It was not long after Jesus’ return from his journey with Joseph of Arimathea that a problem developed over his new role in the carpenter’s shop. This time it was not caused by James and Joseph’s anger at Jesus’ religious pretensions, for these had largely subsided. Jesus seemed more grown up after returning from his trip. Occasionally, he might share an anecdote or homily with us, but seldom would he use lofty words in his speech or act self-righteous when trying to make a point. The problem was caused by Jesus’ bossiness, which affected us all. He now took his job as carpenter apprentice seriously. There was a hierarchy beginning with Papa, himself, with the oldest son next in line and me last, with Jesus overseeing of our assignments when Papa was not around. It was the custom for the oldest son to be in control at such times, but Jesus had virtually taken over, while Papa was out delivering orders or looking for business. With some justification, Jesus grew irritated with Simon’s laziness and James and Joseph’s sloppy work. It didn’t help that he appeared to favor me now that I was trusted with carpentry tools. I was not allowed to use the saw or scraper yet, but I was allowed to sand furniture and apply oil and varnish to surfaces, the same duties that James and Joseph often did. Jesus tried to hide the evidence of James, Joseph, and Simon’s sloth from Papa by doing the work himself. On Jesus’ behalf, without tattling on my brothers, I reworked some of James and Joseph’s mistakes and did many of Simon’s chores.
One day, however, after James, Joseph, and Simon snuck away and left Jesus and I alone in the shop, Papa returned early from making his rounds and wasn’t happy with what he found. Simon had barely touched his sander. During a pause in his varnishing and my efforts to sand Simon’s assigned pieces, Jesus showed me a few tricks of the trade. He had just been showing me the proper method of sawing wood, when Papa stuck his head into the shop. The rough cutting of wood had been assigned to James and Joseph this week, so he was not pleased that I was attempting this feat. He was also displeased with the pile of unfinished furniture pieces on the floor.
“Jude’s hands are too small for this job.” He said, inspecting the cut. “Where are James and Joseph? Why hasn’t Simon done his chores?”
“Jude has improved greatly this month,” Jesus replied, removing the saw from my hands. “We’re on schedule, Papa, and shall meet your deadlines this week. Please don’t be angry with James and Joseph. They were working diligently when I was roaming the hills”
“They have never worked diligently,” Papa complained, after looking around the shop. “James is suppose to be sitting were you are, sawing wood, as Joseph holds it in place. Simon should have finished all those legs.”
Papa inspected the workbenches, furniture pieces, and floor, and shook his head. A wicked rush of delight filled me now that our brothers had been caught.
“This won’t do. This won’t do at all. You and Jude can’t do it all,” he mumbled, pacing around the shop.
“They’ll snap out of it,” promised Jesus, “if they receive some form of recognition. Shoddy work is caused by lack of self worth. ”
“No, Jesus,” Papa replied, vigorously shaking his head, “shoddy work is caused by spiritual sloth.” “If you’re implying that I should pay them wages, forget it. That’s a dead issue!”
“They’re lazy,” I blurted, resentful that Papa didn’t trust me with a saw. “Jesus and I can do all this stuff by ourselves!”
“Ho! That’s the spirit!” Papa stopped his lecture to give me a hug. “I have complete confidence in you Jesus,” he added, giving him a pat. “Stop apologizing for them and running yourself down on their behalf. We all know what you were going through. I’m proud of you for learning the craft,” “and,” he said, ruffling my hair, “I’m proud of you too!”
When James, Joseph, and Simon returned home, they found Jesus, Papa, and I huddled at the kitchen table, alongside of Mama and the twins. In slow motion, in expectation of lunch, they moved as a unit toward the table but froze in their tracks as silence fell over the room. Papa had been talking to Mama about the latest skirmish between Roman soldiers and bandits on the road to Jerusalem when Jesus and I joined them for lunch. Once again, we heard Papa lament that the bandits had escaped their pursuers. More innocent travelers would be robbed or killed unless they were caught. While making his rounds, Falco had explained to Papa how difficult it was to capture and kill outlaws who escaped into the Galilean hills or hid amongst family members in various towns. Although it was on our minds, no one mentioned Reuben’s name. It must have looked like a conspiracy to my brothers when my parents stopped talking as soon as they entered the room. They knew they were in trouble; they just didn’t know how much. James and Joseph had been harassing me when Jesus was out of earshot and line of sight. I couldn’t help gloating about their predicament now, but I felt bad that Simon would be in trouble too. If he thought I informed on them, he might turn against me as he had when Michael, Nehemiah, and Uriah were my friends. James and Joseph already hated me. Now, if Simon turned against me again, I would have no friends at all. This thought caused me great distress.
