome would watch over us. I knew Papa was as grateful as Simon and I. The Romans seemed to be here to stay. With rumors of Reuben and his thugs lurking about and reports of bandits on the roads, even Ezra begrudgingly accepted this as a fact. This was, of course, more reason for James and Joseph to be rebellious. We had become in Joseph’s words collaborators—Roman-loving Jews.
Mama nevertheless fed the guards and gave them wine. Simon, who had grown to admire the Romans too, also collaborated with the Romans, as Mama and I, by giving the guards fruit from our garden and freshly baked rolls. James and Joseph added to their list my crime of corrupting Simon, who saw no profit joining forces with them.
Not withstanding James and Joseph, Falco and Priam, unlike the other four sentries, had quickly grown fond of our family. Simon and I pranced and skipped around the big burly Romans who ruffled our hair and beamed at my parents, as they ducked into the shop. With Ebenezer, Habakkuk, and Jubal lurking about, they didn’t want to be seen collaborating again with Romans, but it was, as Ezra told Papa before, “closing the barn after the cows escaped.” The two men followed my parents into the shop, giggling, as if it was a game.
“Where are you-uu?” Priam teased.
“It’s hide and go seek,” chimed Falco, looking down at me, “like we played as kids.” “I bet you and Simon play that a lot, eh?” He winked at us.
“No,” Joseph called from the side of the house, “we pretend we’re killing Romans. Go away leave us alone!”
“Shut up, you idiot,” James tried hushing his brother up.
We followed the sentries across the yard. Peeking bravely out of his shop, Papa put on his best face and greeted the Romans. Jesus stepped out into the sunlight eliciting immediate recognition in their dark eyes. In the background, we could see other Romans riding past and Ebenezer, Habakkuk and Jubal, reappearing on the side of the road, yet Jesus was unconcerned with such notoriety and stood there chatting with the men.
“Ho! There’s that world traveler!” Falco called in good cheer.
“Been to Rome no less,” bubbled Priam. “Last time I been to Rome, I was a raw recruit. Hey, is that true what everyone says?”
“That depends,” replied Jesus, receiving a pat on his shoulder. “What did you hear?”
“That you brought a dead bird back to life,” answered Falco.
“And you caused it to rain to put out a fire,” replied Priam.
“He did. He did indeed!” Simon piped.
“Jesus did a lot more than that!” I frowned indignantly.
“Are you men hungry?” Mama called from the darkness.
Priam removed his helmet and scratched his graying hair. “Well, some of the little woman’s baking would be welcomed.”
Simon ran into the house to rummage through Mama’s pantry. He could run quite fast at such times. Jesus seemed amused with this scene. As we waited for Simon to reappear with bread or honey rolls, Papa looked self-consciously back at the road. At the soldier’s prodding, Jesus admitted to the miracles but gave God the credit for the deeds. Out of modesty perhaps, he failed to mention his miracles during his travels. He denied, as they insisted, that he was, himself, a god.
“Anyone, if he or she prays hard enough, can do the same things,” he promised them unequivocally. “I am but an instrument of the Lord!”
Papa cringed. Priam looked at him in disbelief. Falco now studied Jesus as if he might, after all, be addled in the head. After whispering to each other, Priam and Falco looked across the yard, their hands shielding their eyes from the sun.
“Those other boys hiding from us?” Falco gave Papa a troubled look.
“No,” Papa said defensibly, “they’re not hiding.”
“They don’t like us much, do they” grumbled Priam. “Sounded almost seditious a moment ago.”
“Seditious?” pondered Papa. “That’s a rather strong word.”
“I must apologize for what Joseph said.” Mama’s countenance appeared in doorway to the shop.
“I heard him say nothing wrong.” Falco gave her a surprised look.
Though wearing a faded blue dress and white headband, her stark blue eyes and milk white skin startled the men. Papa laughed hysterically at their reaction. For a moment, I had been afraid my brother Joseph would shout out more insults against Rome. I had also wondered if Papa would take issue with what Priam had said. I wasn’t sure what seditious meant, but I was sure it wasn’t good.
