Time moved quickly when you had plenty to do. While our parents were gone, Regulus stopped by once to report that the bandits I reported had never been found, but a traveling merchant had spotted a red-haired youth with Michael’s description in Nain. A second and third sighting of him had been reported in Bethel and on the road to Jericho, all of which proved to me that Rome had eyes everywhere. When our parents finally returned, Papa was content with the progress we had made finishing the orders, but the house was a mess, and Simon told him that Jesus had been acting strange. Often, though he tried to concentrate, Jesus would suddenly wander away and return an hour or two later with that look. All of us, with the exception of Simon, tried to protect him. Isaac and Jeroboam even pitched in to take up the slack. We knew he couldn’t help it. The Lord was filling his head.
Simon never elaborated upon his gossip. Papa must have known that one day Jesus would leave for good. He was greatly impressed that James had taken control many times. James, after all, was next in line, and, after seeing the high quality of James’ work, I think Papa understood this. James was changing. We all were changing…. But the greatest change was in Jesus, as he grew to comprehend his godhood and purpose in the world.
During the period following our parents return form Sepphoris, I didn’t think about the curse God had bestowed upon me. With Papa back in charge and Jesus temporarily regaining his senses, we fell into a less strenuous routine. Most of the orders were completed and there was a break in the school session as Passover drew near. For the first time in two years, Uriah, my brothers, and I were led by Jesus on a nature hike back to his secret places in the hills. James and Joseph’s friends arrived in the yard just in time to join our group. James had bragged to Isaac and Jeroboam about Jesus vast knowledge. In times past he and Joseph had made fun of the oldest brother for his supposed pretensions. Now, as true believers (or so it seemed), they eagerly joined in the discussion on the trail.
Regulus had given us permission to congregate with our friends as long as Jesus was in charge. Stopping at a likely spot before we reached our destination, Jesus reached down and picked up a small plant.
“What do you see in my hand, Isaac?” he asked James’ friend.
“A weed.” Isaac shrugged.
“And yet physicians use this to cure upset stomachs.” He gave us a crafty smile.
“It’s still a weed.” Joseph smirked. “I’ve seen’em in Mama’s garden.”
“Rather ugly looking too,” observed James.
“Ah but did you know,” Jesus said, winking at us, “that its also edible, and when it blooms it displays a most beautiful flower.”
“That’s lovely, but what’s the point?” Jeroboam made a face.
“The point is,” he said, gently replanting it in a soft patch of dirt, “what is a weed to one man is food to another, and what is ugly for some eyes is a thing of beauty in another’s.”
“That’s the point?” Joseph frowned.
“Yes,” Jesus said, motioning for us to follow him down the trail.
James grumbled with disappointment. “I thought it was going to be something really deep, like ‘you can’t judge someone by how they look.’”
“Or taste?” Simon grinned foolishly.
“Not every wondrous thing in life is an object lesson.” Jesus glanced back with a grin. “If you’d like I could say that not everything is what it seems. A flower can be a weed and a weed can actually be a flower.”
“It can be poisonous too,” James offered with a snarl.
“Yes, and so it is with people.” Jesus stopped to gaze into the distance. “There are those whose gruff exteriors make us think they’re bad, when in truth they are flowers underneath—even beautiful, but then there are those who will always be weeds, who’ll always be poisonous, no matter how they are tended. Beautiful on the outside like the flower, they’re still evil inside like the weed.”
“Were not talking about plants anymore, are we?” I whispered, drawing close to Jesus. “You were talking about Adam….and Michael.”
“Shush!” He murmured, drawing a finger to his lips.
Jesus words had deeper meaning after all. I wondered that moment if he had given his little sermon on purpose, as a prelude to what was just said. That sly fellow! Before the others could question Jesus reaction, however, he made a sharp turn left onto the narrow path leading up to his cave, which also led to his secret place. Perhaps to change this uncomfortable subject, he began expounding upon the fauna and flora of the surrounding hills. A hawk flew overhead, an assortment of smaller birds darting this way and that to get out of his way. A small furry animal crossed our path. On a nearby rock a small, green snake, similar to the one Jesus had once tried to cure, slithered into the shadows. Various bushes, trees, and wild flowers also caught his eye. All creation interested my brother. The shift made Isaac and Jeroboam wonder why he was taking such a circuitous, prickly path. James and Joseph, I noticed, also shared dubious looks. Uriah was panting and puffing, ready to drop, and Simon, always the laggard, was dropping further and further back on the trail. Then, though its heresy to say, Jesus’ magic grabbed our attention. Jesus observations—the cycle of life, the rugged beauty of Nazareth’s hills, the small, often unseen things that were so special if we took the time to see—were too much for even the skeptical Joseph to ignore.
“Were not even there yet,” he muttered to Jeroboam, “wait till you see this.”
“Already he’s a great teacher,” Jeroboam replied with awe.
“Where did he learn all this?” Isaac asked James. “He’s only eighteen years old. Did he learn all this from his friend Joseph of Arimathea?”
“Jesus…knows…everything,” Uriah said through gulps of air. “Jude told me he knew it when he was born.”
“Oh, Jude, did you really say that?” Jesus asked in a sing-song voice.
“Yes,” I confessed, wiping my brow, “I’ve always known.”
