Back to Normal
In the days following the auxilia’s return to the Galilean fort, I was re-introduced to carpentry. With a little prodding and occasional scolding, I fell into the rhythm of the job. Because of my uncanny memory it all came back to me, and I found myself working side-by-side with Simon under Jesus’ tutelage, as if nothing had changed. Aulus’ fever passed and he gradually regained his strength. Reminiscent of Mama’s treatment and Papa’s sanctuary given to Reuben was our family’s actions toward the ailing Roman. As before, he was kept in Jesus’ room to avoid disclosure to sudden visitors in the house. Once in awhile, during the week following my homecoming, Papa’s old friend Ezra or a customer would show up for a visit and no one would be the wiser. When James and Joseph returned, however, everything changed for the worse.
Inexplicably, the two had been gone for several days. Our parents had been worried they might not return at all. Though Jesus tried not to show it, he was, he confided to me shortly before their return, more concerned about the reception Aulus would receive. James and Joseph had finally accepted the fact that Reuben would be a patient in our house until he was able to strike out on his own. Aulus, however, unlike Reuben, was not even Jew. He was, in Joseph’s narrow mind, a hated Gentile—a Roman to boot. For James, whom Jesus worried about less, it would simply be a great annoyance. Nothing could be as bad as our ordeal with Reuben, who had once been our family’s enemy. Aulus, a simple Roman soldier, had taken care of me during my travels and deserved their respect. Jesus would be able to placate James, but not Joseph, with this logic when they arrived unexpectedly in front of the shop. A large cart filled with lumber and other supplies and harnessed to pair of donkeys sat in the background. Not far away, I could see two more mules similar to my own pets tethered to the fence. Shielding my eyes against the glare, as did Jesus and Simon, I cringed as two shadows stood silhouetted against the afternoon sun.
“Uh oh,” Simon mumbled, laying down his awl, “it’s them!”
“Moses bones,” I groaned, “they’re back!”
“Don’t worry,” Jesus reassured us, “let me explain everything. Don’t frown Jude. Greet your long, lost brothers!”
“Shalom, James and Joseph.” I presented my best smile.
Joseph held back a moment, as James rushed to give me a hug.
“So, you’re still alive,” he cried, patting my back. “We were afraid you wouldn’t return.”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t return!” Jesus scowled. “You’ve been gone over a week. What took you so long?”
James glanced back at Joseph as if he wanted to get the story straight. “Papa told us to pay Uncle Zedekiah a visit. I’m sorry it took so long, but the lumber merchant was ill.”
“Yes,” Joseph jumped in quickly, “ We had to wait for his son to arrive and cut fresh wood.”
“Which is it?” Jesus raised an eyebrow. “What caused the delay? Was a visit to Uncle Zedekiah the cause or was it the sick merchant’s fault? Zedekiah is a wealthy man with fine food and wine. Since it shouldn’t have taken that long to cut lumber, you obviously dallied at his house all that time.” “Do you remember what I told you about telling the truth?” he looked at James.
When James didn’t answer, he turned to Joseph, who shrugged his shoulders and stared at the ground. “A half truth is the same as a lie.” He took us all in at a glance. “There is no common ground between truth and lies.”
“Zedekiah was glad to see us,” James exhaled nervously, “but we shouldn’t have stayed so long.” “I’m sorry.” He looked up into Jesus’ eyes. “…It won’t happen again.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Jesus gripped his shoulder. “What about you?” He turned to Joseph. “Have you learned a lesson out of this?”
Joseph, who had always resented Jesus authority, was less contrite. “We are men, not children. Was it our fault the merchant was ill and the merchant’s son is a lazy oaf?”
Jesus shouted angrily, “It’s your fault, Joseph, that you never admit that you’re wrong! I sent you and James to Sepphoris for business, not pleasure. After we unload the lumber and supplies, you two return the mules, donkeys, and cart to Menalech before we have to pay another day’s rent!”
He handed James more coins to cover the delay. Joseph managed to mumble “Shalom!” to me that moment as Simon and I trotted out to the cart. I know he wasn’t glad to see me. We had never liked each other very much. In spite of my willfulness as a child, however, James had grown to accept my peculiarities as he did Jesus’ strange ways. When I left home, Jesus had been Papa’s right arm. Now because of Papa’s illness, he was in control of his brothers. Unfortunately, that very moment, Aulus, who had decided to stretch his legs in the backyard, was spotted by Joseph patting one of my mules. It had been just a glimpse between the house and shop, but Joseph caught it immediately and flew into a rage.
“Who is that man on our property?” he cried, stomping his foot. “He’s dressed like a Roman. Are those mules in our backyard? What is going on Jesus? Is that man another one of Mama’s patients? Is that Gentile living in our house?”
“There are people walking up and down the road, looking at our house,” James said indignantly. “Now we know why!”
“You shall meet Aulus later,” Jesus explained, several boards balanced on his sturdy shoulders. “That man watched over Jude during his trip and helped bring him safely home.
He was very sick and is on the mend, so you will treat him kindly, as we do all our guests.”
