Samuel’s Homecoming Feast
The event held in my honor at Samuel’s estate filled me with misgivings. I reminded both Jesus and my mother that most of our friends and neighbors might not understand my association and exploits with uncircumcised pagans, but we felt obliged to attend. Samuel had supported my parents when most of the townsmen had turned against them. He was, considering the many projects he has given our carpentry business, a benefactor for our family. He was responsible for introducing his nephew, Joseph of Aramithea to Jesus and encouraging his nephew to take Jesus along on his travels, which, along with his loyalty to our family, helped both my parents and Jesus’ reputation in town.
“Drink lots of wine,” Simon whispered to me, as we walked as a group to Samuel’s house.
“I plan to!” I said from the corner of my mouth.
Jesus looked back at me that moment as if he had overheard this exchange, but he said nothing. As he and Mama guided Papa by his frail arms, Jesus, like Mama, was more concerned with Papa’s health. Against the physician’s advice, Papa insisted on attending Samuel’s party. Jesus and my parents were, I was certain, also concerned about the guests at Samuel’s feast. If Ezra’s reaction was any indication, the dining hall would be filled with curious and suspicious townsfolk. Fortunately, only my family and, thanks to my big mouth, Tabitha, knew the full story. According to Mordechai, Samuel’s chamberlain, only those townsfolk considered to be our family’s friends had been invited, yet there were men, walking among the guests, who had recently protested the presence of Gentiles in our house. Tabitha had been invited because she was once a member of our household, as were Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz, accompanying their parents, who were now on good terms with our family.
In away, I wished my friends hadn’t been invited. If wine loosened her tongue, as it often did to mine, Tabitha might disclose details about my ordeal. I should never have divulged those embarrassing details to her or bragged to Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz. I didn’t want my fair-weather friends to make a big fuss about my fighting skills or the guests at the party to know that I had been paraded naked, like a prize pig, on the auction block.
In spite of my misgivings, I was proud to have Tabitha at my side as our party paraded up to Samuel’s house. Now that Tabitha lived with her uncle and was a young woman, Mama had been forced to accept her as my special friend. Everyone in our group, family and friends alike, were in a happy, carefree mood. It was, in one respect, as if I had never left. Though I felt different inside, Nazareth—it’s people and buildings—were exactly the same. Unfortunately, James and Joseph, always complaining and finding fault with their plight in life, also hadn’t changed. Although they enjoyed Samuel’s feasts, they acted as if it was all a great chore. Before we left the house, they had been instructed by our parents to put on a good face for my benefit. Their main grievance was against Jesus but they also resented me. I had been allowed to traipse along with Gentiles on an apparently aimless adventure, not following the law, returning contaminated and unrepentant; yet here I was the guest of honor at Samuel’s feast. Joseph, of course, was especially resentful. At least James, like myself, had struck out awhile on his own, while he had been forbidden to leave. James, for his part, though he had been studying the law in Jerusalem and dutifully returned to help in the shop, received no welcoming party. I couldn’t blame them for their resentment; I just hoped they, like Tabitha and loud-mouthed Boaz, held their tongues.
On the way there, which took time because of Papa’s insistence on walking on his own two legs, a few young people tried fishing for information but Jesus fended them off with his clever wit. When Jethro, as expected, asked what it felt like to kill a man, Jesus answered him, in the Jewish manner, with a question, “How would you feel, if it was you?” Malachi, perhaps influenced by his father Eleazar, asked a more serious question, “Will you be purified in the temple after your association with Gentiles,” and Jesus gave him an answer I would one day hear as an apostle, “the temple won’t wipe away your sins. Whitened sepulchers appear clean but are decayed and corrupted within.” Then suddenly big, lumbering Boaz, appeared with his parents by the road, and hollered, “There’s Jude, the warrior, who fought the desert people and killed two of their men!” To Jesus and my parents’ dismay, it was Simon, who cried out, “No, Jude killed eight men, six of them at one time!”
