Now that his errand was completed, Cousin John could return to Sepphoris. There was no reason for him to stay, especially with such a full house. So he could rise early and exit quickly when his Roman escorts arrived, he insisted on sleeping in one corner of the large room rather than take advantage of Samuel’s hospitality again. With little fanfare this time that morning, we saw him off at the road in front of our house. The Romans were impatient to get on the main highway, and John had to spur his mule to catch up with them as they galloped down the road. It might have been a hasty send-off, but everyone in our family was there to shout goodbyes and give him a proper farewell. We wouldn’t see him again for many years. I sensed this strongly, as I waited my turn to hug John. Mama wiped away a tear during her embrace, perhaps for her ailing aunt as much as for Elizabeth’s son. I would never forget this strange, adventuresome youth and the odd things he said. Typical of his odd speech, but by no means the strangest were the words he said to me moments before he climbed onto his mule: “When you return to your family Jude, you’ll be ready to serve the Lord. Until then learn as much as you can. Remember, not all knowledge comes from teachers or books.”
“I promise, my cousin.” I bowed politely, bringing my fist up to my chest.
John had said something much more lofty to Jesus. He thanked Mama profusely for her charity and applauded Papa for opening his house to so many children, including himself. He could heap very little praise on James, Joseph, and Simon, but he had a kind word for everyone else, even stopping to tweak the girls’ cheeks and tousle Uriah’s hair. Rhoda, a dull expression on her pale face, backed away from his embrace. For me he had only some common sense advice. I had heard the same words spoken by John from Gamaliel and Jesus, himself, and yet one day I would understand that John had been referring to my journey to Antioch, the education it would give me, then my days as a disciple and an apostle of the risen Lord.
Cousin John, who would be a great prophet one day, had given me a revelation. At the time, however, I gave it little thought. It was just one more reference to my abilities as a student and a reminder that my experiences in life were a classroom in themselves. My falling sickness, as Regulus called it, which John had said nothing about, had also singled me out. At any rate, the previous day’s seizure had left me weak and lethargic. In the following week I was treated deferentially by my family. I played upon their sympathies. It was far better than suffering their scorn. Uriah was the most doting of my family, sometimes offering me portions of his food. I ate sparingly for a while, for effect, and was given light chores, but then my spirits rose after all the encouragement I got. I began feeling guilty for my subterfuge. Something strange happened to me after my falling sickness and John’s departure that helped define who I was. When I applied myself, I did fine work in the shop. I was becoming a fairly competent carpenter, in fact. Simon, who began working diligently, like myself, was also promoted to apprentice when Papa began paying us a daily wage. Even more strangely was the fact that Uriah was mastering woodwork too. After awhile, his compensation was the same as Simon and mine, while James and Joseph, who had risen to full fledged carpenters, received higher wages. Jesus never told us how much he got, but I have a feeling he gave to the poor what he didn’t force my parents to accept. Mama saved all of our wages, including, I suspect, most of Jesus returns, in a secret hiding place. I hoped it was a better hiding place than the one in which she had hidden my gold coins. Michael might one day return and steal our wages too.
After John’s return to Sepphoris, things returned to normal in our home—as normal as it could be, considering the grief I had caused my family, our stern Roman masters, and the threat of bandits in the hills. The one important exception, I must add, was Rhoda’s actions one night when she thought she would have to return home.
It seemed as if John’s optimism had been correct and our prayer circle for Uriah’s sister had worked. In less than month after our cousin’s return to Sepphoris, she began responding to simple sentences, such as “Are you hungry?” and “Are you tired?” Sometimes she would merely nod, but occasionally she said yes or no, until one evening, after dinner, Mama asked her if she felt up to returning to her parents. By then, of course, Hannah, though still addle-brained, was helping Mama and Naomi with Joachim, and it seemed safe for Hannah’s daughter to return. Rhoda was silent a moment. We had hoped for more than a yes or no answer. Mama didn’t want to take her home if she was in a muddle-headed state. “Two muddle-headed people to watch over at the Rabbi’s house is quite enough,” she muttered as she waited for her response. And then suddenly, startling us all out of our wits, was the one reaction we dreaded most. Rhoda went completely berserk. She banged her forehead with her fists a moment, rolled her eyes crazily in her head, and, in a rising and lowering howl, screamed “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Everyone was badly shaken by her answer to Mama’s question, except Papa, who was in his cups. After dodging his clumsy efforts to restrain her, she lifted the board, threw open the back door, and fled into the night.
“ooooooooooooooooooooo!” Rhoda’s voice, like a demented owl, faded into the distance.
“Let’s go get her!” Jesus sprang to his feet.
“The whole town’s going to hear that commotion,” grumbled Papa. “Let her go.” He waved irritably. “It’ll serve those self-righteous townsmen right!”
“You don’t mean that Joseph.” Mama’s hand flew to her mouth. “What if the guards catch her on the trail or she runs straight out of town?”
Papa scanned the darkness obligingly. “Well, Al-l-l right,” he gave a slack-jawed reply, “but that child could be anywhere.”
“Yes-yes,” Uriah nodded enthusiastically, “anywhere. Just let her go. She’s dangerous. It was just a matter of time.”
Jesus grabbed a lamp and dashed passed Papa toward the door. We had all been sitting at the table and were caught completely off guard. James, Joseph, Simon, and I sat there a few more seconds in shock until shaken by Jesus voice: “Quickly, grab a light and follow!” Tabitha and the twins had ran into my parent’s room, and, peeking fearfully out the door, were comforted by Mama as the remainder of us ran into the backyard. James led us with a second lamp, following Jesus down the path. Not to be outdone, Papa grabbed his own lamp and trailed behind us, grumbling under his breath. Rhoda’s ramblings faded in the darkness. With nothing but starlight to guide her, it would seem that she would become a bloody and bruised mess trying to negotiate the trail, but we weren’t even certain she had not ran around the house and onto the road. For a moment we discussed this possibility. Uriah was not happy with our search, and I was certain that James, Joseph, and Simon would be glad to be rid of her too. When Jesus suggested that half of us begin our search in the front yard, everyone except Papa volunteered.
“Jesus,” Papa called, “we’ll check the orchard first. Let the others scan the road.” “Uriah,” he added as afterthought, “you can go inside with the girls.”
“I-I’ll stay with Jude,” Uriah tried to sound brave.
“All right,” he snorted, “but stop whimpering.”
“Uriah’s frightened of his own shadow!” Simon sneered.
Taking one of the two lamps, James led us back up the trail as Jesus followed Papa’s light. Barely a moment passed before we heard commotion in the front of our house. As we moved slowly around the house, Jesus and Papa caught up with us, and Papa took the lead. Though we were frightened by the sound of a sentry’s gruff voice, we were all glad that we wouldn’t have to look for Rhoda in the hills. Distinguishing their faces in the torchlight, I felt my breath catch in my throat. With the exception of Jesus, I’m certain the others were terrified too.
“Hadrian, was that animal or human?” asked the first horseman.
“Why, it looked like a child, ” Hadrian answered, reigning in his horse.
The first speaker, whom Jesus would identify as Balto, a nighttime optio, shouted: “Stop! I said stop! Don’t make us chase you down!” Hadrian, taking the cue, galloped after Rhoda, yelling much the same thing.
“Her name’s Rhoda,” Jesus called through cupped hands. “She’s the daughter of Rabbi Joachim.”
“Who, by Caesar’s ghost, are you?” Balto glared down from his mount.
“Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary,” he answered, walking bolding up to his horse.