“Guests,” protested Joseph, “is that what he is—a guest? Explain to me, Jesus, why does Mama bring sick people into our house? This time it’s a soldier, one of Jude’s Gentile friends. We’ll be shunned again for housing that man. We’ve finally got our reputation back, and Jude brings a Roman soldier home! When will it stop?”
Though visibly upset, James said nothing as Jesus set down his load of lumber and took Joseph to task.
Jesus pointed at him accusingly. “You selfish soul! Have never learned charity? It’s our family’s way. It seems as though we alone carry on our fathers’ tradition. Once all men were Gentiles. You, despite everything you’ve seen and heard, still separate men between Gentile and Jew. This is mean-spirited. In God’s eyes there are only believers and non-believers—good and evil. Have you learned nothing in our house?”
“I’ve learned one thing,” grumbled Joseph, “I can no longer live in this house and backwoods village. I must make my own way!”
“And you?” Jesus searched James face. “Will you be leaving again?”
“Soon.” James nodded. “I only returned for a visit.”
Jesus was visibly upset with this mutiny. “We’ve talked about this before,” his voice broke. “You must at least wait until we build Samuel’s new stables. There’s so much to do!”
“Stables,” I whispered to Simon, “we’re going to build stables?”
“Uh huh.” He nodded with a sigh.
My letter from Aurelian flashed into my mind. Samuel was a very rich man. I could just imagine how grand this project would be. The very thought made me also think of wine. How I needed a cup those moments. In spite of my sudden dread for this occupation, I felt sorry for Jesus. Not one of his brothers cared a wit for carpentry. If Uriah had not gone to live with his relatives in Jerusalem, he might be here now helping in the shop. I could not have imagined then what Uriah’s fortunes would be one-day, but I would sorely miss him in the coming days.
As Simon and I showed our solidarity with Jesus by quickly returning to work, James and Joseph went into the house to greet our parents but also to avoid being in the shop. James had said only a few words on the subject. ‘Soon’ for him could mean a week, a month, through the summer or, hopefully, until the stables were done. For Joseph, however, who was in a state of rebellion, he might leave at any time.
“I can’t force them to stay,” he confided to me. “It was Papa who forbade them, and he’s ill. At least for a while James is back. I’m thankful that Papa can leave his bed, and he seems to be on the mend, but Ira, Samuel’s new physician, visited us the week before you came. He believes that Papa’s heart is failing him—”
“Oh no!” I cried.
“He’s doing better.” Jesus held up his hand. “That’s not the point. Our problem is our brothers, especially Joseph, who might leave us in the lurch.”
“I hate them,” Simon interrupted, “because of them, we have to work much harder. If they leave, we won’t be able to finish Samuel’s stables.”
“Hate no one, not even your enemies.” He counseled Simon. “I’ve almost given up on Joseph. I’ll try to reason with James. Many times, Simon, when you were shirking your work, I was alone in the shop.”
“I’ve helped you more than them!” he replied defensively, pointing to the house.
“That’s like comparing a little with nothing at all.” Jesus laughed softly. “I also need your enthusiasm. Your heart’s not in this either. I’ll be depending on you and Jude one hundred percent.”
I felt badly about Jesus’ plight. I hadn’t helped him at all and had no right to cast stones, but, like Simon, I felt great resentment for Joseph and James. A memory came to me that moment, as I looked around the shop.
“I dreamed of this!” I exclaimed, snapping my fingers. “On my journey back, I had dreams of you being alone in the shop and one with you quarreling with our brothers. Papa was missing in the picture, which made me believe he might be ill, which he is. Uriah was also missing as you worked alone. I couldn’t see Tabitha. I can’t wait to see her again. ”
“It’s happened again, didn’t it?” Jesus looked at me thoughtfully. “I can’t explain the battle you had at the imperial camp, but that was prophecy, Jude. It took awhile, but it led you back to us. It’s here where you belong.”
My heart sank, but I knew he was right. Feeling Jesus’ heavy hand on my shoulder, I promised myself that I would never abandon him again. If I stayed in Nazareth, I would see Tabitha again, maybe Uriah if he returned. If I ran off again to take Aurelian up on his offer, I would leave Jesus practically alone. I wouldn’t see my family and friends for a long time. Sooner or later, James and Joseph would leave. Because Simon was not happy with this kind of work, Jesus couldn’t depend on him either; he might leave too…. But not me! I thought, returning Jesus’ stare.
With our hands on each other’s shoulders, I said, “I’m staying, Jesus. You can count on me.”
Jesus shook his head vigorously, replying shortly, “Don’t promise what you can’t control. We’re all in God’s hands. He has a purpose for us—Jude and Simon. For now, we’re carpenters. Tomorrow, God may changes His plans. Now let’s get back to work!”
Though I couldn’t possible know it, Jesus hinted that God had plans for him. God also had plans for me that had nothing to do with carpentry or the Roman cohort. I would be torn between my “Gentile” half and “Jewish” half the rest of my life, but on that day I made my vow to Jesus such a notion was the furthest thing from my mind.