This would set the tone for the conversation at our feast. As we approached Samuel’s estate, I noticed that the venerable Habakkuk was walking alongside of his friend Ebenezer and his wife. Several other elders and their wives had, in fact, joined our procession. By the time we arrived at Samuel’s great oak door, our assembly had grown considerably. Already, thanks to Jethro and Malachi’s questions and Simons boast, there was an undercurrent of discord in our ranks.
“Is it true?” Ezra asked Papa as we waited to be seated in the main hall. “Did Jude really do that?”
“Simon, you dolt!” Papa snapped.
“Malachi’s correct,” Ichabod, the merchant, said in a kindly voice. “Jude has spilled much blood.”
“Joseph’s not well.” Mama hugged Papa protectively. “Let’s not dredge this up.”
“That remark about whitened sepulchers,” Habakkuk murmured, as he took a seat across from Jesus. “…. You didn’t mean the temple, did you?”
“Remember.” Jesus bent forward discreetly. “…. It’s merely stone. Men built the temple.”
“Where did you read that?” Habakkuk bristled. “That’s not written in the Torah.”
“The Spirit moved me,” Jesus whispered faintly. “…You understand that.”
“Yes, of course,” the old man nodded, stroking his beard, “…the Spirit…I remember.”
Jesus had been referring to that time, shortly after returning from his journey with Joseph of Aramithea, when he gave a sermon to the townsfolk and came to that part about the Book of Life. Habakkuk, who had questioned him the most that day, gradually mellowed in his disagreement with Jesus on several of Jesus’ heretical views. When he asked, as he had just then in Samuel’s house, where Jesus found this information, Jesus explained that it was revealed by the Spirit, which he explained that day was the living Word of God. Greatly perplexed, Habakkuk had asked Jesus if he was in the Book of Life, and Jesus told him that he had nothing to fear. Those earlier words from Jesus’ sermon, though unsaid, were understood in the old man’s eyes.
Because I sat close to Jesus, I heard this exchange. Habakkuk nodded silently. I’m not sure whether anyone else heard their words. Soon, in a quivering voice, as two servants held him up by his elbows, Samuel was saying the Shema, then, after garbling through it, signaling for his chamberlain to give us a speech. In the company of our family’s friends, Mordechai officially, in glowing terms, welcomed me back to Nazareth. For the remainder of the meal, our host reclined on a couch, too weak to sit for even a short while. I had been nervous after hearing all the chatter in the room, but I felt suddenly peaceful that moment. My family had a great Pharisee as its benefactor. What did I have to fear with Jesus as my brother? Throughout my perilous journey, thoughts of him had comforted me and kept me from going mad. Had we been alone I would have embraced my oldest brother. In all his infirmities Samuel had kept himself alive because of a vow he made the day Jesus left on his odyssey. He promised to stay alive until Jesus went on his mission. No one, apparently not Jesus, himself, knew when and what that would be. Yet it occurred to me that moment that this day was not far off. Not long ago, Mordechai, the chamberlain, and Abner, Samuel’s first physician, had admitted to my parents that Samuel was living by God’s grace.
I realized then that something was happening to Jesus now that I was home. After I worked hard at my job in an effort to live up to his expectations, I noticed this change. Perhaps, I had reasoned, my enthusiasm had taken a load off his mind. Mama told me that my return had been like a balm to him. What I saw tonight, however, was something more. That dreamy look I once saw in Jesus’ eyes had been absent for a long time. Now, here at Samuel’s feast, his eyes flashed. Had that brief, discreet conversation with Habakkuk brought it back? Or was it something else? The Jesus I had seen in my visions had been under great duress. For the first few days after I returned, there was a worried, almost frantic look on his face as we worked to meet the schedule, but, as I applied myself in the shop, that expression soon disappeared. “Jude, the little warrior, is back!” he would tease me. With all four of his brothers helping him in the carpentry business, how could we fail?