Suddenly the panorama of Jesus secret place loomed into view. Everyone, even his brothers, gasped then chattered with delight as the fruit trees appeared on each side of the trail.
“It’s like being at the end of the world,” Isaac cried.
“Look at the pomegranates and berry vines,” Jeroboam bubbled. “What is that strange fruit? Are those plums over there?”
Already James and Joseph’s friend were stuffing their mouths with ripe berries. When we had all congregated near the rock containing the imprints and molds of ancient creatures, which Joseph insisted were creatures destroyed in the Flood, the vista below left us speechless. There below us, Jesus once told his brothers, many great battles had been fought. Caravans and armies have been passing back and forth for centuries. Breaking the silence was a short, spontaneous prayer given by Jesus, coming so fast it startled us all out of our wits.
“Lord, I thank you for your bounty and the beauty you bestowed upon the earth. We’re your chosen people, but you’re God of all men, Gentile and Jew. Give wisdom to our Roman rulers who watch over us as you watch over the earth. Guide our footsteps in the ways of wisdom and righteousness. Set this panorama before us as an example of your greatness—burn it into our minds. Soften the hearts of the Gentiles, so that they know the one true God. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one!”
A shaft of sunlight broke through, as if God, Himself, had given us a sign, moving slowly and majestically with the movement of the clouds until it fell upon our patch of ground. Another series of gasps followed this wondrous event. It was, I am convinced, one of Jesus many miracles. I had expected Joseph, James, and their friends to take Jesus to task for bringing up the universal God, but the current spectacle overwhelmed them as it did Simon, Uriah, and me.
“What just happened?” Joseph rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
“Jesus did it! Jesus did it!” Uriah began clapping his hands with delight.
As Jesus turned to show us the remainder of his secret place, Isaac muttered to Jeroboam, “How come we never knew about this before?”
“I don’t think anyone knew about this place,” James uttered with awe. “Sometimes I wonder if he just whipped this up to impress us. Is it any different than sending Nazareth a storm, quieting the sea, or bringing a dead bird back to life?”
“He did those things?” Jeroboam seemed amazed. “Surely you exaggerate James. You told Isaac and me—”
“Enough,” James said, clamping his hand over Jeroboam’s mouth. “My brother is a lightning rod for God. I shall never doubt him again.”
“I didn’t cause that spectacle,” Jesus gently corrected James. “Sometimes God gives us a sign, just to remind us that He’s there.”
“I knew it was a sign!” I punched Uriah excitedly. “It was a miracle too!”
He placed his strong hands on James and my shoulder, after ruffling Uriah’s hair. “Now, now,” he laughed softly, “let’s give the Lord credit for doing things on His own.” “Come,” he added, leading us to a precipice from which we could see the cast of a dragon-like creature in the cliff. “Where could you find such wonders, eh? Rome, Greece, Gaul? No, right here in Nazareth. Don’t even try to comprehend where this came from. It’s one of God’s infinite mysteries and wonders.”
“It was a creature destroyed by the flood,” came Joseph’s refrain.
“Bah!” Isaac made a face. “I’ve read the scriptures. Where in the Torah is there mention of such a beast?”
“Yeah,” piped Uriah, “can you imagine that in the ark? Noah’s ship wasn’t that big.”
“That’s not the point,” I waved dismissively. “Noah
didn’t know about this creature, because it lived long, long ago.”
“So where did it come from?” Jeroboam asked, shielding his eyes from the sun. “I’ve never seen such a beast.”
“I’m sorry,” I glanced at the four youths, “you’re being really dense. Look at its shape. It couldn’t have drowned. It swam in the water—eons before Noah and the patriarchs, so it couldn’t have been in his stupid ark. It was never seen by mortal eyes.”
“It was one of God’s creations,” explained Jesus, smiling knowingly at me, “just like you and me.”
“Nonsense,” Isaac grumbled, “the devil must have put that there to confound our minds.”
“You know Isaac,” Jesus replied, wagging his finger, “I’ve heard that line of thinking in the places I’ve been, and it just doesn’t make sense—not at all. Why would God put such magnificent imprints of life in obscure places? The Lord works out in the open, not, like the tricksters and magicians, with smoke and mirrors. He created the lowly mite as well as the great whales. He made dragons too. He is the God of Greeks and Romans as well as the Jews.”
“So,” James had a troubled look on his face, “your saying the earth is ageless, ruled by a universal God. I find that hard to accept, but I accept God’s mysteries. You, Jesus, are the greatest mystery of them all.”
Jeroboam was taken back by James half-hearted heresy. “That sounds like nonsense. You can’t accept this, even as a mystery, without accepting Jesus notion of God.”
“Isaac, Jeroboam,” Jesus reached out to them, “all I ask is for you to open your heart, listen to the rhythm of life and open your eyes to see. “Can you do that for me?” He asked, looking squarely at Isaac who shook his head fiercely at his request.
“Well,… I guess so, Jesus,” Jeroboam answered reluctantly. “I can’t argue with what James and Joseph told me about you and what I’ve seen today. But some things are better left unsaid.”
“Perhaps your right.” Jesus sighed. “One day all of Nazareth will reject the Son of Man.”