The glow of the torch upon the officer made him look fierce and unfriendly, and yet the voice would belie the actions of the man. The same light upon Jesus turned his face and brown hair gold. This impression, along with his blazing blue eyes and radiant white tunic, I now compare to those moments around the campfire when he asked his disciples who he was. He realized that I knew the answer to that question. It was important for posterity that Simon Peter be the one to identify the savior. On that night, however, no one, not even our parents would have accepted the fact that he was, as Peter exclaimed, “Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The Roman studied my brother a moment. In the distance we heard the caterwauling of Hadrian’s prisoner. His gruff voice threatened to horsewhip her if she didn’t settle down. We felt helpless those moments as we searched the darkness, waiting for him to return, but the optio, seemed, as his daytime counterpart, unshaken and calm.
“I’ve heard about you from Regulus,” he conversed, climbing off his horse. “Everyone at the cohort has heard about you. You’re the one who brought the Pharisee’s son back from the dead and breathed life into clay birds.”
“Sir,” Jesus replied respectfully, “there might be small modicum of truth in what you say, but most of it is pure fabrication.”
“Ho-ho,” he laughed good-naturedly, “Regulus said you’re modest. I would expect no less.” “You must be his father, Joseph, the carpenter,” he acknowledged, studying Papa in the light. “You’re the one who harbored a witch and fathered this fine youth.” “Longinus told me about you!” He reached over with his free hand to give Papa’s shoulder a pat.
Handing his torch to Papa before tying his reigns to the fence, he stood there waiting for Hadrian and Rhoda to arrive, muttering idly to us: “I heard about your drubbing of the rabbi. Rumor has it your son made the earth shake and caused a dust cloud to blow your enemies away.”
“A slight exaggeration.” Papa sighed. “I lost my temper. Evidently, God did too.” “Quick! Go fetch him some wine,” he ordered Simon from the corner of his mouth.
“You are Balto, the night optio of our sector,” Jesus reached out to grip his forearm.
Papa followed his example. Balto raised his eyebrows and scratched his beard. Taking the torch from James hand, he held it closer to Jesus face and shook his head. Jesus, totally calm and collected, had never met this man, yet he recognized him instantly. Everyone, except me, was impressed by this feat. Nothing Jesus did surprised me very much. I admired his tact with the grisly, unshaven Roman, though it must have rankled Joseph and James.
“Here they come,” Balto’s voice rose in expectation. “Ho! Poor Hadrian has his hands full. Is that child possessed?”
“Yes, there’s a devil inside her!” Uriah cried.
“Oh dear,” Papa groaned.
Jesus, like the rest of us, was stunned. Just that moment, Simon arrived with a flask and three mugs.
“Are you trying to turn our father into a drunk?”
Hadrian rode up holding Rhoda by her hair, which, under normal circumstances, would have seemed like another example of Roman barbarity. The creature thrashing below his beefy hand, however, barely looked human. She was, in the eerie glow of the torch, which Hadrian held deftly in his opposite hand, covered with mud, kicking her legs, jerking her arms crazily, and spitting like a cat.
“I’m sorry sir,” he apologized to his optio, “but she ran up like the furies and attacked my horse. Venus reared up, nearly throwing me off, as she bared her teeth. I grabbed her hair before she spooked my horse.”
“Merciful spirits,” gasped Papa, as Balto brought up his torch.
“Tell us the truth, Uriah,” I found my voice, “have you ever seen her do this before?”
“No, not like that.” He shuddered violently. “I can’t stand seeing her like this!”
“Go inside!” Papa exhaled, pointing to the house.
“What do you want me to do Balto?” Hadrian asked, as Rhoda dangled by her hair.
“Do you have sack handy?” Balto turned to Papa.
“Yes,” Papa pursed his lips. “We have garden sacks, ...but how’re we gonna stick her in one? She looks rabid or insane. Uriah’s right: she’s possessed.”
“Jesus,” I murmured, as he stood there looking on in disbelief, “say the words.”
Without hesitation, Jesus said calmly, “In the name of the Most High, be silent and be at peace!”
Rhoda immediately ceased thrashing about, hanging limply like a Syrian hand puppet from Hadrian’s grip. Lowering her gently to the ground as we ran up to his horse, the sentry climbed off his mount and joined the group huddled around the girl. The torch didn’t lie. Rhoda had been transformed after Jesus words, from a wild beast, into a sleeping, albeit muddy, child. Uriah had exited the scene, but, in spite of our fears, everyone else remained frozen in place. At this point, Arturius and Clement, two of our nighttime guards, Papa had befriended, arrived in the front yard. Silently, the two rovers, approached the spectacle, evidently having heard the commotion, themselves.
“Is she dead?” Hadrian asked in a concerned voice.
“She sleeps.” Jesus answered simply. “The shadow has left her mind.”
“How do you know?” Hadrian bent over and gave her shake.
Balto knelt down to pull her eyelid back, and Papa felt her pulse.
“She’s alive,” Papa announced in a strained voice. “Jesus did it again.”
“I did nothing,” came Jesus refrain. “This is the Lord’s work.”
“What’s going on sir?” asked Clement.
“What shadow left her? Is the child sick?” Arturius joined Balto beside the girl.
“There’s no other explanation,” declared James. “Rhoda had a demon.… Now it’s gone!”
Joseph, Simon, and I nodded quietly. With no more fanfare, Papa poured the first two men mugs of wine and presented the flask, itself, to Clement and Arturius to share.
“You can have yours later,” I whispered, as Papa knelt down to scoop up the child.
“Please Balto, Hadrian, Clement, and Arturius,” he offered humbly, “come inside and my wife will fix you a snack.”
“We’d love to my friend,” Balto heaved a sigh, “but the prefect’s been cracking down on moochers. That was, however, fine wine. Perhaps, we’ll drop by again sometime, but the important matter is that stricken child.” “I’m sorry Joseph,” he added climbing onto his mount, torch in hand, “but she has the look of death on her face. Perhaps, your God has given her but a little more time.”
“You can give credit to your god,” Hadrian exclaimed, mounting his horse, with torch in hand, “but that child was accursed.” “You have great power.” He looked down thoughtfully at Jesus. “Nothing you can say will change that fact!”
The two sentries bid us farewell, touching their helmets politely before galloping back down the road. Before returning to their rounds, Clement and Arturius, lingered a moment, after mumbling good night, as we followed Papa into the house.
Another legend had been born. Along with the quieting of storms, the raising of birds and men, those smaller miracles in Nazareth, and the wondrous events occurring during Jesus’ trip with Joseph of Arimathea, was born one of the most important miracles of Jesus’ youth. Though he would never mention any of this to his disciples nor allow me to bring it up, this particular event was a miracle witnessed by the Romans, themselves. As such it was spoken of right along with the story of the clay birds and other falsehoods as the gods’ honest truth by our protectors and as myth by the disbelievers in our town. We, his family, knew that most of the legends were true. Yet, ironically, the Romans would miss the greatest part of the miracle. That would come tomorrow. That night, after Rhoda fell into the dark sleep, we were filled with misgivings. Out of respect to Jesus and concern for Rhoda’s health, we gathered silently and without comment with Papa around the table for another vigil and brief prayer circle to give thanks to the Most High, as Jesus insisted, and pray for Rhoda’s speedy return.