“Come, sit and eat,” Mama directed softly.
“You boys are late for lunch,” grumbled Papa. “Where have you been?”
“We were watching the Romans gather below the Shepherd’s Trail,” replied James with a shrug. Joseph thinks they’re looking for bandits. Maybe the Arabs are in trouble. I’m sorry we lost track of time.”
Papa frowned severely at James. “Are you sorry you lost track of work?”
“We’re sorry,” Simon said, hanging his head and simpering.
“The question is ‘are you sorry?’” Papa’s eyed rolled over to Joseph. “Unlike James and Simon’s frightened expressions, there’s a scowl on your face.” “Tell me Joseph,” he asked sadly, “are you ever contrite about anything you do in this family?”
“Yes, of course,” he answered, scratching his head, “but I did my work: I sanded half of the table legs. James was supposed to do the other half.”
“Did you?” Papa looked back at James.
“No, I sanded the table tops.” James began to squirm. “I thought Jude was going to finish the legs.”
“Well,” Papa said, shaking his head, “As I looked from the road, I saw Jesus and Jude scrambling around in an effort to do your chores as well as their own. I won’t ask Jesus if you boys have been doing your work; Jesus can’t lie. But I can read Jude’s face. Like Jesus, he has no deceit in him. He doesn’t want to lie to me either, and yet I can tell by his silence and the look in his eyes that he’s covering up for you too.”
Motioning for them to sit down and join us for lunch, Papa said nothing more for a while, as Mama served us freshly cut fruit, goat’s cheese, and fresh bread. After a short prayer, in which Papa intoned, with little emotion, the traditional prayer, we began munching our food and slurping our grape juice. Idly, to avoid the inevitable lecture and pronouncement of punishment, Joseph returned to the subject of the Romans gathered below the hill.
“Where are Falco, Priam, and the other guards?” Mama asked him with concern.
“Oh, they’re still making their rounds,” he answered shortly. “Most of the Romans are still guarding our town.”
“Good!” I sighed, taking a long swig of juice.
“Will there be enough soldiers to protect us from Reuben?” Mama flashed Papa a worried look. “You told me you saw him riding in the direction of town.”
Papa chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of bread. “It really gave us a fright, but he’d be a fool to trifle with our guards.”
A furrow grew on Mama’s brow. “What are they doing down there? Something must be afoot. We know Reuben’s out there somewhere. He has his own band now. What if he was spotted in the hills?”
“Reuben’s not that stupid.” Papa waved dismissively. “Our guards will protect our town.”
Most of our guards, we would discover, were standoffish, lazy, and often asleep. As our parents discussed this disturbing topic, I tried to make eye contact with Simon, but he was too engrossed with his food. It seemed as though nothing bothered Simon as long as he received plenty of food and sleep. James and Joseph, after being lectured by Papa, ate nervously, glancing furtively up at him, as if expecting their sentence to come at any moment.
“You must trust in the Lord,” Jesus addressed his brothers solemnly. “This house isn’t only protected by Rome it’s protected by God.”
Finally, after James and Joseph lapsed into silence and Papa tried to reassure Mama that we were still protected by Rome, their conversation shifted suddenly from security to reprimand.
“I’m less worried about Reuben today than my own sons,” he declared, pointing accusingly at Joseph and then James. “You are not deceitful Simon.” His finger moved down the line. “You’re just lazy. You’re sin is less than Joseph and James. Nevertheless you must change your shiftless ways.” “As of tomorrow,” he announced rising slowly to his feet, “all three of you are restricted to our home, shop, and yards. Jesus thinks you’d do better work if you were paid, but I won’t consider paying you unless I see a vast improvement in both attitude and quality of work.”
“You were going to pay us wages?” James shot up to his feet.
“No,” Papa snorted, shaking his head, “I didn’t say that at all. Jesus insists you boys need an incentive. Maybe he’s right. Right now, I wouldn’t pay you a mite!”
“Does that go for us?” Simon pointed at himself and me.
Papa raised his palms in resignation. This must have been difficult for my frugal father. It was one more defining moment for Jesus, whose prayer and power of persuasion had kept our brothers from a worse fate. Jesus smiled at him, and I began coughing after choking on my juice. At first, until Simon asked his question, I thought Papa was being too generous with James, Joseph, and him. Their sloppy work and lack of effort began months ago when Jesus started working more diligently in the shop. I remembered hearing Jesus suggest that Papa might change their attitudes by rewarding them for their labor, but now, because of his gesture, it seemed as though all of us would be recompensed for our work. Suddenly, James, Joseph, Simon, and I were on our feet cheering Jesus’ solution for my brothers’ sloth. Papa sternly reminded them that they were still being punished, but the possibility that we would all share in the rising fortune of our father’s carpenter shop drew us together as brothers again.