“What about you?” He looked back at Isaac. “Will you even try?”
“I dunno,” Isaac exhaled his words, “God’s a mystery, but if this is true he’s in conflict with our holy scrolls.”
“I’ll take that as a maybe,” Jesus gently patted his check. “Come.” He motioned to us. “Let’s get back to the house. They’ll think the bandits or Romans got us. We’ll come here again soon. I neglected to show you another special place.”
Joseph tapped Jesus shoulder as he forged ahead down the trail. “You don’t mean that cave? That place was defiled by Michael. It has blasphemies written all over its walls.”
“Not anymore,” Jesus shook his head. “I cleaned it up. It’s once again hallowed ground.”
As we passed the narrow path leading up to the cave, I shuddered at the thought of going up there. James, Joseph, and Simon also seemed to cringe. Uriah, who had been bitten by a scorpion in the cave, whimpered to himself. Suddenly, as if a voice in his head said, “Jesus, don’t do this!”, he stopped and shook his head.
“Another time.” He shrugged, looking back at me.
I was certain God had changed his mind. No one argued the point with him. Very quickly, he diverted our attention by scooping up a small lizard and displaying this prize.
“That is unclean,” Isaac recoiled.
“Nothing is unclean from the hand of God.” Jesus said, letting it skitter onto a rock.
This time Joseph didn’t argue with him. It was a beautifully striped creature, with large bright inquisitive eyes. Though Jeroboam frowned with concern, James nodded thoughtfully, Simon and I chased it a ways, and Uriah clapped his hands with delight.
When we were back on the Shepherd’s trail, Isaac asked the question overlooked when Jesus had deftly changed the subject: “Who is the Son of Man?”
“Ah,” Jesus announced cagily, “that’s one of God’s mysteries, which I scarcely understand myself.”
“Your brother’s very strange,” I heard Isaac whisper to James.
“Perhaps,” James summed it up for everyone, “but you can’t argue with your senses. You saw, you heard, and you felt the Lord’s presence. Though he is but flesh and blood, Jesus is a lightning rod, gathering in God’s energy and grace.”
Already James had labeled Jesus. With his final words, he had, without coming right out and saying it, admitted Jesus divinity. Whether or not James understood the implications of his words that early on his path to illumination, I can’t say, but Jesus was proud him and ruffled his hair..
“You’re not far from the Kingdom.” He gazed into James eyes.
James cocked an eyebrow. “Kingdom? What Kingdom is that? When our Messiah comes?”
Jesus remained silent, as we returned home, after giving his brother an enigmatic smile.
From that day forward, James, as Joseph, remained a skeptic of Jesus, yet he accepted, without question God’s mystery of which Jesus seemed to be a part. The pattern, as the doctrinal disciple, would be carried throughout his discipleship, but it would never interfere with his loyalty to Jesus. Our brother had taught us that every leaf or tree and every animal up to the great dragon preserved in the rock were proof of God’s mastery of creation and the world. Joseph also gave up trying to figure out who Jesus was and learned to accept the important fact driven into our heads that day at Jesus secret place: God’s ways are mysterious. His Creation was far more ancient than we had ever guessed. “Who can say how God counts time?” Jesus had answered when Joseph asked him how old were the strange impressions in stone. Where stories such as Adam and Eve and Noah and the Ark mere fables if the strange rocks and the earth, itself, were much older than thought? One day, as we gathered in the hills, Jesus promised us that men of learning would one day use the rocks to dispute the Torah, a prophecy that confounds me even now. What comforted us, though, was the realization that we’re not supposed to know everything in Creation. Life is a mystery…. Jesus is a mystery.
Occasionally, Joseph might question this notion of the universal God, but he no longer had an ally in James or even his friends. Isaac and Jeroboam begrudgingly accepted what they had heard from James and Joseph and seen with their own eyes. Most of us would become his followers. I would never have guessed that I would be one of the Twelve or that our friends and my brothers and sisters would become part of the congregation, who would share the Holy Ghost. That day when Jesus led us up the trail to our house, he was, in reality, leading the first members of the Way, of which James, as an Apostle, would also make his mark.
Much happened after that day in the hills, in the years following Elizabeth’s death. Jesus lapse into his dream world seemed to have passed, though we often caught him gazing into space. No one wanted to believe that he would one day set out to make his way in the world. Yet several times he had told us as much. All of us, the girls included (except poor Rhoda) had learned to read, write, and quote from the scriptures—things Jesus appears to have known since birth. Mother, on her own initiative, had even learned how to read. The truth was, of course, only men took up trades such as carpentry, while women traditionally became mothers and tended the house. This rankled Tabitha very much, and I was certain that tradition wouldn’t hold her back.
As my sixteenth finally came, sensing I would be trapped in my profession, I asked Papa if I could go abroad to see the world. I would, with my knowledge and writing skills, earn my way as a scribe. If the average man could make his mark in the world, I reasoned, just think what I could do. With my memory, I would prove to be an invaluable resource of knowledge for rich and powerful men. Generals, merchants, and nobles alike would find a place for me. On and on I went about the importance of such an education for a man of learning, the business contacts I might make for him, and the wonderful gifts for my family I would purchase in faraway places like Greece and Rome, until in mid-sentence, he cut me off abruptly and held up a calloused hand.