With Rhoda lying peacefully on the table, Mama tended to her first before Papa gave his opening prayer. She had obviously fallen into a puddle by the road. Her face, arms, and legs were covered with mud. Her features were camouflaged so well and her long stringy dark hair was so matted with muck, it was difficult to recognize her, but at least she was quiet. She was, Jesus kept reassuring us, simply asleep. Uriah, though he had seemed to hate his sister, now wept uncontrollably as Mama and Jesus tried to make her look human again. For modesty’s sake, Mama placed a blanket around her, and peeled off her sodden clothes beneath. All of us, including Jesus, turned our backs as she cleaned her up. The twins shrank at such a task, but I heard Tabitha offer to help. One day Tabitha would serve the Lord, but tonight she served his mother. I was deeply impressed with her actions this evening. Mama had her bring a large bowl over and hold it beneath Rhoda’s head. Water was poured through her dirty locks, spilling into the receptacle that Tabitha held. This procedure was repeated several times without complaint from Tabitha. James, Joseph, and Simon groaned impatiently. I tried to console Uriah and listened to their murmurs at the same time. After cleaning her up as much as possible, Mama was telling Tabitha to fetch one the twin’s sleeping gowns. The twins were whispering back and forth as children often do during a crisis. Papa, who was suffering the effects of too much wine, muttered irritably to himself. When Tabitha returned with the gown, Mama quickly slipped it on her small body, and, heaving a weary sigh, signaled the beginning of our prayer circle with a simple “Begin!”
Papa wasn’t feeling very well, so it was a short prayer, followed by our own words (though my head went blank during this portion), and a long, windy benediction by Jesus that caused the other supplicants to wobble from weariness on our feet. I can sum it up briefly as a mixture of thankfulness for Rhoda’s return, which seemed quite premature, and a frantic petition to God to waken the sleeping child from the dark sleep, which implied, at least to me, that Jesus wasn’t so certain about this particular cure. It was, now that I think about it, one of those “half-miracles” in which the Lord and His Son might not have agreed. Perhaps Rhoda’s condition was caused by an addled mind rather than a demon—a condition that seemed to run in Uriah’s family. On the other hand I reasoned, as our prayer circle broke up and we settled forlornly around the stricken girl, why would God want even a brat like Rhoda to suffer the dark sleep?
“What do we do now?” James was the first to ask.
“We wait,” Jesus answered, heaving a sigh.
“If she doesn’t come to soon,” Mama reassured us, “we’ll move her into the back room.”
“I’m taking a walk,” Papa announced, shuffling out the front door.
We all understood what that meant. Who could blame him for wanting a little more wine? It was possible, I suggested to James that Papa was just walking it off. He had much to think about and much not to think about (that’s where wine came in, Joseph quipped). While we watched Mama place the hand mirror, Michael had stolen from his mother, under Rhoda’s nose, occasionally inspect her pupils, and frequently check her pulse, we grew restless and fidgety. Were Mama and Jesus both in denial?
Uriah stood over his sister sniveling as if she was the most precious thing on earth. “Is she gonna die?” He looked at Jesus.
“She sleeps.” Mama sighed wearily.
“I explained that to you already.” Jesus rose up and guided Uriah back to this seat. “Sit. I shall fetch you a mug of juice.”
“Me too,” James and Joseph chimed.
As Jesus brought us all a mug of juice, Uriah tiptoed back to the head of the table. Feeling sympathy but also irritation for him, I joined he and Mama in their vigil, as did Simon, Joseph, and James. After tucking the twins into their pallets, Tabitha returned to sit beside Mama, so that there were now, counting Jesus, seven of us standing there, waiting for Rhoda to awaken or at least show signs of life. James and Joseph, while sipping their juice, began pacing back and forth, more from boredom than concern, and Simon, in typical fashion, plopped down on the bench and fell asleep. Bending over the unconscious girl, Uriah studied her more calmly with Jesus by his side.
“Are you sure she’s coming back?” he threw out the question. “She looks gone to me!”
“Jesus thinks so,” I offered lamely.
“I know so.” Jesus draped an arm over Uriah’s shoulder and led him back to his seat.
“Everyone back to their seats,” Mama called out resignedly. “James and Joseph—stop pacing around. Sit down Uriah and Jude. We can’t hurry the Lord.” “Jesus,” she added in a tired whisper, “find your father. Bring him home.”
For a few moments, after Jesus slipped out of the house, Mama and Tabitha fussed over their patient. The smelling salts were applied again, as was a special herb Mama believed also revived the senses, but nothing had changed. Quietly, with little emotion, Mama promised us that, when, Jesus and Papa returned, Rhoda would be moved to the back room. As in the case of both Reuben and Michael, this had once seemed like a sentence of death, but we were wrong then too. While Mama and Tabitha remained fixed at their posts, Simon slept peacefully on his arms, while the remainder of us filed out into the front yard to grab some fresh air. We said nothing at first as we listened to the night—sounds so typical in Nazareth now that the Romans guarded our town. A sentry galloped past, dogs barked in the distance, and a voice, I recognized as an optio, called to his men. It is said: Rome never rests. Of course, Caesar had never known our lazy guards. A more familiar sound, the song of a nightingale, comforted me as I stood with my brothers and friend. I wondered those moments if our lives would ever be normal. Since Jesus had cured the sparrow nothing had been the same. As the front door creaked opened again, a shadow, silhouetted against the light, stepped onto the porch. When the door slammed shut, Simon joined us in the garden, carrying a lamp, refreshed by his short nap. The interval of silence returned after that interruption. At such times, Papa once told us, God wanted our attention, yet in the midst of a tempest Jesus had tamed the sea. For an indeterminate period, we stood in the light, wrapped in our thoughts, united in this new crisis, the sound of our breathing contrasting the quiet.
Meanwhile, inside the house, in muted tones, Mama was instructing Tabitha in her art. A tradition was being passed onto Tabitha that would last all of her life. With the addition of Uriah’s sister, there were eleven people cramped into one living space, some of whom had been under her care. Several of us had been given her special herbs. On the night that Rhoda, the newest tenant, went berserk, Mama acquired another patient, an apparent demoniac, who would prove to be the worst of the lot. Our house had become a sick room, as well as a home—a haven for cast-off children and wanted fugitives of Rome. Yet, because of my parents’ charity, our family was special. In spite of their eccentricities, Papa and Mama became exemplars of hospitality, shaming the narrow-minded people of our town. Even before Jesus’ mission, their reputations as those ‘do-gooders with the strange son,’ had spread to neighboring towns. It all seemed especially worth it, with Tabitha living in our house. I had grown quite fond of her.
One day, as my brothers and I, she would make her mark on the world, but that night, with another calamity facing our family, she was Mama’s faithful helper, doing undesirable tasks that the rest of us wouldn’t do. Just that moment, as I contemplated our new sister, Mama’s face loomed in the window. She was, I imagined, worried about Papa’s drinking and our congregation in the front yard. Poking her head out further, looking this way and that, she searched for the missing family members, then like a hand puppet, popped just as quickly back in. No one spoke of Papa’s lapse; it was just one more burden for Mama to bear. We knew he was becoming a drunk. After what just happened, it seemed like the lesser of two evils, nothing that hadn’t happened before. We all agreed, that Papa wouldn’t have slipped, if Rhoda hadn’t come along. None of us realized just how serious this problem would get in the coming days. After her sudden lapse into unconsciousness, we expected her to either die or linger on, as Michael had, in a vegetative state. A sort of grim peace filled us, as we waited for her to be placed in the back room. As Papa would say, “Out of sight and out of mind.” Of course, that was only hiding the problem. Rhoda wasn’t a fugitive; she was a little girl, whom my parents felt obliged to help. There was no telling how long she would lie there in an unconscious state.
“My sister’s in that dark place,” Uriah concluded glumly. “Her body’s here, but not her mind or soul.”
“Well,” Simon said, tousling his hair, “I’m not surprised!”
“Such words, Uriah!” Joseph shook his head. “That sounds almost pagan!”