“It’s my third oldest son, Joseph, we beg pardon for,” Mama explained, shaking her head. “Neither Joseph nor James speak for us. They’ve been upset a long time because of our association with Rome.”
“Well, there’s good Romans and bad Romans,” replied Falco thoughtfully, “just like there’s good and bad Jews. That Reuben fellow is a bad Jew.”
Papa sighed with relief. Jesus, who seemed to know the mind of God, was, as usual, unruffled. Simon, Mama noted with dismay, now walked up with a tablecloth filled with rolls and a flask slung over one arm. We would learn later that the flask was not filled with wine. For several moments, after he passed around the rolls and offered the sentries the flask, we watched the men devour the rolls and slurp down the juice. I regretted that there would be no rolls left for the other guards or, for that matter, us. When they had finished, Falco thanked Mama profusely. Priam wiped his stubbly beard, studying Simon and I for a moment with a jaundiced eye.
“You children should stick around the house awhile until we find Reuben and his band.” He frowned severely. “Until we catch them rascals, this town won’t be safe!”
“He’s right boys,” said Falco, ruffling our hair. “There’s no telling where they might be.”
Though I had talked bravely to Simon about exploring the hills, I agreed with Priam. Jesus and my parents agreed with Priam too. We listened to Priam and Falco discuss the latest rumors about Reuben and his band. He and his cohorts in crime had been spotted in Sepphoris, Bethel, and Nain, but reappeared in Nazareth just this week. Many of the townsfolk lied to protect these murderers, and it was a certainty that they were being hidden at various “traitorous” houses in town. Reuben had been seen and reported by the shepherds and many of concerned Jews, but everyone, even the crusty Odeh, were afraid of collaborating with Rome. . . everyone that it is except my parents, who were now under Rome’s protection, thanks to Regulus and his men.
Priam and Falco thought it best if James and Joseph be brought home just to be safe. The boys needed a firm hand during this crisis. Papa realized, as did the rest of us, that the Romans meant well, but the two boys would consider it an utter betrayal if they were dragged home by the guards. Young Joseph, though behaving as a child, had actually insulted Priam and Falco. When Regulus suddenly appeared on the road, they took the opportunity to call out to the optio. A look of horror fell over my parents’ faces. Hand in hand they raced after the men. Jesus suddenly disappeared, I hoped to bring in our brothers, himself. I was torn between finding out where he had gone and listening to the conversation taking place by the road. Simon and I stayed close behind our parents, fearful that the Romans would, in fact, take matters into their own hands. James and Joseph would, of course, never forgive any of us if they were chased down by a pair of burly Roman guards.
Priam didn’t tell Regulus what Joseph had said. He simply said that the boy was disrespectful and, eyeing Papa, added that he needed a good thrashing. The important matter, both he and Falco insisted, was that none of Papa’s sons should be roaming the hills while Reuben and his gang were on the loose. Papa and Mama agreed with them and they promised to discipline James and Joseph but begged the optio to let them bring in the boys in without interference from the guards. Regulus, who had already witnessed the boys’ dislike of Romans, was immediately predisposed to teaching them a lesson. I remember the momentary dread I felt, which was my first experience with Roman caprice. Since then, through my years growing up as the brother of Jesus and then as his disciple, my admiration for Roman soldiers matured to respect and wisdom. The Romans can’t be trifled with. Simon and I, with mouth agape, reacted as children when the optio shouted at Papa and we broke into tears.
“No, Joseph, this it not the first time one of your sons spoke seditiously about Rome. There are many other youths in Nazareth with this attitude but none in households being guarded so well by our men. Did you know that James and Joseph heckle my men every day?”