“No, Jude,” he said, shaking his head, “you can’t travel on your own—period! You have the falling sickness. Have you forgotten that? Besides, the world is a very dangerous for a sixteen-year-old youth. There are thieves and murderers beyond our hills. We’ve learned this first hand!”
“Papa,” I argued miserably, “I had only a few episodes of this sickness. I’ll join the legions as a scribe and interpreter. That’s quite safe. What can happen to me under Rome’s eye?”
“Safe?” His eyes popped wide. “You think you’ll be safe with the legions of Rome? What about the Parthians on the borders of the empire? There are zealots ambushing Romans at every turn.” “Also Jude,” he added quickly, “what would an officer think if he saw you fall off your horse and start foaming at the mouth?”
“Caesar had the falling sickness,” I pointed out.
“Caesar was a great general, not a sixteen year old boy,” he countered dismissively. “Now get back to work.”
“I’m not a boy!” I stomped my foot.
“Well, you’re acting like one now.” He wrung his finger.
“Why can’t you trust me?” I wailed tearfully. “You trusted Jesus when he was fourteen, and he went half way around the world.”
“Jesus didn’t ride with the legions,” Papa was growing exasperated. “He doesn’t have the falling sickness, and he didn’t strike out on his own. Joseph of Arimathea, with his four guards, didn’t travel into harm’s way, like the legions or young fools striking out on their own.”
“Please Papa,” I begged pitifully, “I don’t want to be a carpenter. Let me go!”
“The answer is no,” he said with great conviction. “Is that plain enough? I’m sure your mother feels the same way.”
“That settles it,” I dropped by sander and fled from the shop, “I’m talking to Jesus. He’ll cure me of the falling sickness.”
“You’ve always been willful Jude,” he called after me. “This illness could be a test. I’ve talked this over with Jesus. It could be God’s will. You’re not Caesar. You’re a sixteen year old boy!”
“I’m not a child!” I screamed, running down the path into the woods.
But I was a child, I now reflect. I shouldn’t have told Papa I didn’t want to be a carpenter. Already, James, Joseph, and Simon had given him the impression they didn’t want to follow the craft. Only Uriah would be left to carry on. My words must have wounded Papa deeply. I was crying furiously when I found Jesus praying at his favorite rock.
“Jesus, Jesus,” I sputtered, “you must cure me of me of my sickness. I want to see the world like you, but I can’t go if I have this curse.”
“Jude, I was praying.” He looked up irritably at me.
“You’re always praying,” I shrugged, clutching my knees and rocking back and forth.
“Is that the only reason Papa won’t let you go?” He gave me a studied look.
“He said it’s too dangerous. He said I’m too young. But you went,” I challenged Jesus’ expression. “You can’t tell me that the land of the Gauls wasn’t dangerous or that the sea voyage that almost capsized your ship was safe.”’
“Jude, stop rocking to and fro,” he demanded in a comforting voice, “listen to me and all will be will.”
Pulling me suddenly to my feet, he led me down the Shepherd trail, all the while explaining to me the condition my parents had diagnosed as the falling sickness.
“I can’t convince Papa of what I’ve come to believe,” his voice was soothing, “but you suffered an emotional reaction to you guilt. I can’t explain your foaming mouth. Perhaps God threw it in for good measure.”
“You think this was a punishment—a curse,” I asked, wiping my eyes. “Am I really that bad?”
“You’re not listening,” Jesus said in a singsong voice. “I never said God punished you—either time. What I’m trying to say is that you passed out; you didn’t have a seizure, which Abner told me was an imbalance in the body’ fluids. You were overwhelmed.”
“You talked to Abner?” I asked with surprise. “It’s only an emotional thing?”
“No only, Jude,” Jesus replied, as we turned left on the special trail. “The Lord is displeased with you. In some ways this is worse than the falling sickness, but it’s not a curse; it’s a sign of His displeasure.”
“Oh dear me,” I muttered under my breath.
Jesus had led me up the short winding trail to his cave. Before I knew it, we were standing before it and Jesus, who held a torch he had pulled out of thin air, was exhibiting its transformed interior. My first reaction was a gasp, but then, as my eyes grew accustomed to the shadowy abyss, I could see that Jesus had whitewashed the interior and painted little flowers over the blasphemies Michael had scrawled.
“Nothing is impossible for God,” he announced instructively, “your unhallowed love of gold nor blasphemies scribbled on rock. Both can be wiped away with prayer.” “Pray with me Jude,” he said taking my hand.
“Moses bones,” I groaned, “must we?’
“Yes, Jude, close your eyes,” he ordered sternly.
I closed my eyes. Jesus gave a personal prayer for me that both embarrassed and moved me, for it showed how much my oldest brother loved me.
“Dear heavenly Father, I speak to you on behalf of my youngest brother. We—you and I—know what has caused his so-called falling sickness. Jude requires a change of heart. Thanks to a wicked youth, he was tempted and, after hiding the ill-gotten gold, corrupted with gold fever. Remove this fever from my brother, Lord. Replace it with a purpose worthy of his mind. If it be your will that he travel to the ends of the earth, bestow upon him a righteous vision. Let the experience make him a better man and bring him home ready to do your will.”