“The Torah says nothing about an in between state,” observed James. “You die and go to Paradise or Gahenna.”
“Perhaps,” I replied, studying them in the lamplight, “but Jesus said Michael was in a dark place. I remember having such thoughts about him, and he returned. So did Reuben.” “And so did you!” I looked squarely at Uriah.”
“Yes,... you’re right,” he nodded pertly. “I was in a lighted place, and I made it back!”
“Hah,” Simon laughed, poking his belly, “at least your body.”
“I’m not certain about Michael,” James said thoughtfully. “I don’t think he was ever the same after his sickness. I think it damaged his mind.”
“Really?” Uriah gasped at the thought. “You think Rhoda will have that problem? What if she doesn’t even know who she is?”
“She couldn’t be any worse,” snorted Simon. “Anything’s better than what we saw tonight.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, patting Uriah’s shoulder, “she’s just asleep, like Jesus said. She’ll wake up, just you wait and see—they all do.”
The sound of voices on the road and the distance glow of a lamp told us that Jesus had found Papa. We never asked where he had wandered off. In the past, before Samuel’s health worsened, he would pay the old Pharisee a visit, occasionally sleeping it off in his garden or one of his rooms. Tonight, as they entered the gate, they were quarreling in muted tones. I heard Papa mutter “your mother worries too much” and Jesus reply “you would worry about her if she was out wandering in the dark.” When they spotted us, they fell silent. Upon reaching our group, however, Jesus reached out to grip Uriah’s shoulder. “Have faith!” he murmured, as we followed he and Papa back into the house.
Mama stood by the kitchen table, an expectant look on her face. Papa mumbled an apology. Papa, Jesus, and she whispered amongst themselves a moment. Without further explanation, Jesus gently gathered Rhoda up in his arms and carried her to the back room. “We shall take turns watching her, but for now all of you get some rest,” he called back over his shoulder.
After eating a hastily prepared snack of goat’s cheese, bread and grapes, we all cleaned up with the heated water Mama managed to prepare, took turns using the cloaca, and slipped into our pallets—except for Jesus, of course. Once again, he was standing watch by the window. His blue eyes flashed in the lamplight as he glanced out at the road. The orange glow on his face made him seem other-worldly. How could I have known then that he was a god? Once again I felt a great love and respect for my oldest brother. Contrasting this sublime corner of the house, was that mundane lump of humanity that included my friend and, alas, adopted brother, Uriah. Uriah was very depressed but not surprised by Rhoda’s condition. He was sharing his thoughts with me that moment as I studied Jesus. It annoyed me greatly to hear his thoughts earlier about Rhoda, “She’s in a dark place...,” as if we didn’t know this. For some reason, James and Joseph thought it sounded pagan. I, myself, was in that dark place, at least momentarily, after being bit by a scorpion. What did Uriah expect after the way Rhoda had carried on? But then I began listening to what he was saying, and I was greatly surprised to find that his words echoed my own thoughts.
“.... If I didn’t know better I might believe that Jesus was divine,” were his final words.
“What?” I whispered excitedly. “Is that what you were saying. I’m sorry, I must’ve been dosing off.”
“I was saying that Jesus is not like us. He’s more than just special... He’s—”
“Don’t say it!” I clamped my hand over his mouth. “Two heretics are enough in this house.”
“But you believe that too,” he said, after I removed my hand. “I know what a heretic is. My father called Jesus a heretic many times. My father’s the one who was the heretic!”
“Uriah,” I confessed, looking around at my sleeping brothers, “I don’t know what Jesus is. I don’t think he knows. I do know he wouldn’t want to called divine.” “Look at him.” I pointed discreetly. “He carries so many burdens—physical and mental.”
“Really?” Uriah murmured sleepily. “Like what? Sometimes he acts like he hasn’t a care in the world.”
“Sometimes,” I replied with a yawn, “but most of the time he’s watching after us and helping to keep Papa’s business going.”
Soon, after whispering back and forth awhile about Jesus’ mannerisms, we both drifted off to sleep. I remember having a peculiar dream that night, but there was nothing prophetic about it. Perhaps Jesus prayers had taken away my burden. The really strange thing happened the next morning, to all of us. It was so bizarre, in fact, I must pause in my report to reconstruct it for my readers. To begin with, we were all sound asleep when it happened. Someone was beating on the door. Memories of that terrible day Reuben charged into our house shook our sleep-drenched minds, causing us to jump up and stagger fearfully toward the back door.
“It must be the Romans!” Joseph cried.
“Maybe it’s Adam and his gang,” James’ shouted, “coming back for his gold.”
“No, don’t unbar the door.” Joseph grabbed Simon’s hand. “Are you mad?”
“Calm down, just calm down!” Papa, still in his nightshirt, ran into the room, with Mama not far behind.
“Go look out the window, Jude,” Mama ordered tremulously. “Maybe its Regulus or one of our day guards wanting fresh bread.”
“I don’t see any Romans or bandits.” I replied, peeking out the window. “Great jumping Jacob—it’s Rhoda!”
“That’s impossible,” Mama waved, scurrying to inspect the back room, “Rhoda was barely breathing last night. It can’t be her.” After peeking in, she brought her hand up to her mouth and exclaimed, “It’s true. She’s gone!” By then, of course, Uriah had already begun unbarring the door and, as James and Joseph prevented him from opening it more than a crack, Simon asked half-seriously “has your demon gone? Are you right in the head?”
Papa and Mama listened with my brothers by the door, while Uriah, the girls, and I heard her answer from the kitchen window.
“Let me in,” she called in a frightened voice. “I was in a dark place. I awakened in the garden. An angel, with golden hair and blue eyes, like Jesus, stood over me smiling. He pulled me up onto my feet and pointed to the house. ‘Behold,’ he said, ‘they are your parents.’ There wait your brothers and sisters. That is now your home.’ Then, as I took a step forward and looked back, he had vanished.”
“Good grief!” James groaned.
“Come now,” Jesus cried, “let the child in!”
Shoving James and Simon aside, he flung open the door. Rhoda was, as she had been last night on the road, covered with mud. Strings of her hair shot up crazily over her head, as if she had been struck by lightning. Two small circles of white in her grimy face held dark little pupils that darted every which way.
“Did an angel really tell you that?” Papa gave her a suspicious look.
“Yes,” she nodded jerkily.
“She’s lying!” Uriah backed away slowly. “Don’t let her into your house. Send her away!”
Reaching out impulsively, I took Rhoda’s trembling hand. Almost immediately Rhoda’s tiny fingers crunched my hands like one of Papa’s wood clamps. Recoiling in horror, I knew something was wrong, but it seemed too incredible to believe.
“In her state, why would Rhoda be visited by an angel?” Papa looked at her in disbelief.
“The question is,” Mama clucked, leading, leading her into the kitchen. “Why would she lie about such a thing?”
“Even if that were true,” Papa protested in frustration, “the Lord wouldn’t burden us with another mouth to feed. I can’t believe Hannah’s abandoned her child. How many orphans will this house hold?”
“Joseph, shame on you!” she scolded him, taking the filthy child into her arms.
Normally it would be his namesake getting her rebuke. The truth was, of course, James and Joseph were beside themselves after hearing Rhoda’s speech. Uriah’s guilt for his feelings toward his sister had shown last night during our prayer circle, but now in the clear light of day, he saw the folly of his thinking.
“Mama,” James reasoned gently, “you can’t seriously believe her story. Look at her, she’s even more filthy than last night.”
“The Lord has placed her in our care,” Mama insisted, pulling Rhoda up to a basin that had been intended for part of our morning ablutions. “Tabitha,” she directed crisply, “take the bucket and fetch another pale of water. Go along with her Jude and lend a hand.”