From that day forward, James, Joseph, and Simon worked harder than they ever had before. After a few weeks of solid teamwork, Papa began to give us all a modest wage. The carpentry shop’s inventory, which normally included tables, stools, benches, and fence and house repairs, expanded to cloaca seats, fancy scrolled woodwork, and special furniture pieces for wealthier patrons in Nazareth and other towns. Because Jesus worked the hardest and was Papa’s second-in-command, he was given a higher wage. This seemed fair even to Joseph, since Jesus had more responsibility than us and was, after all, Papa’s oldest son. Because Simon would have money to spend and was no longer restricted to the yard, he would not be angry with me. Together, during playtime, we returned to our old games of spying on the Romans and visiting all our secret haunts.
After several weeks of successful business, Papa decided to rebuild the carpenter’s shop and add another room to our house. Mama slipped one day and told us that Papa had accepted a sum of money from Samuel now that he knew he could pay it back in a timely manner. Samuel insisted that the contribution was a gift and not a loan, an investment in the family he never had. So that the building operations didn’t interrupt with his carpentry work, Papa hired professional house builders recommended by Samuel. Most importantly was the fact that we now felt secure enough to eat fine food and replace the rags we wore with excellent fabrics, which would be sewn into fine clothes by Samuel’s tailor. Clearly, in the spirit of his nephew Joseph of Arimathea’s treatment of Jesus, Samuel had taken us under his wing. Since the day Jesus left on his journey, in fact, through our fortune and misfortune, the old man had been a part of our family—a watchful eye, an advocate, and now the benefactor of Papa’s business.
All of these words, of course, I write in hindsight. I never liked the old man very much even after his gift. I had no words for it then, but I found him judgmental and condescending to my family. He often talked down to my parents, seldom letting them get a word in edgewise. He was, stubborn, cantankerous, narrow-minded, and opinionated. After his remark that ‘I would one day turn against Rome,’ I was convinced he was also addled in this head. And yet, I confess in my chronicle that Samuel deserved far better from me than the childish scorn I felt those days.
Papa, Mama, and Jesus were in high spirits because of the success of the carpenter’s shop and Samuel’s donation, but I had grown bored with our work routine and annoyed with the sound of carpenter’s sawing and racket of nails pounded into boards. At the same time, however, our house and Papa’s shop became a center of attraction in Nazareth, which worked in Simon’s and my favor. The business and commotion at our house had attracted many onlookers, some of whom had shunned us after the episode with Mariah, the town witch. This included four new playmates, who, because of our changed status, were allowed by their parents to associate with Simon and me. In spite of our family’s reputation, many of them secretly envied our standing with the Romans and our special location in town. Our backyard, nearby orchard, and the rugged terrain behind the trees were one great playground. Unlike other parts of town, our sector required more guards, which only made our exploits more interesting and exciting as we watched soldiers patrol the hills behind our house.
Though I tried not to boast to Simon, I felt as if I had a gang again. With moments of nostalgia, as we romped in the hills, I reflected upon my first gang, Michael, Nehemiah, and Uriah—a motley group of boys much different than the gang I had now.
At twelve, Boaz, Horib the new blacksmith’s youngest son, was the oldest member of our group, and the slowest witted. Though he allowed Papa to repair his fence, Horib still didn’t trust our family, but it had been hard for Boaz to make friends with children his own age. Horib admitted this fact to Papa upon making payment for the repaired fence. One day, not long after Papa’s business began to improve in Nazareth, Boaz simply appeared in the olive orchard and asked us if he could tag along. Predictably, Simon was his normally intolerant self. At first, because of his refusal, we discouraged the big, slow moving, wooly-headed youth from following us around, but then, when it became apparent that Boaz couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the message, we tried to hide from him. Seeing Boaz wander around the hills and hearing him call our names, convinced me that he would not go away unless we insulted him or told him flatly to go home. Because Papa was so close to being in Horib’s good graces, I convinced Simon to accept Boaz as the first member of our gang.