Habakkuk could not have known Jesus was, in fact, the Living Word. For that matter, no one, except Jesus, himself, could have fully understood what he meant by the Holy Spirit. Learned men, for all their knowledge of the Torah, were blinded by tradition and details of the Law. Yet the Book of Life, in which was written his name, Habakkuk chose to believe. This moved Jesus greatly as he saw illumination in the old man’s eyes. That day at the feast, I could not imagine what Jesus purpose or mission in the world would be or know how much our efforts would be accelerated to the meet deadlines Jesus set for himself, but I knew those moments, as I listened to Mordechai speak, that the day was coming…. It was just a matter of time.
As I thought about Jesus quiet discussion with Habakkuk, Tabitha whispered foolishness into my ear: “Jude, the Gentile killer!”
“I’m no such thing,” I whispered defensibly. “Many Gentiles are my friends!”
Jesus elbowed me gently, placing a finger before his lips. Malachi, who sat beside Habakkuk had overheard me too.
“What did Jude say?” he muttered to Ebenezer. “Did he say that he has Gentile friends?”
Ebenezer looked across the table at me and shrugged. “I’m going deaf, Malachi. Mostly, I see lips moving and heads nodding. If he was in the company of Roman soldiers, of course he was among Gentiles!”
During this muted exchange, I could hear the chamberlain extol my great adventure. Perhaps, at Samuel or my parents’ request, he gave no details of my trip, only a vague outline of how I began my journey with fellow travelers in Galilee and, after traveling to Tarsus with a merchant Pharisee, wound up returning whence I came. Polite applause followed. No one believed this watered down summary of my adventure. I was certain that the topic of conversation might gravitate to Jesus, if Habakkuk chose to discuss Jesus’ heretical words, but the old man sat in thoughtful silence, as the servants brought our food and poured our wine. It was, during the munching, slurping, and burping at Samuel’s feast, that the whispers back and forth about Papa’s sickly pallor and his errant son, erupted sporadically into remarks and questions aimed at my father but mostly at me.
“Joseph,” Jubal called from end of the table, “I heard your shop’s doing great now that Jude’s back.”
“Yes, yes,” Papa replied thinly, “he’s a great help.”
“You think you’re going to make a carpenter out of Jude?”
“Yes, yes, a fine carpenter.”
“You don’t look good.” I heard Mama say.
“Welcome back Jude!” Naomi, Ezra’s wife, chimed.
“Yes, Jude,” Nathaniel chortled, “you had yourself quite a romp. I heard you’re quite handy with the sword!”
“Well, I suppose,” I said, looking into my mug, “…. I learned a few tricks.”
“I’m not surprised,” muttered Jesse. “Had his own band of rascals, that Jude. He’s a sly one—a real scrapper!”
“Awe, that’s not true,” Tabitha purred into my ear, “Ju-ju’s a lamb.”
“Well,” Jared, who sat next to Mama commented, “I think he’s a fine lad. He’ll be a fine carpenter someday!”
Though I appreciated his support, I cringed at the thought. Jared, Tabitha’s uncle, after years if being a drunk, was one of the few speakers who were sober. Most of the others sounded tipsy. Some of them grew obnoxious.
“Is what Simon said true?” Malachi asked, gulping down his wine. “You really kill those men?”
“Yup,” Ichabod said with a belch, “eight of’em, that’s what he said.”
“Humph,” snorted Caleb. “Jethro said it was only two.”
“Simon’s a fool,” I muttered to myself. “Why’d he tell them that?”
“Which is it, Jude,” Ichabod’s friend Adonijah called out, “two or eight?”
I recoiled at their scrutiny. Jesus patted my hand as more diners commented on my adventure with Gentiles. When I remained silent for a few moments, Jeroboam and Isaac began asking James and Joseph questions about my journey. I tried filtering it out by humming to myself. Though I was feeling my wine, I managed, with Jesus restraining hand, to hold my tongue, but I was greatly annoyed with many of Samuel’s guests.
“Why are you humming to yourself?” Tabitha asked with a giggle. “You sound deranged.”
“They want me tell all,” I looked into her green eyes. “Promise me you won’t tell what I told you, Tabitha!”
Mama bent forward, after yanking my shirt, and whispered to Tabitha and me. “Don’t say a word—not one word!”
“I won’t.” I sighed. “Simon will do it for me.”