Rhoda drew back from Mama and hissed like a cat.
“Jesus, say something!” Papa gave him a fierce look. “You can’t seriously go along with her this time. The child’s not right in the head.”
For the first and only time I can remember, Jesus gave Mama an indecisive look. After all, he couldn’t lie. Nodding to Papa, he turned a sad face to her and, wordlessly, took command of the girl. As if a battle line were drawn, though, Rhoda retreated to the far corner of the room and, with glowing coals for eyes, glared at my brother. Tabitha reached over and took my hand. We gathered around Jesus, sensing that something incredible was about to take place. Jesus miracle had been incomplete until this moment.
“The Lord is testing me,” he whispered faintly.
“What did he say?” Uriah, Simon, and Joseph asked with baited breath.
“Hush!” Mama stepped forward and drew us all a safe distance away.
“Listen to me,” Jesus spoke with great agitation, “what you see here this morning, is the Lord’s work, not mine. If I had my way, this would never have happened.” “Why Lord,” he raised his palms to the ceiling, “would the Evil One take hold of this innocent child?”
“Oh, she’s not innocent!” Uriah whispered in my ear.
“What business do you have with me, Jesus of Nazareth?” a deep, frothy voice bellowed out of the girl’s mouth.
“It’s him,” Jesus declared, looking back at us, “Jude saw him in the garden. We thought it might be Satan. He took a hold of Michael once, but he failed. Even Reuben somehow avoided the demon. I wonder now if it wasn’t him who wrecked poor Joachim’s mind. Now, he dwells in the small body of a child.” “Demon, it is you, who has no business in the House of Joseph bar Isaac,” he shouted in a husky voice. “In the name of the Most High, depart this house. Behind you, leave Rhoda in peace!”
That which followed was not pretty. All the other miracles of Jesus, most of which we had not seen, were wondrous affairs, tame in comparison to the havoc wrought in our small house.
“Son of Man,” it shrilled, “I tried ignoring you, but you try my patience.” “Here,” it said, opening its mouth wide, “I spit in your God’s face!”
A stream of vomit shot out of her mouth, across the room, catching poor Jesus squarely in the face. I base this account on two eyewitnesses: Jesus and our brave mother. Seconds before this event, the rest of us scurried frantically out the back door, but not before Tabitha and the twins were sprayed by the torrent. Mama stayed put, but Papa, greatly upset, managed to climb out the kitchen window, so that only his sandals were hit.
“Oh, that was so-o-o gross!” Simon quivered.
“Yeah,” James shuddered, “I think Jesus met his match.”
“Your sister has brought ruin to our family!” Joseph pointed accusingly at Uriah.
“It’s not his fault.” I gripped Uriah’s shoulder protectively. “He’s more of a victim than us!”
“There’s no victims out here,” Papa’s voice dripped with disgust, “the victims are in there. I feel like a coward for running, but that was too much for me.”
“No one can blame you,” Tabitha took his hand.
“Yes, Papa,” Abigail made a face, “that was yucky!”
Inside the house we heard shouting from the demon so foul I can’t record it in my chronicle. I will say that it was the most blasphemous spiel of words I have ever heard. Even the demon-ridden man I saw in Gadara during Jesus’ mission didn’t say such terrible things.
“Jude, James, Joseph, Simon, Uriah, Tabitha, Abigail, and Martha,” Papa ordered, “stop up your ears. I’ve never heard such filth.”
All of us tried very hard, but fingers in our ears were not enough to muffle the sounds of Rhoda’s demon. Alas, the worst was over before our group reached the tree line in back of our yard. Papa was so upset he crumpled beneath an olive and buried his face in his hands. It struck me that moment that Mama had expected too much from her husband. He was but flesh and blood. After suffering the ordeal of Jesus’ controversial birth and the flight to Egypt, he had worked hard for his family, only to be plagued with the constant adoption of orphans—undoubtedly Mama’s idea. To make matters more difficult, Papa’s business and our reputations suffered because of Jesus’ transformation. Now, after the trials and tribulations of Mariah, her deranged son, Reuben, and my own exploits, he was confronted with this test.
“Papa,” I declared, sitting down beside him, “you have taken care of us for so long. Tabitha’s right: no one can blame you. You’ve had to deal with too much!”
“Yes, Papa.” James piped, settling on his other side. “We love you. You are mortal, like we.”
“We stand by you.” Joseph said, squatting down in front of him. “No father or husband could’ve done more than you. Please don’t be sad.”
Uriah, Tabitha and the twins were crying softly. I was on the verge of bawling myself.
“My children,” he raised his tearful face, “my mortal children. I’m unworthy of you.” “Most of all,” he added in a constricted voice, “I don’t deserve Jesus...and my saintly wife. I just want things to be normal, but how can we have a normal household with God’s chosen in our home?”
“Is that what he is?” Joseph frowned thoughtfully. “I thought it was just the power of prayer. Jesus, himself, gives credit to his prayers.”
“Yes, Papa,” James quoted Jesus own words. “He’s often said, ‘It’s the Lord, not I, performing a miracle.’ Yet I know that Jesus will be a great teacher or prophet. He’s not like us. We’ve always known that he’s special.”
“That,” Papa cried, pointing at the house, “is too much for my household to bear! Listen to that commotion inside. I don’t even hear Jesus’ voice. Will he survive a battle with the Evil One?”
“It’s merely a demon,” I corrected him. “Jesus’ll do just fine.”
“I’m not so sure,” James gave me a worried look.
Papa uttered a bitter laugh. “Jude has more faith in Jesus than any of us, except Mary, but one of us must peek in the back window and see how our miracle worker is doing.”
“I shall go,” I raised my hand.
“Me too,” Tabitha said in a small voice.
In more subdued tones, the others offered to take a peek, too, but Papa held his hand up as a signal for us to stop. “I will look,” he said in a shaken voice. That very moment, to make matters worse, we heard voices in the hills. In a few moments, as Papa’s gesture was put on hold, Falco and Priam appeared in the clearing. Any moment Regulus would probably meet with his two favorites guards in front of our house.
“That’s all we needed right now,” grumbled James.
“They’ll want wine,” Papa heaved a great sigh. “I shall look in the window and, if the situation has improved, find wine for those moochers if they makes an issue of it.”
Just that moment, however, the demon roared, “How does that feel Jesus of Nazareth. Your white clothes are now puke green!”
“Oh no!” we all exclaimed.
“What is going on in there?” Priam cried, drawing his sword. “Joseph, the carpenter,” his voice caught in his throat as he spied us among the trees, “Is someone possessed by an evil spirit in your house.”
“.... Yes,” Papa confessed, after a pause. “Jesus is in control. I was just going to check on him. I shall let you know.”
“Wait, carpenter,” Falco barked, “I’ll get us some help. Give a whistle Priam.”
Priam placed two fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill, bird-like call.
“Oh Lord, why did you do that?” Papa slumped down on a tree stump.
“Let me take a look at this evil spirit.” He swaggered up to the house. “Let’em try something with six armed guards.”
I caught a whiff of Falco as stumbled past by me. He acted as if he was a little tipsy. I remembered seeing he and the other guards drunk before. Disobediently, I ran ahead of Papa and our guards, and, without hesitation this time when I reached the back window, peeked inside. A vile smell, like nothing I’ve ever smelled, assailed my nostrils, yet the room was plunged in noon shade. Caught in a flash of light from the kitchen window, stood Jesus in his loincloth. I had never seen my oldest brother disrobed, but I certainly didn’t blame him for stripping down after being soiled by Rhoda’s vomit.