Was I hearing things? Had Jesus given me his blessing to travel the world? I dare not ask him directly least his dispel my hope, so I remained silent as he wrapped up his prayer.
“…. In your blessed name, your will guiding my request, Amen,” he ended raising his head.
“It looks great,” I exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could paint flowers like that.”
Jesus gave me a blank look. I could care less about the flowers, but I was very impressed with his trick. He extinguished the torch and sat it inside the cave. I didn’t ask him how the torch materialized so abruptly. By now I was used to the remarkable things he did.
“Shall we go to my special place?” He motioned for us to go on.
I nodded eagerly. Following Jesus through the fruit trees, I stifled the urge to pick berries, pomegranates, and plums. This was serious business, no time to be self-indulgent. I was just given his blessings to disobey Papa and go on my quest. I listened respectfully as he compared the evil in loving the world and one’s self with the good in trying to change the world for the betterment of others. He also digressed into a commentary on the importance of putting away childish things now that I was sixteen years old. I recall again, as I write these lines, the verse I read from Paul’s manuscript: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child. When I was a man, I put childish ways behind me.” As I stood a moment with Jesus near the edge of the cliff, I had no desire to put away the childish thing he was implying, yet it dawned on me slowly as he talked about responsibility and commitment that this is exactly what he meant. At first I thought he meant the childish games of youth, such as rock toss and blind man’s tag, but when I considered how few friends Uriah and I had after our falling out with Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz and how little Uriah cared about idle amusements now that he was set on being a carpenter, I realized it was something else.
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted, “you’re talking about my plans, aren’t you?”
“Yes, primarily,” Jesus began to equivocate, “that and your decision not to be a carpenter. Do you realize Jude that Uriah is the only one who has any intentions of staying on at the shop?”
“You don’t want me to see the world,” I persisted in a wounded tone. “Why can’t I have this dream? You had it Jesus, and you were only fourteen years old. I’m sixteen now. I’m the youngest son; why do I have to take up the slack for my lazy brothers?”
“Is that how you perceive woodwork—slack?” Jesus returned a hurt look. “Papa taught you everything he knows about carpentry. Sometimes I think he favored you, because your spirit matched his own. Of all his sons, he wanted you to take up the craft the most.”
“What?” I asked in amazement. “You’re the oldest son—the one who inherits the shop. Do you think I want to spend the rest of my life working for a wage when I can set out on my own?”
I was not really that upset about Jesus’ attitude. When I gave it some thought, as Jesus extolled the virtues of working in wood, I couldn’t expect less from my virtuous brother. It changed nothing, however; I still planned on running away to see the world.
“Shall I tell you a secret?” He placed an arm on my shoulder.
“Be my guest.” I heaved a sighed.
“You once thought you were having prophetic dreams,” his voice took on a dreamy tone. “I have been having dreams, too—several in which I am with a band of men, wandering around Galilee, speaking to the multitudes, dreams which don’t point to a career in carpentry.”
“Humph,” I snorted, tossing a rock off the cliff, “I always thought you’d be a rabbi or teacher. Have you forgotten my dream of the three crosses? I was on a great white horse, traveling somewhere in the world. How’s that for a revelation?”
“You were in Judea,” Jesus replied faintly. “…. Please let’s not talk about that nightmare. It troubles me very much. I have had many strange dreams, myself. In one dream I saw John standing in a river, wearing animal skins, a beard down to his navel, shouting ‘Behold the Lamb of God.”
“Hah,” I snickered, “that was silly. But they’re all just dreams.”
“The Lord speaks to us in dreams,” Jesus said, shielding his eyes from the sun.
I tossed another stone, this time at a vulture flying overhead. “The three crosses don’t make any sense at all to me, and why would a great thinker like you be wandering around with a band of men when you could be a great rabbi like Gamaliel?”
“Jude, stop throwing rocks at birds. You know better than that.” Jesus reached out to remove the stone from my hand.
“They’re accursed.” I scowled. “They eat dead things. All they do is fly around waiting for something to die.”
“No animal or plant, created by God, is cursed.” Jesus gripped my shoulder sternly. “Jude,” he returned to the previous subject, “promise me that you won’t runaway and join the legions. This would devastate your family. It would certainly devastate me.”
“All right,” I said, nodding slowly, “… I promise I’ll wait until my eighteenth birthday. By then I’ll have saved up enough money for passage on a ship.”
“So you don’t plan on joining the army?” Jesus answered with a question. “You crafty fellow. You’re keeping all your options open, eh? Am I correct?”
I began to squirm. Jesus saw right through me. He probably read my thoughts that moment.
“Well,... I see three options,” I confessed hesitantly, “...I might run away and join the legions. I might save for passage on a ship going to Rome…Or I might stay here in Nazareth and be a carpenter the rest of my life.”
“Jude, dear and beloved brother,” he said with great conviction, “Since, you have no occupation, at least for now, you have only two choices: talk someone into hiring you as a scribe or remain a carpenter.... The truth is, God will decide what path you take. It won’t necessarily take you to Rome.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “What?” My eyes popped wide. “Say that again!”
“I said God will guide your steps,” his voice was filled with resignation. “Who knows where that will lead.”