“Me neither,” promised Tabitha.
“And why not?” Boaz, who was eavesdropping, piped. “He should be proud!”
“Hah,” snorted Jeroboam, half-seriously, “eight men aren’t so much. Samson killed more men than that!”
“Samson wasn’t very bright,” grumbled Caleb. “He was fooled by a woman…blinded and made a slave.”
In an attempt to redirect the conversation, Mordechai stood up and spoke directly to Papa.
“Joseph,” he said, glancing sympathetically my way, “you have a fine bunch of sons. They’re all going to be fine carpenters.”
“Not Jude,” crowed Boaz, “he’s a warrior!”
“Shut up,” Horib scolded his son, “that’s quite enough!”
“Jude is an amazing lad,” Papa was saying weakly to Mordechai, “and he wants to move on.... It’s too soon for him to relive his ordeal.”
“Ordeal, what ordeal?” Malachi looked around the table. “I thought it was an adventure.”
Papa slip was as great as Simon’s. Not only did I kill eight men, I had suffered an ‘ordeal.’ On the one hand, I would have to relate the miraculous even at the imperial station. On the other hand, I would be forced tell them about my humiliating experience as a slave. Neither of these episodes did I want to explain. Ebenezer, who could scarcely hear, himself, was, like Mordechai, and some of the other guests, also sympathetic, and yet he only made matters worse.
“Jude,” he said, raising his mug, “tell them in your own words what happened on your trip. Get it off your chest!”
“Yes, get it off your chest,” Ichabod seconded.
“Tell us what really happened.” Malachi sneered. “Did you really kill eight men?”
Several other voices echoed their sentiment, including a few of the wives and their children. At that point, Jesus stood up, conflicted by his own belief to always tell the truth, and shouted: “Silence! The intention of this feast is to welcome Jude back into our town. It’s not an inquisition. Enough of the story has been told. Looking back into your lives, don’t you have memories you want to keep to yourself? How many of you have done hurtful things to your family or neighbors or done embarrassing things you’d rather forget. The Lord knows Jude’s travail, just as he knows each of your distress.” “Let us toast Jude for coming back alive and well and rejoining our town!” He raised his mug in salute.
Everyone, even my critics, stood up then and held up their mugs. Afterwards, after a closing prayer by the chamberlain, the guests filed out gradually, many of them squeezing my hand or patting my shoulder. Jesus had shut them all up by reminding them of their own secrets. He had also made them feel ashamed. From that day forward, only my family and Tabitha, daughter of Jared, the baker, knew of my ordeal. The miraculous aspect of my killing of eight men, which no one would believe, was also kept secret. Our host and his chamberlain received everyone’s thanks and well wishes as they left the hall. Taking him aside, I thanked Mordechai especially for his judiciousness in how he told my story. Samuel’s guests now returned to their humdrum lives. On the way to our humble home, Mama and Jesus again guided Papa on the dusty road, James and Joseph chatted with their friends, and I walked in silence beside Tabitha holding her hand.
The first thing that I did that evening, after walking Tabitha home, was check on my mules. The enclosure we had built for my five beasts was working out quite well. Fortunately, all five mules were males, so the herd would remain small and not become a burden to our household. There was abundant grass on our property as well as other succulent plants for fodder. The three boys Jesus hired to feed and water the animals had been eager to exploit their business success and returned frequently, themselves, to check on my mules. Upon entering the gate, the first one I fed a handful of grass to was Gladius, my personal mount. After stroking the faithful mule awhile, I gave my other animals the same treatment. Because of the outcome of the party (thanks to Jesus), I felt at peace, especially here with my pets. Absorbed those moments with memories of my journey, I stared unseeing into space. I was, because of God’s design and perhaps a bit of blind luck, alive today. What kept me sane, however, were thoughts of my family…and Jesus working in the shop.
That moment, quite coincidentally or by plan, a shadow stretched across the ground. One day, I’m certain now, it will stretch across the world. That day he was still Jesus, my oldest brother. He stood there in the yard, a distinctive silhouette against the evening sun. He had been studying me that moment. Shutting the gate behind me, I walked toward him.