“No!” We all uttered at the same time. This was a revelation even to Simon and I, who had snuck into the orchard several times to watch the Romans hike past. Obviously, our encounter with the Romans at the shepherds’ camp had not been the first time Regulus’ men passed through.
“We said we were sorry Regulus,” Papa sounded desperate, “and we promised to punish our sons. Please don’t make an issue of this!”
“You obviously can’t control your sons,” the optio pointed accusingly, “or they wouldn’t continue insulting your protectors like this.”
“We were unaware they were heckling your men,” Mama said tearfully. “Why didn’t someone tell us this before now.”
“No one told you?” Regulus looked at her in disbelief.
I felt a sudden pang of guilt, since I had recently heard James and Joseph showing the Romans disrespect, but I was unaware of all those other times, so I held my tongue. My parents argued with Regulus for several moments. Papa confessed his disappointment that they would show such impatience for mere boys when there were many adults in town who might be harboring murderers in their homes. When Regulus demanded to know their names, Papa realized his mistake immediately and tried to downplay his words.
“I-I have heard only rumors,” he sputtered, gripping Mama’s hand. “Reuben and his friends have relatives in this town. Do you want me to incriminate my neighbors?”
“Yes,” Regulus sneered, “have you forgotten the hatred Reuben has toward your family?”
“I haven’t seen Reuben since that night,” Papa muttered almost to himself. “This has all gotten completely out of hand.”
“Regulus,” Mama implored gently, “you don’t understand our people. We have strived to be good citizens and honor Rome. We are so grateful for your protection against our foes. But please don’t force my husband to speak ill of our friends and neighbors on hearsay. Already, many of them resent us because of the Romans in town.”
Something in Mama’s speech or expression caused the look on the optio’s face to soften. Though he continued to frown, a crooked smile registered slowly on his face. There were times when I wondered if our mother, like Jesus, might have special powers. When he looked back at Papa, his expression hardened again and yet, to our great relief, he didn’t press Papa to inform on townsmen who were relatives of Reuben and his friends. What helped change the subject, however, was the sudden appearance of Jesus, James, and Joseph in the yard. With a long switch, Jesus was coaxing the two boys to move ahead of him as if prodding a pair of stubborn goats.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child,” he called out cheerily.
My parents broke into hysterical laughter. The three Romans studied this strange procession with mirth.
“Where did you find them?” asked Papa. “Did you really use the switch?”
“No,” Jesus replied, coaxing the boys forward. “James and Joseph know they’ve gone too far. They come at their own freewill. They have something they want to say.”
“We’re sorry,” James was the first to speak. “Please don’t be angry with Papa for what we’ve done.”
Regulus stood there in front of Joseph, who had a belligerent look on his face. It was clear to everyone when Joseph mumbled his apology that he was not sincere, but James was visibly frightened with the Roman presence in front of our house. It was Joseph’s voice we heard heckling the guards, not James, and yet Joseph just stood there glaring at the Romans, his look belying his words.
Regulus swaggered over to Joseph now, his hands on his hips, his crooked smile turning into a smirk. “I know your brother’s sorry. I heard it in his words and saw it in his eyes. The question is, ‘are you sorry?’ I was told that it was you, not James, who insulted my men. Yet I see only anger and resentment on your face. You’re not sorry Joseph; you’re just angry you got caught. Why do you hate us so? Explain this to me, Joseph son of Joseph.”
Joseph thought for only a moment before a flood of pent-up emotion poured out of his mouth. Much of what he said was repetitious, unintelligible rage but I could make out key phrases, I’ve heard other citizens in Nazareth mutter: “The Romans look for reasons to persecute our people. . . They don’t respect our religion and tradition. . . They bleed us dry with taxes.” There was nothing original in Joseph’s criticism. When he was finished, Papa and Mama sighed wearily. I was glad that he didn’t come up with anything personal, such as “The Romans stink of garlic or they tromp on Mama’s garden.” Joseph could not look Regulus in the eyes, which for a Roman was an insult, in itself.
