Rivulets of water ran in places were it had seldom been, filling dried streambeds, gullies, and yards to overflowing in a matter of moments. We would learn also that many poorly constructed roofs had collapsed that night, and virtually every garden in Nazareth, including our own, had been wrecked by the deluge. As we trudged self-consciously back to our home, unsuspecting townsfolk sloshed through their muddy front yards to witness our small parade. I had believed for a long time after this event that it was God, Himself, at Jesus command, who had punished them for what they had almost done to one of their own. For those not directly responsible for the attempted stoning and burning of Mariah’s house, there were scores of townsfolk who stood by and did nothing to stop the self-righteous fever in our town. Now I know that even the youth Jesus was ignorant of his Father’s purpose. The conversation that I heard when Ezra departed for his own home was barely understood even by James and Joseph. Simon, Michael and I, though we could not comprehend what Jesus was, accepted the fact of what he could do.
“Jesus,” Papa uttered hoarsely, “you have not taken credit for anything happening today, but I have a feeling that our storm was not natural but God sent.”
“I’m sorry your friend was offended, Papa,” Jesus sighed heavily. “I had no intentions in interfering today; it was the Lord’s will. Should I disobey God?”
“No, of course not.” Papa waved a hand. “We’re in your debt. Your intercession on behalf of God, if that’s what it was, saved Mariah and what was left of her house, but why did you confront Ezra with the truth? Though he promised not to repeat what he heard, his wife Naomi might spread it all over town.”
“He will tell no one,” Jesus assured him, “not even his wife.”
“Did God tell you that?” a touch of humor was in Papa’s voice.
“Yes,” nodded my oldest brother, “I act upon his authority.”
Sloshing in the ankle-deep mud in our garden, we followed Jesus, the lamp-bearer, up to the house. As he held up the lantern, its light gave his face a supernatural glow, a reflection that is hindsight since this label would not have occurred to me then. Children live by raw emotion. My imagination, more than intellect, was stirred that night. Like everyone else, I was tired, hungry and shaken by the crisis. As we approached the house, Mother peeked out the door with an anxious look on her face. No one cared about theology at this hour; we just wanted to get inside, eat dinner, and sleep past dawn. As I record this episode, however, I believe that Jesus’ answer to Papa’s last question summed up more clearly than anything else his relationship to God. Years later, during his ministry, we would learn he was much more. At this stage, on the long road to Golgotha, this was enough to digest. He had just told us that he was in direct communications with God and that it was the Lord telling him what to do. But Papa was so worried about what the town would think of Jesus he said nothing more.
Settling wearily on his favorite stool, he motioned us all, in spite of our muddy sandals, into the house. Abigail and Martha, who helped mother clean and scrub, stared in horror at the tracks we made on the floor. The odor of wet wool and ash on our clothes mingled with the aroma of lentil stew and fresh bread floating in the air. The largest room, which served as both a kitchen and meeting room, was strewn with woven pallets that my mother laid neatly on the floor. After being scolded by Mama, we removed our sandals, wiped off our muddy feet, and were drawn as jackals to our mother’s stew. Michael, of course, asked about his mother, whose condition we assumed had not changed. Though her eyes had been wide open the last time we saw her, we feared she might never wake up. Mother gave him a gentle smile, took his hand, and motioned for us to follow her to the next room. Simon grumbled that he was half starved. Papa, holding a hunk of warm bread, appeared to be falling asleep. When we entered the dimly lit room with only a small lantern on a table nearby, we saw only darkness, until Jesus raised the lamp he still carried and a collective gasp rose up in the room. To say that we were startled was an understatement. There sitting on a stool with a placid expression on her face, as if she had just awakened from a nap, was the Mariah Michael remembered as a young child.
“Mother!” he cried, racing into her arms. “You’re back! You’re back!”
“Yes, my son,” she caressed his hair, “I was in darkness and a voice told me to awaken. I saw a bright light and awakened to see Mary’s face.”
“My dear,” mother said, looking over at her oldest son, “I had nothing to do with this.”
“It was God’s will,” declared Jesus, lowering his lamp. “All I did was pray. He must have plans for you Mariah. An adventure in His service awaits you. You too are God’s child.”
I was very confused, but I was mostly very tired. Papa was shaken gently awake by mother to see this miracle for himself. He was so pleased he raised Jesus up in a bear hug off the floor. Once again, however, Jesus made it clear that our prayers would have been just as powerful had we made them ourselves. Papa and mother exchanged worried frowns. The rest of us gave him knowing smiles. We, his brothers, who did not yet understand the subtleties of divinity, knew he had great power. If we were to judge by Jesus’ words, Mariah now had this power too. We rejoiced over a common meal, with Jesus at the head of the table and Mariah and Michael as our special guests. After thanking God for our food, Jesus explained how personal prayer was more important than intercession by priests and that no rabbi or teacher of the law could replace our personal relationship with God. This was, as I look back, the most revolutionary thing Jesus had yet said. Compared to what he told the world later, it seemed small, but it was a beginning that unfortunately was spoken to five footsore and weary boys now falling asleep as they finished their stew.