“Jude, get back here,” Papa hollered. “Let me handle this!”
“Yes, hold on there boy,” Falco called with drawn sword. “You’re under the protection of Rome!”
“Go away,” Jesus yelled, “I have this under control!”
With surprising speed, except for few musters in the past, I hadn’t seen all of our daytime guards together in one group. Behind Priam, as Falco stormed ahead, were the hillside guards, Gratian and Leto, and those elusive perimeter guards, Diblius and Zeno.
“I’m going to tear this fragile creature asunder before you get rid of me!” the demon shrieked.
“Lord, why do you test me?” Jesus asked again. “What words do I need to send that infernal spirit on its way,” he gave a wounded cry. “Is it you this time...the Evil One, himself?”
“What’s going on in there?” Diblius shouted from the clearing. “Are they drunk?”
“Regulus will have your hide for calling us off our posts?” protested Zeno.
“Did you hear that voice?” Falco challenged. “No human made that sound!”
Gratian and Leto, who had been ahead of the last two guards, stood silently beside Priam, registering incredulity and fear. I could hear Jesus praying in a muted voice inside the house. Evidently, he was trying to extricate the demon without destroying its host. This observation, which I make retrospectively, grew slowly on me, as I listened to Jesus talk to God and heard the demon shout another unmentionable blasphemy that made even the hardened guards cringe. Jesus skin glistened with vomit. Mama was nowhere in sight. Hopefully she had taken shelter in one of the rooms. It seemed hopeless, as Jesus slumped onto the table bench, and wrung his hands. I broke down that moment, weeping aloud as I ran from the sight.
“What did you see? What did you see?” Papa jumped up, grabbed my shoulders and searched my face.
“The demon is defeating Jesus,” I blubbered. “That thing’s no longer Rhoda. The demon destroyed her. Let the Romans kill it before it destroys Jesus too.”
“That settles it,” Falco tried to sound brave, “I’m going to run it through!”
“No, you fool,” cried James, “you have no power against this!”
“Ho-ho, we’ll see about that.” He gave a bellicose laugh. “In the name of Emperor Tiberius and Cornelius Prefect of the Galilean Cohort,” he shouted through the door, “open up or so help me we’ll break down your door!”
Diblius and Zeno moved slowly up the house in crouching positions, their swords trembling in their hands. Priam, Gratian, and Leto shook their heads at this foolishness, following behind the others in halting steps. As Uriah lie in a fetal position on the ground sobbing, James, Joseph, and Simon muttered hysterically amongst themselves, and the girls ran screaming into the woods. Gathering his courage up, Papa joined the guards as they charged the door. As they took turns jamming their shoulders against the thick wooden door, Jesus called out weakly now, “it’s done.… The demon has departed.”
“Open this infernal door!” Falco screamed.
“Yes, Jesus, let us in.” Papa said peeked into the
window, then gasped when he caught the dreadful smell.
“It’s a terrible mess,” Jesus said in a choking voice.
“We’ll clean it up,” Mama said in strained voice. “Merciful Lord, it’s going to take some work.”
“Is my sister dead?” Uriah shouted in the distance.
“I dunno,” Mama murmured. “She’s lying peaceably on the floor. God forgive me, at this stage I’m not sure I care. This has been awful. I used to think that demons were just an excuse for bad behavior.… I was wrong!”
It sounded like Mama was splashing water on Jesus inside the house, probably our drinking water and the water she would have used for her stew. We took turns peeking into the window now that it was safe. Mama dried Jesus off and helped him into a clean tunic and pants. We could see that she had changed clothes too. Her light brown hair hung loosely, still wet from its dousing. When she felt they were presentable, she unbolted the door and allowed the guards to tramp in swords flashing, muttering fearfully under their breaths. Standing in the middle of the room, totally disgusted by what he found, Falco was speechless at first.
“Oh, what a stinking mess!” exclaimed Priam. “Is all of this from that child?”
“You heard it,” Falco muttered. “The girl was possessed.”
“What’s that stuff on the floor?” Diblius shuddered. “It’s green!”
“Looks like gruel.” Zeno made a face. “The stuff our cook serves.”
“By Zeus,” Gratian said, wrinkling his nose, “it doesn’t smell like it. What is that, Leto—vomit?”
“Vomit,” Leto nodded, looking down in horror, “and we’re walking in it. It’s all over our boots.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Diblius stepped gingerly over the tile. “Ugh!” He recoiled at the thought. “Never, in all my years with the legions, have I seen such a thing. It’s everywhere: the floor, ceiling—even the walls.”
“Aye!” Zeno nodded, freezing in his tracks. “The room’s coated with it. It’s sticky—like honey, but green like porridge, much worse than ordinary puke.”
“It’s dis-gus-ting,” Priam drawled out the word, repeating with a shudder, “All from that child!”
Hardened Roman soldiers were almost unmanned by the scene. One can just imagine how it affected us. Falco, who had led them boldly into the room, held a scarf up to his nose.
“No longer will I mock the gods,” his voice quivered. “The evil spirit’s gone, but at what cost? This Jesus is a sorcerer, demigod—perhaps a minor god. He destroyed a demon, only to kill its host.”
We expected a Roman to say such a thing. Jesus looked drained by his ordeal. His hair was matted to his forehead, his skin was pale, and his eyes had a haunted look. An expression of defeat or sadness, I wasn’t sure, was reflected on his face. What troubled me the most, though, was the shattered look on Mama’s face. Delicately, more from queasiness than concern, Papa lifted the stricken girl and placed her on the kitchen table. “Wait till Regulus sees this.” Priam whistled under his breath. “…. I need a jug of wine!” That moment there was a knock on the front door. I looked out and saw Regulus standing in the yard, ran to the door, and quickly let him in.
“By the gods,” he groaned, “what’s that smell?”
“Something happened here today,” Falco began shakily. “That child on the floor had an evil spirit, which Jesus expelled.”
He was perfectly correct, and yet the optio found such superstition annoying, especially when all six of this sector’s guards were congregated in our house.
“There better be a good explanation for all of you being here at once.” He looked around the room.
“We heard Priam’s whistle,” Leto explained lamely. “It’s one of our codes for an extreme emergency.”
“Extreme emergency?” Regulus gave him a dubious look. “Your telling me, Diblius and Zeno also heard his whistle from the carpenter’s yard?”
“No sir,” Gratian stepped in, “when I heard his whistle, I gave our secret call to the perimeter guards.”
“And what’s that?” Regulus asked with great sarcasm.
“A sort of hoot, like an owl,” he answered with a chuckle.
“That’s Papa’s signal,” Simon whispered in my ear.
That moment, as Regulus took in the scene, the room fell silent. After studying the floor and the girl lying motionless on the table, his suspicions were replaced by revulsion. Mama was standing motionless, herself, over her, staring listlessly at the child. The only sound heard in the room, other than fidgeting and nervous breathing, was the sobbing of poor Uriah, who stood at the other end of the table, convinced his sister was dead.
Regulus removed his helmet and moved his trembling fingers through his hair. “There has to be a better explanation for this. What makes everyone think this girl had an evil spirit?”
“The voices sir,” Priam answered with a shudder. “That creature said things that would’ve made the most foul mouthed veteran cringe, in a voice not of this world.”
“Is this how the rest of you see it?” He scanned the others’ faces.
“Yes!” They answered as a united front.
“It’s true,” I volunteered. “If anything Priam is being polite. That little child shot streams of vomit out of her small mouth, much more than her small stomach could hold.”
“Enough!” Regulus waved irritably. “That sounds utterly impossible. You’re telling me that frail child caused all this.”