Though ambiguous, this was enough. My first impression had been correct; Jesus was giving me his blessing. That moment, the shackles were lifted off my ambition.
“Why, that could be anywhere,” I mumbled excitedly. “There’s many great cities in the world. God will be my guide!”
“Yes.” Jesus smiled indulgently. “The Empire’s vast. I just hope He doesn’t lead you too far.”
My ambition was unreasonable and farfetched. That he might be humoring me even crossed my mind, but I didn’t care. Throughout my childhood, Jesus had always humored me, hoping I would choose the right course. Muddle-headed as it turned out to be, my path was set. Jesus words had strengthened my resolve. It didn’t matter where I started out; ultimately, I would see the world. If I were fortunate, I could begin my career with the Galilean Cohort, close to home. I admired Commander Cornelius very much, but someday I wanted to visit Greece, Alexandria, Rome, even Gaul. Without further delay, Jesus lead me back down his secret trail, passed the shorter path to his cave, and up the Shepherd’s trail, through the grove, and up to our house. Wordlessly, arm on my shoulder, his presence spoke loudly to me: “I will never leave you, dear and beloved brother.” Already, he was the Good Shepherd, and I was, though I didn’t realize it, his first disciple. A bound had been formed that wouldn’t break no matter how foolish, selfish, and utterly reckless I might become. I know now, as I look back, that I was an errant son. In the years ahead I would try my father’s patience greatly, disappoint Jesus continually, and make my mother weep with worry when I finally struck out on my own.
That night, after a typical family dinner with jovial talk about Papa’s business and the marriage of Ezra’s oldest daughter Joanna to a young rabbi from Nain, Jesus took me aside once more. James, Joseph, Simon, Uriah, and the girls, in uncharacteristic harmony, remained at the table playing a guessing game. Even Rhoda made an effort to join in. I couldn’t imagine anyone marrying Joanna—she was built like Priam and had hair on her arms, but I kept my opinions to myself as he led my out the front door. I suspect, by their mood, that my brothers had snuck a little wine when Papa slipped out to use the cloaca. Jesus and I stood in the moonlit garden and spoke in hushed tones, as Papa staggered back into the house. He was drunk again. I knew it made Jesus very sad. My insistence upon striking out on my own when I was eighteen also weighed heavily upon him, and yet that hour Jesus would set me apart from my brothers for a special mission.
“You will learn the heart of the Gentiles,” he announced to me then.
“What?” I scratched the stubble on my chin. “Is this what you wanted to tell me? There are no Jews in the legions. They’re all Gentiles.”
“I’m trying to tell you something Jude, so listen,” he said, placing his hand over my mouth. “Remember my words. That is all I can say.”
“All right,” I mumbled, nodding my head.
“Papa will accept the eighteenth year for you sojourn, if you promise not to bear arms. Your weapon shall be the writing stylus or quell. You can only be a scribe or translator. You must never betray your people or oppress the weak and young. I truly believe that there’s something good in this enterprise, even though you’ll treat it as a great adventure and for selfish means. But you must wait until your eighteenth birthday.” “And Jude,” he added raising a finger, “you must return when I call you.”
“When you call me?” I gave Jesus a dubious look. “What about Papa?”
“You remember what I said about God’s mysteries?”
I nodded again.
“Will this is one of them. I can’t explain,” he grew frustrated. “Just promise me once more, this time looking me straight in the eye.”
With the moon’s light in our eyes, I said with great resolution “By all that’s holy, I promise.” “What else?” I elbowed him gently. “What else did God tell you about me?”
“Don’t be glib,” Jesus thumped my head playfully. “Let’s go back in before our brothers steal anymore of Papa’s wine.”
I would learn the heart of the Gentiles. I didn’t understand why he said such a strange thing, but it was exactly what I had planned on doing when I became a scribe. Jesus had just put it into words. . . or so I thought.
That night, when everybody except my nocturnal brother Jesus had gone to bed, I lie there next to Uriah, listening to him snore softly, my eyes trained on Jesus as he departed on his nightly trek. I wished that moment that I could be like Uriah, perhaps even the slacker Simon, who slept angelically with his hands folded so peacefully on his chest. Life would be so simple for me if I could be like them. But I wasn’t… I was Jude, one day to be called by John, a disciple of Jesus; Judas, not Judas Iscariot, he would write, one of the few times my name popped up in the writings of the Apostles and misspelled at that. You would have thought that John could have gotten it right in his epistle after what happened to that tragic man. It was caused, as I will point out later, by his jealousy of me—a sort of rivalry over the affections of our Lord, of which I’m not proud. I was, in fact, named Judah, after the founder of Papa’s tribe and nicknamed Jude because Judah was the name of the insurrectionist Judah the Galilean—another reason why I eventually changed my name altogether, since it seemed difficult for anyone to remember that my name was Jude.
But I digress, for that’s another story. For the time being it is enough to inform the reader that I, not Andrew or Philip, was the first to recognize the Lamb of God. It just took a long time for it to penetrate my thick skull.