His first words were, “I don’t know who I am, Jude…. I never told anyone this. It would make people think I’m insane. The truth is I think God has a plan for both of us. What it is, though, is in God’s mind.”
“I thought you knew everything,” I laughed softly. “…You don’t know who you are? You’re Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth.”
“For now, Jude.” He laughed, draping his arm around my shoulder, “…But we’re on God’s time. He controls our steps.”
That night, after supper, all of us sat at the kitchen table discussing Samuel’s feast. James and Joseph, though occasionally gloomy, had stopped complaining, at least around Jesus. Accept for the discussion at the party, in which they tried dodging questions about my trip, they let the subject drop. Not once, in fact, since I came home did they openly criticize my association with Gentiles or ask me more questions about my ordeal. Simon apologized to me for his lapse of judgment but no one scolded him after his show of remorse. Martha and Abigail had looked at me with awe before. I wasn’t sure whether it might not also be shock. But I was just Jude again. I was home to stay now. On that evening when Papa was still with us, they were young girls again, giggling and teasing me about holding hands with Tabitha. I was glad Tabitha no longer lived with us. If I courted her, as I planned on doing, it would be awkward, much like romancing one of my sisters. It would be no more acceptable to Mama than it had been before.
Papa reclined on a special cot Jesus had improvised for him that allowed him to both lie down, and when a lever was moved, notch up the cot until he was in a sitting position. In my lifetime I’ve never seen anything like it again. Jesus explained that it would be too expensive to recreate and make a profit. Until he left us, in fact, we built inexpensive furniture, repaired broken pieces, and worked on larger projects such as Samuel’s new stables, which gave the business the greatest revenue. When the topic changed to business, however, we grew increasingly drowsy.
“Have you worked on the stables again?” Papa asked, as we sat drinking our punch.
“Tomorrow, Papa.” Jesus reached down to pat his shaking hand. “I must first take measurements for the gates. They’ll be completed soon. Our latest project was finished yesterday. We’re on schedule, Papa. James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude have been a big help. We’re free to finish the stables now.”
“We’re not free; we’re Jesus’ slaves,” Joseph whispered to James.
No one seemed to have heard him except James and I. As Papa and Jesus discussed the plans for completing Samuel’s stables, which Jesus designed, himself, Joseph cupped his hand over James’ ear to elaborate on his grievance. I was impressed with my oldest brother’s ability to sketch out precisely the design we had followed. Now that this project was nearly completed, I wondered anew if there was anything Jesus couldn’t do. Though he might not lie, he had stretched the truth about James, Joseph, and Simon’s help in the shop. At most, their work was adequate, when they were actually working. They kept their complaints to themselves, but did no more work than was necessary, slacking off when Jesus wasn’t around. Most seriously, was the probability that none of them wanted to stay any longer than they had to before going their own ways.
Once more I felt sorry for Jesus, vowing once again, as I watched him humor Papa that I, Jude, his youngest brother, if no one else, would stand fast. In spite of their marginal efforts and tacit obedience, our brothers were shirkers, who had no intention of staying put. Jesus must have felt their resentment, especially Joseph’s. Yet against my advice, he refused to inform on them. It would, he explained to me in private, only make them more resentful if he told Papa. So here I was, I thought, sitting with the people who mattered most in the world. How could I be conflicted and feel such peace? James and Joseph were plunged into gloomy silence and Simon guzzled down punch as if it was wine, as I tried to keep a happy face. Mama paused in her conversation with Jesus and Papa, to comment on my progress in my work. How ironic I thought, as I thanked her, wishing, like Simon, that I could get tipsy tonight. Because of my oath to Jesus, I was a prisoner, if not a slave, in the shop. I was still an apprentice. In the near future, however, I would, Jesus promised, become a full-fledged carpenter…. Moses bones! I mentally groaned. My life was not my own! For Jesus had a great destiny; I knew this now. When that day came, as I knew it would, I would be forced to stay. I was certain that Joseph would leave at the first opportunity and James would return to his studies with Nicodemus. Without Jesus restraining hand, even Simon might strike out on his own, as I had, leaving me alone in the business. Since Papa’s health only seemed to worsen, I might become Nazareth’s only carpenter.