“Yes!” everyone, except Jesus and Mama promptly replied.
“Joseph,” he turned to Papa, “I will leave you to clean this mess up. You have my sympathies. I shall return during the shift change to talk with you about this incredible event.” “Men,” he barked in a less friendly manner, “return to your posts at once. Falco and Priam, we need to talk.”
The seven Romans quickly exited through the back door.
The last thing we heard was Falco asking the optio whether or not he and the others would be disciplined and Regulus answering wearily “No, what else could you have done? This defies all reason. It’s going to be hard to explain to Longinus. For now, lets keep this to ourselves.”
With the optio and guards gone, we turned our attention to the girl lying on the table. It was decided quickly by Papa that we must rely on our friendship with Samuel again. There was nothing else we could do, until our house was cleaned up and Rhoda’s condition—alive or dead—was resolved. The cleanup would take a great volume of water and more effort than my parents were capable of in Mama and Jesus’ state of minds. With little argument from Mama, Papa’s plan was to escort she and the oldest son to Samuel’s house to recuperate while we began scrubbing up the floors and walls. The terrible ordeal, its aftermath, and the lingering smell of vomit were just too much to overcome in one afternoon and evening. So, if it was acceptable to the Pharisee and his chamberlain, the remainder of us would also sleep in his house until our task was finished.
So convinced we were that Rhoda was a lost cause that, almost as an afterthought, Mama held Rhoda’s thin wrist and waited a moment before giving us all a nod.
“She’s alive,” she announced softly. “That’s all I can say.”
“That’s enough,” Papa replied curtly. “Jesus,” he counseled sternly, “this time I want you to listen to me. Don’t give me any heartfelt religious explanation for what happened today. This wasn’t your fault. Somewhere in this mess might be a miracle but right now it’s a disaster that’s tearing you and your mother apart. There needs to be distance between you and this unhallowed place. Frankly, I don’t know how I can ever get it clean. You behaved bravely and righteously these hours. I ran like a frightened child.”
“It wasn’t your fault Papa,” Jesus whispered hoarsely. “She was in that dark place Michael was in. God would have brought her back in His own good time?”
“I ran too.” Mama smiled wanly. “I spent most of the time in our room on my knees praying.”
“I love you,” Papa said impulsively. “Your life with me has been hard and perilous.”
“If it was hard and perilous,” she said faintly, “it was my fault, not yours. I pulled you into this as a sleepwalker. The angel came to me in person. He came to you in a dream. God has dealt with you indirectly and, I must confess, unfairly. Everything has been so plain to Jesus and I...except who he is.”
“Who is he?” blurted Papa. “I still don’t know.”
“Nor I,” James stepped forward.
“Nor me.” Joseph placed his hand on Papa’s shoulder.
“Maybe we’re not suppose to know,” I suggested, as Tabitha squeezed my hand. “I wanted to be a soldier and traveler, but that seems quite selfish now.”
“When the time is right, God will tell me what to do.” Jesus looked down at me, his color and energies returning. “The same is true for you Jude and all my brothers and sisters. Let us give a short prayer for Rhoda before we take her to Samuel’s house. I think it would be a good idea Papa if one of us ran ahead and warned the Pharisee of our crisis.”
“Let me go!” I begged. “I’m a fast runner. If Abner’s there, I’ll ask him to be ready when we bring her in.”
“All right,” Papa said, opening the door. “Whatever you do, don’t bring him here.” “I don’t know how we’re going to flush this place out.” He scratched his beard. “No one, except the Romans, are to come inside this house.”
“Burn it to the ground,” James snarled.
“Regulus might suggest that this evening during the change of watch.”
“It’s too wet to burn,” Simon made a face. “Can’t Jesus whip of another miracle—phittt!—and be done with it?”
“I’m not sure this was a miracle,” Jesus sighed heavily. “I forced God’s hand. We must not tempt the Lord.”
As I released Tabitha’s hand and began trotting to Samuel’s house, I heard, fading in the distance, an argument between Jesus and our parents about God’s will.
“Is it God’s will that a child is tormented by demons?” protested Mama.
“There was only one demon,” Jesus answered wearily. “Rhoda was unfortunate enough to become its host. It could just as easily entered someone else.”
“That explains nothing,” Papa replied angrily. “Why would God test us like this. Why would he use an innocent child for his purpose?”
“Rhoda’s not innocent,” I heard Uriah say before their voices faded in the distance.
I was running swiftly at that point, my mind reeling with the implications of what happened today. On the one hand, it might seem as though Jesus powers of prayer were limited to what we wanted and what God thought best. If nothing else, this made him seem less a miracle worker than before. On the other hand, it implied that Jesus had reached the point where he was challenging Satan, himself. Were not the demons Satan’s agents? He had seemed to cross a line where ordinary prayer was not enough. This made him seem more human. Perhaps he was, as Samuel suggested, merely touched by God and not divine. The grim aspects of this event couldn’t hide the importance of today or the fact that a miracle, the second half of what happened last night on the road, had occurred. And yet Rhoda, like Michael had once been, seemed even closer to death. Would she come out of it like Michael and, for that matter, Reuben or had Jesus failed completely this time. These questions shook me greatly as I approached the great door and knocked repeatedly until a servant finally appeared.
“Who are you?” a voice challenged through a crack in the door.
“I am Jude, brother of Jesus,” I stated boldly. “My father Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, has sent me with dire news for the Pharisee and his chamberlain.”
Knowing very well that the man on the other side of the door was, in fact, Mordechai, the chamberlain, himself, I wasn’t surprised when he allowed me to enter. I was also not surprised when he took me to task for banging wildly on the door.
“Do you know how that door echoes in the hall?” He gave me a good shaking.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, wrestling free, “this is an emergency. Please, let me tell you what happened. I know our good friend would want to hear.”
“Samuel’s resting,” Mordechai said with annoyance. “He’s a sick man, and shouldn’t be disturbed. Abner is this moment in his room.”
“I must see Abner too!” I stomped my foot. “Rhoda, daughter of Rabbi Joachim, is gravely ill and may die.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Mordechai waved irritably. “All that nonsense on the porch wasn’t necessary. Come to the point. You need Abner’s assistance. Let me ask him myself—”
“No!” my voice rose in desperation. “I need to talk to Samuel—Now! Our house is unlivable because of what happened. The demon spewed vomit all over the floor and walls.”
“What?” Mordechai grabbed his forehead. “Are you serious?”
“Yes-yes,” I cried, snapping my fingers, “quite serious. Ask the Roman guards; they’ll verify it. They heard the voices in our house. They saw what the demon did.” “Please sir,” I groaned in frustration, “I must speak to Abner about Rhoda and Samuel about letting us stay here until we clean up our house.”
“Dear me,” the chamberlain clutched the sides of his head, “you picked the worst time. Why didn’t Joseph come himself?”
“We didn’t pick this time.” I gripped his sleeve. “It picked us. My family’s devastated by this. You can’t imagine what happened, unless you see it with your own eyes. Please let me talk to these men.”
“Come,” he murmured, leading me down a corridor to Samuel’s room. “Please talk softly. You have a very loud voice.”
When we reached Samuel’s chambers, Mordechai went ahead of me, briefly announced my mission, and then motioned me impatiently into the room.
All the chamberlain said was “Joseph’s youngest son has dire news for you and the physician.” Abner stood beside Samuel’s bed, a frown twitching on his aged face. Though the physician appeared sickly, himself, he looked much better than the Pharisee, whose skeletal frame and thinning hair made me wonder if Jesus promise that he would be alive when his mission began was possible. Even if Jesus were to leave on a mission in the next ten years or so, Samuel would be in his nineties. That would be a miracle! I thought, as I approached the old man.