That moment in Nazareth the Lamb of God moved restlessly around the perimeter of our house. Though I had a great deal of faith in our Roman guards, I had always suspected that Jesus was also holding a vigil over our home. Suddenly, as I lay there, my head swimming with his words and my ambition, I felt sorry for him. He always placed the welfare and happiness of others over himself. Not once that I could remember had he performed a selfish act or a mean-spirited deed. And yet he was stern when he needed to be and had little patience for our family’s enemies. I learned from both Jesus and Mama how righteous anger differed from the normal flare-ups of temper I’ve seen in others and myself. When I compared myself to my oldest brother, it was similar to the contrasts of night and day and dark and light, though the analogy was hardly enough. Jesus, I know now, was the Son of God, given the same temptations as any mortal on earth but with the God-like power to resist.
Such hindsight, while explaining the void between Jesus and the rest of mankind, can’t excuse my behavior during those critical years leading up to my adventures on the trail. That night, as I contemplated my future, I sensed, though I tried to rationalize my actions, I had fallen far below the standards of other youth. Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz, as ignorant peasants, didn’t know any better. My brothers, for that matter, had never horded stolen gold or deceived my parents and Jesus the way I had. I had slipped below the bar line of humanity. I was wicked, touched by the Evil One, totally absorbed in myself in spite all of Jesus’ fine words.
With these exaggerations of my shortcomings in mind, I fell into a strange, dark dream.
Once again I was on my great white stead, riding through a tunnel of tall, dark trees. Ahead of me there was the silhouetted outline of three crosses against a moonlit sky. As I approached this scene, I expected Longinus to ride out to meet me as he had before, but this time Regulus and Falco, astride their horses, appeared on each side of me.
“So you want to be a soldier in the legion, eh.” Regulus reached out to tweak my cheek.
“Ho! That means killing an occasional Jew.” Falco threw back his head and laughed.
I couldn’t understand why he was laughing, until the three of us emerged from the trees and sat upon our mounts witnessing a terrible scene. Three men were nailed to crosses. I couldn’t make out whom the men were, but I saw my mother and another younger woman standing next to her. Nearby, wringing his hands in despair was a man, I would one day know as John, the Apostle, who was just another unknown bystander then. When I tried to ride closer to the crosses, Regulus reached out to grab my reigns.
“No lad,” he ordered sternly, “that’s as far as you go.”
A third Roman I had not noticed before materialized in my dream, standing below the cross, holding a scarlet robe. “Truly,” he called out in a constricted voice, “this was the Son of God.”
It was Longinus, First Centurion of the Galilean Cohort. After encountering him in a previous dream, I was startled more than actually surprised. As if on cue that moment, a fourth, evil specter, appeared beside my horse. A black hooded cape concealed his identity, but I knew at once who he was. Approaching the cross, he called out hoarsely, “if you’re the Son of God, give us a miracle. Climb off that cross to escape death. Join the living!”
I still could not imagine my saintly brother as being part of the Godhead, and there was no way I could have known that Jesus would hang on a cross between two thieves. In spite of all my dreams, I believed that he would one day be a great teacher, even a prophet, but the notion that my brother would be branded a revolutionary after introducing a new religion into Galilee and Judea was the furthest thing from my mind. Secondly, crucifixion was a shameful death reserved for the worst felons. After all the trouble they had gotten into, I half suspected I would discover either Michael or Adam as one of the crucified men, yet even that seemed extreme. According to Papa, a swift thrust of the gladius was often preferred over the hard work of crucifying the enemies of Rome. The fact that I saw Mama in my dream did, in fact, surprise me. Her presence could be explained by her maternal instinct toward all unfortunate souls.
In the background I could hear other voices: “What crime has he committed?” and “Why have they hung the Lamb of God?” As in other nonsensical dreams I had experienced recently, I realized at the onset that I was, in fact, asleep, with nothing to fear, except the implications of my dream: the three crosses, a darkly clad stranger mocking one of the crucified men, and mention again of the Lamb of God. Very soon, however, the dreamscape faded to black, and I was falling back down that long corridor through the porthole of sleep. I had learned, after Jesus’ advice, to laugh and scoff at my nightmares. Yet I was filled with a foreboding this time much stronger than the last time I had a lucid dream.
I awakened in a cold sweat, staring up at the darkness, hearing the familiar sounds of Uriah snoring and James muttering in his sleep. Unlike times before, when I cried out in fear, I had not awakened Uriah. This was one of those many times when I knew I was dreaming; there was no fear. It was the message, not the bizarre substance of the dream that bothered me most. I had many questions to ask. There was only one person, I was certain, who could answer them. Slipping out off my pallet quietly, holding my breath as I did when I was up to no good, with several questions on the tip of my tongue, I grabbed the table lamp and snuck out of the house. I knew it was wrong to take the night-light from the others, especially if they needed it to use the cloaca, but it was still dark outside, though dawn could not be far away.
I went immediately to a place I had found Jesus before: the flat rock at the end of our yard where he often prayed. It was darkest night. I couldn’t imagine how Jesus found the rock without tripping over the obstacles in our yard. Creeping up to the pomegranate bush I carefully parted its branches to peek at him, which was silly since he must have seen my light. I was afraid of his reaction and was tempted to retrace my steps back to the house, but Jesus must have been praying really hard. There was no salutation or sign of movement, not that I could have caught it in the blackness. From a shadowy figure, which I could barely make out, his face became illuminated as bright as my lamp. All I could think of doing was to clamp my mouth shut to muffle a scream. I had seen Jesus’ face radiate in the meadow after the incident with the sparrow. This, however, was like nothing I had ever seen. That I didn’t bow down that moment as if paying homage to a god was due to my Hebrew training and the mere fact I had seen Jesus do wondrous things before. I realize now, of course, that I was preconditioned by our family’s acceptance of miracles. That night, when I finally mustered up the courage to approach Jesus, the illuminated face was immediately replaced by a lantern-lit face when Jesus heard my voice.