“Is that all?” A snarl played on his chiseled face. “You think we haven’t heard that before?”
Falco laughed derisively at Joseph’s effort. “Persecution, taxation, lack of respect. You can’t come up with anything better than that?”
“There the same reasons we get everywhere we go,” Regulus sighed heavily. “We’ve heard this a thousand times!”
“Well, you listen here boy,” spat Priam, “We didn’t choose to be here. We came with the legion. I’d much rather be stationed in Rome or Greece. It was Pompey who planted the Eagles in your so-called Promised Land. I’m getting pretty tired of ingrates like you blaming us for that.”
“Do you even know why you hates us?” Regulus studied Joseph’s expression. “It might be fashionable for hothead Jews like you to hate Romans, but to take this general attitude and apply it us personally is unfair, unreasonable and unjust. We, my men and I, have done nothing wrong to you. Are you, Joseph, to blame for your father’s sins?”
It was a question that would plague Jesus in his coming ministry. For now I saw Jesus eyebrows raise from that inner voice that he called “my Father.” It had begun with Adam and Eve. Throughout the Torah, I would learn, the Lord appeared to visit punishment on succeeding generations for Adam and Eve’s original sin. Once again, from a pagan Roman, Jesus would here words he would one day incorporate into his parables, that I, Jude, would be witness to.
My father, who had also been moved by the Roman’s words, walked over to the third oldest son. Jesus, Simon, and I also crowded around Joseph. It was Mama, who had smote Joseph before for his attitude, who sprang forth with righteous anger in her blue eyes.
“You ungrateful child!” She shouted tearfully. “Where did you get such hate? You couldn’t accept Michael and even little Nehemiah in our house. Since you found out that you were all adopted, you can scarcely accept us as your parents. You’ve always been jealous and resentful of Jesus for his special ways.” “Your hatred toward these men is undeserving and a disgrace to your father’s house.” She wrung her finger in Joseph’s face. “These Romans are here to protect us from our enemies, and yet you curse them and call them names. Instead of apologizing as James, you cannot even look at them. Are they worse than the men who wanted to stone poor Mariah or that awful man who wanted to destroy our house? Are they worse than Herod, our one-time king, who had hundreds of children killed, just to destroy our first born son?”
Mama’s hand flew up to her mouth. Joseph winced at her words but said nothing. She, with her usual thoughtlessness, had brought up a sore subject. More importantly it was a topic too controversial for Roman ears. Fortunately, my parents were able to avoid explaining a story they barely understood themselves by Joseph, himself. Whether through earnest feeling or the necessity of pleasing our mother, he stood forth, looked squarely into Regulus, Priam, and Falco’s eyes and declared “I have sinned against you and shamed my parents. I beg your pardon. I promise never to cause problems again. Please don’t blame my father for sin.”
It had been stated in reverse of Regulus question, which caused me to clap my hands with delight. Priam and Falco frowned with disbelief at Joseph’s remorse, but Regulus appeared to be satisfied with what he heard, strapped on his helmet, and mounted his horse. Papa promised the optio that there would be no more trouble from his sons. Regulus nodded curtly and gently kicked his horse. Jesus smiled at the Romans, bid them good day, and began walking across the yard. Papa studied Joseph a moment but said nothing, then accompanied Mama, arm-in-arm, to the house. Simon and I giggled foolishly, as the Roman officer road away. Left to appraise Joseph, with James standing nervously nearby, were two of our most important sentries.
“Time will tell.” Priam sneered at them, as they swaggered away. “We’ll see how sorry that Joseph-fellow is when Papa and Mama aren’t around.”
“You keep an eye on that brother of yours,” Falco called to James. “You just didn’t get caught.”
“I’ll watch him,” James said in a quivering voice. “I give you my word.”