Jethro (eleven) and Obadiah (ten), the sons of Caleb, Nazareth’s new tanner, arrived unannounced a few days after we accepted Boaz into our gang, an order for Papa clutched in Obadiah’s grimy hand. Caleb required several pieces of furniture, which made my parents very happy. Both boys carried the terrible stench of the tanner when they arrived at our house. Boaz befriended them at once, perhaps because he was rather smelly himself, but Simon shook his head and wrinkled his nose at the thought. Nevertheless, Papa sent Simon and I off early to play with our new friends because of the money he would make off their fathers. I wasn’t happy with this at first; it seemed high handed to me, and yet I couldn’t argue with Papa’s success. We needed the business. It turned out to our satisfaction that Jethro and Obadiah normally bathed like everyone else but had been scraping hides for their father when they were sent over by him that first day. From that day forward, Caleb’s sons were scrubbed clean when they visited our house, and their father became one of Papa’s latest fair-weather friends.
Now that Boaz was accepted begrudgingly as one of our friends and Jethro and Obadiah had warmed up to the narrow-minded Simon and me, a strange-looking boy, whom we at first thought was a girl, appeared at our door. By this time, there had been considerable improvements made to the carpentry shop and our home. My friends had been invited for lunch that day because of our increased good fortune. Mama brought the longhaired youth cordially into our remodeled house. His large gray eyes looked around in wonder at the modest changes Papa had done, which paled in significance to Samuel’s sumptuous estate. We had a very simple atrium now: two small wooden columns reaching up to a repainted ceiling on each side of the door, alongside of fancy clay pots filled with palms. A large Syrian rug lie in the center of the main floor now covered with flowery Roman tiles. Runners, also of Syrian design, led the visitor straight ahead to the new room built for the oldest brother or, after an immediate right turn, into the kitchen area, which had been expanded to include a larger oven, more cupboards, and a finely carved oak table with benches on all four of its sides, eliminating the need of separate stools.
The boy, who introduced himself as Jonah, was seated next to Simon, who, predictably, made a horrible face and held his nose. The truth was Jonah, who was Jared the baker’s nephew, actually smelled good, radiating a mixture of cooking dough and spice. As Jethro and Obadiah, Jonah might have trotted over to our house directly after his chores. His hair was, in fact, flecked with flour. We never asked him if this was so and why his hair was so long. Cousin John had long hair, as did many boys dedicated by their parents to serve God, so it didn’t seem strange to us. What struck us as very peculiar was how Jonah was dressed. Instead of wearing the pants and tunic of most Nazarenes, he wore a long white shift, tied with a roper at the waste. When teased by James and Joseph, who insisted that he was a girl, Jonah claimed that he wore a short tunic underneath his shift but refused to pull it up for our inspection. It was never made clear why Jonah dressed differently than everyone else. His father, who died last summer, had been a farmer. There seemed to be nothing in his background to explain his outfit or long hair. Nevertheless, we accepted Jonah because he promised us that Uncle Jared would give us all pastries when we visited his shop.
Jesus or Papa would often step in when James and Joseph harassed us, but Boaz and Jethro, who were older than the rest of us, were big strapping boys, themselves, and couldn’t be pushed too far. Once, when Papa was away and Jesus was busy finishing up an order, James and Joseph ambushed us on the Shepherd’s Trail with dried sheep dung. Simon and I were used to such antics, so we immediately scooped up handfuls of dirt clods and returned fire. Joseph remained hidden, but James was foolish enough to pop up from his bush with a big grin on his face. I was pleased at how quickly Jonah, Obadiah, and Boaz followed Simon and my example and tossed dirt clods themselves. Jethro, however, was enraged by this unfriendly act and charged through the underbrush after James. Boaz thought this was a great idea and charged after Joseph too. Fortunately for my older brothers, Jethro and Boaz were slow moving youths, with a poor sense of direction, and, as James and Joseph ran giggling up the hill through the underbrush, Jethro and Boaz found themselves quickly lost in the tangled bushes and scrub trees.
Jethro and Boaz poor sense of direction, Obadiah’s willingness to tag along behind his older brother, Jonah’s timidity, and Simon’s natural instincts as a follower insured that I would remain the leader of our band. From that day forward, Simon and I were not bothered quite as much by James and Joseph as we congregated with our friends, especially when Jesus was around. While Papa’s business expanded, the number of Roman soldiers in Nazareth increased. Eighteen soldiers in three shifts, including our daytime guards Falco and Priam, still guarded our sector, but Longinus added several more sentries to protect the perimeter of Nazareth’s ring of hills. This made our exploits even more exciting and extended our protection from older boys, as well as bandits, to anywhere in town.