“He-he,” his voice croaked, “come here boy.”
“Yes sir,” I replied, shuffling up to his bed.
“You’ve grown taller since I last seen you,” he cackled. “Dark as an Arab though, but you have a strong jaw.” “Come closer,” he ordered whimsically. “That’s it, give me you hand.”
Samuel’s bird-of-prey eyes where sunk more deeply into their sockets than I remembered. The fingers that gripped mine felt like Aunt Elizabeth’s hand—cold, uncooked fowl. And yet his mind, though slightly addled, was active. He had not lost his sense of humor or sarcastic wit.
“You can judge a lot about a man by his hands,” he said, his grip tightening. “They’re big for your height.”
“Sir,” I gathered my thoughts, “I have something important to say.”
“Humph!” his voice quivered. “Your palms are blistered and knuckles are scuffed from hard work. This is good, Jude. To be a good carpenter, you must have a strong grip and tough skin. Long fingers are necessary for doing fine work, but so is a sharp mind, like yours.”
“Please Samuel,” I said in a pleading voice. “My family has suffered a terrible ordeal. Our house is uninhabitable now. Rhoda, the rabbi’s daughter, was placed in my parents care. For reasons only God understands, the Evil One sent a demon to test my brother. That’s the only explanation we can think of. Why would the Lord allow Rhoda to suffer such a thing—”
“Are you saying Rabbi Joachim’s daughter is inhabited by a demon?” Abner interrupted. “That’s nonsense. She’s only a child.”
“Yes, it’s true.” I nodded vigorously. “The Romans heard it, themselves.”
“Humph, did anyone see this creature?” Abner pursed his lips.
“You can’t see a demon.” I looked at him in disbelief. “They’re invisible.” At least this one,” I added, recalling the specter Jesus and I saw in the orchard.
“That’s true Abner,” Samuel looked up at his physician. “That doesn’t mean it’s not there.”
“Then you believe me sir?” I gave him a hopeful look.
“I fancy there’s a lot more to this story,” Samuel sucked in his breath. “Your father can fill in the details over a mug of wine.”
“Abner,” I turned to the physician. “Jesus expelled the demon, but it spewed green vomit before it left and left Rhoda in a dark sleep. I had hoped you could treat her if we bring her here.”
“Your house has been slimed, eh?” Abner stroked his beard. “I saw this phenomena once before in Cana. This, however, sounds like it’s much worse.” “Well Samuel,” he looked down at the old man, “why don’t we send a few servants over there to give those poor people a hand. When Rhoda arrives we can have a special room ready for her.”
“Excellent idea,” Samuel said enthusiastically. “Please make it so.” He motioned to the chamberlain.
“I shall go with the servants, myself—immediately.” Mordechai bowed, retreating quickly from the room.
“Go!” Samuel made scooting motions to me. “Run ahead and tell your family the good news. Abner will have Rhoda up and about in no time.”
“Maybe I should accompany him,” the physician suggested, as I exited the chambers.
“Not necessary sir,” I called back respectfully, “there’s no place to treat Rhoda in that slimy place. You’ve seen many things as a physician, but I doubt if you’ve seen this.”
“That sounds like a dare,” Abner muttered reflectively. “I’ve never shied away from one yet.”
I never heard Samuel’s reply, but he evidently talked the physician out of following, which was just as well. Abner would have felt ritually polluted in our house. My fears about this reaction would be born out when the servants arrived at our house. When I found my family in the backyard, I told them that Samuel had accepted our family back into his house and Abner would treat Rhoda in a specially provided room. In spite of the good news, it did little to lift Jesus and my parents’ spirits. They were at a loss as to how they might clean up the mess. Jesus walked like a sleep-walker in the yard, perhaps in communion with God. Normally, he prayed at his favorite rock, but he wasn’t praying this time. As I approached him, I saw his lips move and hands flutter in gestures, as if he was having a debate with himself.
“Jesus!” I called cheerfully. “We’re all going over to Samuel’s. Abner will be treating Rhoda there. He sent servants over to help us clean up the mess.”
“Leave Jesus alone.” I felt Papa’s hand on my shoulder. “Come with me my son,” he ordered gently, “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Am I in trouble?” I gave him a worried look.
“About what?” Papa gave me a playful nudge. “Jesus said that you saw a demon in the woods,” he returned to the subject. “That’s very strange.”
“Yes,” I nodded quickly, “hovered like a shade, darker than the surrounding shadows.”
“I always suspected that demons were invisible.” Papa gave me a perplexed look. “Are you sure it was a demon, and not the Evil One, himself.”
“No, I’m not,” I confessed, recalling my words to Samuel.
I remembered telling Abner and the Pharisee that demons were invisible, but now, after recalling the incident in the orchard, I wasn’t so sure. I had seen him with my own eyes!
I gasped, my hand flying up to my mouth. “Jesus said it was the same demon that came to us in the trees. Could that have been the Evil One inside Rhoda?”
“It’s possible,” Papa gave me a nod. “It’s really tearing Jesus up. I’m very tempted to burn our house down and start over, but Joseph’s right: it’s too wet. What a ghastly day this has been.” “Well, let’s get going son,” he said, jerking my sleeve. “There’s not much we can do right now.”
“I thought we were going to start cleaning the place up.” I muttered in surprise. “Samuel sent servants. Mordechai is coming himself.”
“Oh, they’ll change their minds,” Papa predicted, as we entered the back door.
When the odor of evil and death assailed my nostrils, I wretched again, yet, as before, I didn’t vomit. As Papa foretold, Mordechai and the servants were mortified by what they discovered in our unhallowed house. Throwing his hands up in despair, the chamberlain, ordered the servants to place the girl on the stretcher they brought with them and take her back to the house.
“Dear, merciful Almighty,” he cried out. “I thought Jude might be exaggerating a bit, but this awful. No one should have to attempt such a task. Take my advise: burn it down and begin anew.” “Where’s that poor child?” he sounded distracted. “Is she still alive? Let’s all leave this unhallowed place at once!”
“Well,” Papa tossed his head, “when the smell dies and it dries out, my sons and I will have to clean it up. It seems as though the consensus is to torch it—consign it to the flames, but there are many memories in this small house.”
“Come Papa,” James said, taking his elbow. “Let’s talk about this at Samuel’s house.”
“Yes, Papa,” I said, taking the other elbow, “it’s very hard to remember anything here right now.”
“Everyone out,” Mama called over her shoulder, as Tabitha helped her out the door. “Where’s Jesus. Someone fetch Jesus.”
Uriah walked dejectedly behind us, as Simon and Joseph, in youthful nonsense, embarked upon this crisis as another adventure—a chance to have a soft pallet and fine food to eat. Abigail and Martha appeared troubled and confused by the experience. Papa had the presence of mind to clasp both of their small hands, as James and I walked in moody silence. Carrying Rhoda expertly between them, the servants moved far ahead of us, as if time was of essence and Rhoda could be saved. Mordechai walked alongside of our group, oblivious in his shock of the Roman’s rule that Jews not travel in groups of more than two. Had a sentry rode past those moments, he would surely have seen the urgency in this parade, and yet, after a few moments, we instinctively, spaced ourselves, so that we, in fact, walked in pairs, the exception being Papa and the twins. Jesus soon caught up with us with Uriah by his side. He must have been comforting the guilt-stricken boy. Uriah was listening intently, occasionally nodding his head. Even during such a crisis Jesus gave comfort to the rabbi’s son. Who would comfort our brother this hour?