And so ended James and Joseph’s rebellion against Rome. Simon and I ran off to romp in the orchard until dinner. That evening our family would pay Samuel a visit to see how Nehemiah and the old Pharisee were feeling. Though he rightly deserved it, Joseph would not be punished this time. We would, in fact, all pretend that we were a normal family again. Another milestone had been reached in our household: Joseph and James had made peace with Rome. How genuine Joseph’s contriteness was would be shown in the days ahead in his silent display of contempt for the men guarding our house, but, with the exception of James, his confident and co-conspirator, he would never utter a word of contempt for the Romans in earshot of the rest of us again.
Our visit to Samuel’s house that evening would be short, just long enough for Mama to bring him some of her lentil stew, check on Samuel and Nehemiah, and discuss their condition with Abner, the physician. We were all encouraged about Nehemiah’s recovery. With the proper diet and the special potions concocted by the physician, his condition would continue to improve, Abner reassured us. Soon, when Abner would have to leave Samuel’s house to make his rounds, Nehemiah would be able to come home with us. From that point, added the physician, it was up to God. Samuel, as old and infirmed as he was, had improved enough to take short walks if assisted by his servants. It would be good if Mama and the rest of us continued to visit him once or twice a week to keep his spirits up.
During this period, when Jesus had retaken his rightful place as the oldest son, James and Joseph appeared to have accepted their plight among the younger sons. It was assumed by Papa that Jesus would eventually inherit his shop. Such an inheritance would end when Jesus mission began, but, of course, no one knew about this then. Though it was customary for the oldest son to take control of the family business, we knew our kind hearted brother would share it with us or at least employ us as carpenters too. None of us wanted to think about Jesus birthright, since it meant Papa would be dead. Our sisters wouldn’t have to worry because they would find husbands to provide for them, but we, the younger sons, would have to serve our oldest brother or fend for ourselves. If he ran the shop, Jesus would be a generous master. Unless the shop expanded its business, however, it seemed unlikely to me that we could all be employed. Simon and I were so far down the line, it made little difference to us when Jesus claimed his birthright, but it was one more bone of contention for the second and third oldest sons.
One day, as Simon and I tagged along with our parents to Samuel’s house, Jesus stayed behind to resume his trade. As he had boasted that day Priam and Falco paid us a visit, he would continue to learn the craft. While Papa was away, James and Joseph would presume to be his teachers. There would be no more idling in the hills! James and Joseph, who secretly resented Jesus, would take this opportunity to heckle and taunt him as they had years before. Neither my parents, Simon nor I would ever know the substance of their conversation, but when Papa returned home and found James and Joseph working diligently in the shop and Jesus nowhere in sight, he grew suspicious, as did Simon and I.
“Where is your brother?” Papa asked James.
“Jesus said he would show me how to use the scraper.” I looked around with disappointment.
Joseph looked up from the tabletop he was sanding. “Are we are brother’s keeper?”
“Careful. . . .Cain asked that same thing of God,” replied Papa, looking at each son.
“Cain slew Abel.” James said in a matter-of-fact tone. “We can’t slay the Son of God with mere words.”
Papa flew into a momentary rage. “Don’t call him that. He never made that claim. Did you boys say something mean to Jesus? Where did he go? Why did he leave the shop?”
“We said nothing mean to our brother,” said James, blowing the dust off the leg he was scraping. “Suddenly, during our training, he stomped his foot and stormed from the scene.”
“Training? I can image how that went!” Papa gave out a bitter laugh. “What did you teach Jesus today?”
Joseph replied. “I was teaching him how to sand with the grain correctly.”
“And I showed him the proper method of evenly scraping the wood,” declared James. “Is it our fault Jesus is always day dreaming and walking in the hills?”
Papa seemed too upset to respond. Wringing his finger severely, he left on an ominous note. “So help me, I’d better not find out you’ve been mean to him again!”