I shuddered at the thought, and yet strangely enough, as I contemplated what, in my normal frame of mind, should be a dreaded fate, the possibilities this afforded didn’t seem that bad. Jesus had taught me all the basics of woodworking. He had more faith in me than I did myself. To my surprise, I was turning out to be a fair carpenter. Someone had to keep the business going in order to take care of my family. Why not me? After all, there was, in addition to my parents and sisters, Tabitha and my mules to consider. When I compared what I had in Nazareth to what I might have riding as a soldier scribe with the legions, it seemed clear enough—a known future was weighed against an uncertain path. Nevertheless, the wanderlust of seeing the world would return at times, as I toiled at my work. The thought that I might one day strike out on my own again would take a hold of me and fill me with mixed emotions. I would recall my adventures with my Gentile friends but also my ordeal with Hamid and his men, balancing the good with the bad. At one point, I had only my mules as friends. My dreams of Jesus and the carpenter’s shop had kept me from going mad. When Elisha, the merchant Pharisee, rescued me from slavery, I felt as if I had been given second chance. My desire to return home to my family was, for a while, my only goal, until Aurelian, prefect of the Antioch Cohort, made me a tempting offer. After all my disappointments, I could, whenever I had enough of Nazareth, return to him with the promissory scroll, given to me before I left the Antioch fort, to fulfill my fondest dream. I didn’t have to return next month or even this year. There was still time. The scroll was open-ended…or so I thought.
“Jude, Jude,” Jesus broke into my reverie, “…. come down to earth. You’re home now, not on the road…”
Awakening from my daydream, I looked up from the table at his smiling face, realizing as I sat amongst my family that Jesus was right. It was where I belonged. I was home, and that is where I must stay.
In the months following Samuel’s feast and subsequent to my return home, my brothers and I continued to work as apprentices to the oldest son. I convinced myself to give up my dreams (at least for awhile) and became, to James and Joseph’s disgust, Jesus’ right hand man. I toiled diligently during this period. When I wasn’t in the shop or with my family, I was with Tabitha or my mules. When I wasn’t with them, I was strolling the hills of Nazareth, occasionally in the company of my fair-weather friends, Jethro, Obadiah, and Boaz, who continued to question me about my adventures. I would give the same “safe” answers during each meeting, until finally, their visits grew infrequent and they ceased probing my past. In fact, except a few random visits by Boaz, the visits ended completely. It appeared that I was still tainted in the minds of Gideon and his friends, but most of the townsfolk of Galilee left me alone. Gradually, they accepted me, without questions or quizzical looks. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accepted myself. Who was I now—Jude the carpenter or Jude the adventurer, a young man who killed eight men? For brief moments my mind would return to the dusty roads of Galilee, desert of Syria, and sojourn with the merchant Pharisee to Tarsus where I met Saul. It seemed understandable that I missed my Gentile friends and even the narrow-minded Pharisee who saved my life, but why did I think about Saul of Tarsus? My future was here in Nazareth. Why did I ponder upon a lost dream? That my future would include that strange young man would never have occurred to me, and yet I thought of him often. I also thought about Aurelian’s scroll.
I had begun to pray for guidance, especially in the company of my pets. Of all the compromises I had made in my service to Jesus, they were non-negotiable. I would not, as James suggested, sell them to Menalech, just because he had the facilities to take care of my mules. My pets would not be rented out as pack animals as Menalech would do; they were retired from such hard labor. They had earned a long rest. James told me that my beasts were my link to my past and I had to break the link to move on, but Jesus, himself, said no such thing. Like me, he loved animals. The very thought of the Temple sacrifice made him sick. The fact was, of course, my mules were a link to my great adventure. They had, along with my dreams during my ordeal, kept me sane.
Though I had to relinquish my dreams of becoming a soldier scribe, each day I spent with my family, Tabitha, and my mules, reminded me of how fortunate I was just to be alive.