“Whoa, that was some spectacle,” I said, whistling under my breath.
“Jude,” he shouted angrily, “you startled me half to death.”
“I didn’t think you ever got startled,” I tried to sound glib.
“Why? I’m mortal, like you.” He rose up with his lantern. “Why are you here Jude? Didn’t you hear me praying?”
“I heard murmurs,” I replied, sitting my lamp down on the stone. “I thought maybe you were just talking to God.” “The truth is,” I added sheepishly, studying Jesus in the light. “I had another dream—that kind when you realize you’re dreaming and there seems to be meaning to the dream.”
“We’ve had this conversation before Jude.” He sighed wearily. “Why are these images in your head? You’re still too young for revelations, if that’s what they are. Our mother has them too. So do I…. God has favored us, Jude. The prophets had such visions. I just don’t understand why He’s picking on you. ”
“I thought you knew everything,” I said with surprise. “Sometimes you seem to read my mind.”
“I don’t know the mind of God,” he exhaled his words. “…. God’s ways are a mystery. I told you that!”
“So you don’t even want to hear it?” I looked at him with disappointment.
“I didn’t say that,” he said irritably. “I’m sorry Jude you’re having these awful dreams, but the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, has a purpose for you.”
The words tumbled forth from my mouth, “I was riding through the dark trees, this time with Regulus and Falco. We came upon the three crosses again. The Evil one taunted one of the crucified men. One man called out “why did you hang up the Lamb of God?—”
“Jude.” Jesus nudged me.
“I saw Mama there with strangers I’ve never seen before. What was she doing there? What does this mean?”
“Jude!” Jesus gave a wounded cry. “These dreams are impossible to explain right now. If they’re prophecy, they must be revealed in their own time. I shall pray again that these dreadful nightmares no longer haunt your sleep. How does that sound?”
“All right,” I said obligingly, “but I won’t worry about my dreams if you tell me how silly they are. They’re so crazy I usually figure out that I’m asleep then wake myself up.” “Just tell me Jesus,” I pleaded gravely, “that I’m being stupid, and I’ll never bother you again.”
Jesus thought awhile about this as he led me back to the house.
“Well, I can honestly tell you one thing,” he finally concluded. “You know as much about that dream as me.”
“But it’s ridiculous, isn’t it,” I persisted hopefully. “All those odd people, except Mama and our guards of course, and the strange things they said—stupid and silly. Right Jesus?”
“Right,” he rustled my hair, “very troubling and very strange, and I think it’s unfair that they’re plaguing you again. I promise to talk God tonight once more.” “For the time being,” he said under his breath, as he opened the front door and quickly extinguished his lantern, “before you go back to sleep say a special prayer and then fill your mind with only the wonderful and beautiful things.”
“You mean like our family and your secret place?” I replied in a muted voice.
“Yes indeed,” he murmured, “now set the lamp on the table. I hope a family member didn’t have to use the cloaca while you were gone.”
“Good night Jesus,” I called faintly. “Ask God to send me traveling around the world. I’d like to see the Pharos Lighthouse or one of those Roman temples.”
“Of course little brother,” he whispered, leading me directly to my pallet, “but do as I suggested. Close your eyes, say a prayer, and fill your head with good things.”
As Jesus disappeared into the shadows, I did exactly what he said. My short prayer was followed by thoughts of my family and then, as I planned, the wondrous, secret place Jesus shared with us again. For the remaining hour leading up to dawn, I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep, untroubled by dreamscapes placed by the Lord into my head. A notion flitted through my mind as I tumbled into slumber: perhaps the meaning of my dreams would become clear when the time was right. In my current frame of mind, it would remain muddled nonsense…Or, on the other hand, another thought caught my fancy, maybe there was no meaning at all. It was all the product of an overactive imagination… and guilty conscience…. If that was the case, what if it was the Evil One placing those images in my head?
When I awakened the following morning, I could not help wondering if my dreams were some type of warning from God that I should change my ways. The most important part of the dream appeared to be the three crosses. If I turned out to be a real scoundrel in later life, was one of those crosses meant for me? This question was so outrageous it caused me to laugh hysterically as I sat at my bench doing my work.
“Are you addled in the head?” Joseph had grumbled.
I just looked at him, frowning and chuckling at the same time.
Instead of growing irritated with my spontaneous mirth as Joseph had, Jesus asked me what I was laughing about, but I couldn’t answer his question this time. Such a notion would just upset him. I decided that morning that I would work very hard until my eighteenth birthday and show everyone, especially Jesus, that I’m worthy to join the legions to serve my people and Rome. I would make them all proud of me during my service as an interpreter and scribe. As I learned the heart of the Gentiles, I would also get to see the world and bring back wondrous tales of my adventures to my family and friends.