Jesus would not deliberately tattle on us unless we were doing something unsafe or were harming someone else, but unfortunately Jesus couldn’t lie. Simon and I knew that Papa would not force him to inform on his brothers, especially on such a trivial matter. Nevertheless we watched Papa stormily exit the shop and charge down the path. Looking angrily over my shoulder, I followed Simon out the shop door. James and Joseph were up to their old tricks. Jesus had already withdrawn back into the hills. I sensed, as did Papa and Simon, that our brothers had, in fact, made Jesus feel badly as he learned the trade. Suddenly, as we had so many times before while spying on the shepherds or Romans, we began dogging Papa’s trail.
Soon, after we snuck from bush to bush, enjoying our new game, we looked ahead to see Papa pause in the same clearing he had taken Jesus, after he cured the dead bird. There, not far from a rock at which he knelt to pray, Jesus stood looking up to the sky. Carefully, as we had on that day James, Joseph, Simon, and I eavesdropped on Jesus and Papa, we hid behind the same bushes and craned our ears to hear.
“Jesus,” Papa called out gently, “I know they’ve been taunting you. I don’t know what they said to you, but you can’t give up like this. My shop will yours someday. I know you’ll always look after your brothers. It’s a good thing you, not James or Joseph, are my oldest son. I promise you that I won’t leave you alone with them anymore.” “Come back to the shop,” he said, walking up to grasp Jesus shoulders. “. . . Your mother is worried. Simon and Jude are upset too.”
“Yes, my little brothers are glad I’m back,” said Jesus, wiping his eyes.
“Tell me one thing my son.” Papa heaved a loud sigh. “You have the ability to see into people’s hearts. What is wrong with James and Joseph. Will they forever remain angry with you, your mother, and I?”
“No,” Jesus answered slowly, “. . . but their anger for the Romans was so exaggerated, I think it was misplaced. It was their resentment for being adopted and the fact I was born of the flesh from our mother that caused their recent outbursts. . . They don’t understand Papa. I don’t completely understand myself. But we both know that carpentry is not what God wants me to do.”
After what Samuel had said, this statement didn’t surprise me. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to face the truth, but I hoped that Jesus would stay with us as long as possible. Though I could not bring my self to think about it, I wanted Jesus to take over from Papa, but I sensed that he would be a great religious leader someday. This realization had grown in me since the day he departed on his journey, but I think the seed of this knowledge had been planted in my mind that day Jesus cured the dead bird.
Inexplicably Papa and Jesus spoke in muted voices now, so Simon and I took the cue and slipped back up the path to our front yard. There, on the garden bench beneath the fig tree, Simon turned to me with a question I had pondered for a long time.
“Jude,” he asked, reaching up for a plum. “What does God want Jesus to do?”
I thought a moment. “I dunno…something important. Even he doesn’t know.”
“That day, after curing the bird,” Simon said thoughtfully, biting into the plum, “Jesus said many strange things. Mama said strange things too: Jesus was born in a stable, men brought him gold, Herod killed all those children. A little while ago, she started talking about Herod again. Our parents have many secrets. There’s more they’re not telling us.”
“Yeah,” I sighed wistfully, “. . . more secrets”
Simon struggled unknowingly that moment with a great truth. “Those words he said that day—my father, not our father—my father. . . . Just who is Jesus suppose to be?
“I don’t know,” I answered with a shudder, “Jesus doesn’t know that himself.”
“Hah!” Simon said, munching on his plum. “Jesus knows everything. You said so yourself!”
As sat there chewing on the fruit, I found his nonchalant curiosity about this subject repulsive as he devoured the plum. I wanted to stuff fingers into my ears, drum my feet on the ground, and chant “la-la-la” until he went away. Instead, I looked him squarely in his dull eyes, picked a plum, and tossed it symbolically into yard. “Simon,” my voice quivered, “I don’t want to think about this anymore, all right? There’s a reason why we don’t understand this…I sense this. I feel it in my very bones. I’ve even dreamed about it. Do you really want to know?”
“No,” he answered, shaking his head thoughtfully, “I don’t. It’s scary. No, let’s go find some berries!”