That night we crawled onto our pallets and snuggled in the warm covers passed around by Mama and the twins, convinced that we had survived the greatest adventure of our lives. I remember looking across the room over the slumbering bodies of my brothers and seeing my mother, father, Jesus, and Mariah, sitting at the table, probably mapping out their strategy for the next day. Michael, my best friend, lie next to me, already fast asleep. So great was my trust in Jesus and my father, the ordeals endured today and the problems lying ahead of us gave way to a pleasant dream in which I found myself marching through Nazareth on a big white horse as a legionnaire of Rome. For several moments this dreamscape grew progressively silly, until I found myself on foot again confronting Cornelius, the Roman officer I met on the bridge.
Looking down from his own white steed, he laughed heartily. “What’s wrong Jude? What has Jesus done now?”
“Jesus saved Mariah’s life and put out the fire burning her house. Now she needs safe passage out of town.”
Cornelius looked at me with concern.
“Mariah’s in danger?” his voice boomed. “What has she done to make the townsmen hate her so?”
Not wanting the prefect to think ill of Mariah, I thought about this a moment.
“Some folks think she’s a witch,” I answered carefully, “while others think she’s a whore.” “But she is none of these.” I searched for the right words. “. . . Wine poisoned Mariah’s soul, and Jesus cured her. Unless you give her save passage to Jerusalem, they’ll stone Michael’s mother to death!”
“Let me get this straight,” Cornelius smiled wryly. “You expect Roman soldiers to take this wench all the way to Jerusalem to keep her from being stoned?”
“Yes!” I jumped up and down excitedly. “Will you do it Cornelius? Huh? My father will do all your carpentry free for life!”
Cornelius thought long and hard as I fidgeted, nodded gravely, turned in his saddle, and called to his troops. I thanked him profusely, whooped with joy, and ran ahead to tell everyone that help was on the way. My family, including Jesus, who was stroking a dead bird, Mariah, and her son Michael were all waiting for me in the garden. I could not wait to tell them the news. The more I ran, however, the further away they seemed to be. They were moving backward as they stood in place, faster than I was running forward. Suddenly my happy dream had turned into a nightmare. On each side of me was an angry line of townsmen, who shouted, “Stone him! Stone him!” Instead of attacking Mariah, who was under the protection of Jesus, it was my blood they wanted. Among my persecutors I saw Uriah, Nehemiah, and Deborah as well as Rabbi Joachim, himself. When the first missile hit me it splattered harmlessly on the side of my face. As I studied the missiles bouncing off me onto the ground, I realized it was dried sheep dung. Laughing hysterically, I felt grateful that it was not rocks, but there were so many chunks of sheep dung tossed at me I felt it on every inch of my body, including my eyes, ears, and mouth. I stumbled over piles of it repeatedly and, for a moment, as it rained in heaps upon me, I thought I would suffocate in dung, until finally, as I staggered blindly and an avalanche of dung rolled over me, it grew progressively dark, I screamed, and awakened in a cold, dark room.
As I lie there, comforted by the gentle snores of my brothers, I wondered how long I had been asleep. The meeting my parents had been having with Jesus and Mariah must have ended hours ago. A small lantern, my mother left on the table, emitted an eerie light, which highlighted the faces of the sleepers on the floor. My parents, the twins, and, I’m certain, Mariah, were in the next room. Michael, who had nestled close to me, slept with his mouth open, a drool escaping his lips. Simon, in spite of his boorish habits while awake, slept angelically, his hands clasped on this chest, while my other two brothers, their backs turned, tossed and turned continually in their sleep. The lamp, I knew, was intended for my parents or anyone else wishing to slip out and use the cloaca, a Roman invention Papa had built into the side of our house. I had never had a problem using this contrivance until tonight. I had been thirsty after our rescue of Mariah and drank my share of juice. For a moment, I lie there feeling as if my bladder might burst, dreading leaving the house. Our protection of Mariah had made us many enemies. There could be, after Jesus last miracle, many more angry townsmen, furious about the damage done to their gardens and homes. When I thought about my fears, which included a natural fear of the dark, I thought about my oldest brother’s actions. Jesus had God firmly on his side. What did I have to fear? After rising up carefully to avoid bumping Michael or Simon on each side of me, I tiptoed across the floor, opened the door, and, clutching the lamp, slipped out into the night. Popping into my head suddenly was the memory of the shadow Jesus and I saw in the garden. I was not sure that he hadn’t conjured it up himself, perhaps to show his power, but I wasn’t afraid. He had said “Get thee behind me Satan,” and poof it was gone. So it would be with all things that lurked in the dark.
Stepping gingerly on the stones Papa had set in the ground as a path to the cloaca, I found the shed in which it was housed. Looking down squeamishly into the marble lined abyss, I set the lamp down on a small shelf, relieved myself, and quickly retraced my steps. On the way back, I met Jesus coming the other way. He had obviously tried to use the step stones set in the yard by Papa, but, as it happened during our return to the house earlier in the evening, he had missed the flat stones a few times and was now splattered with mud.
Raising his much larger lamp in greeting, he halted and inclined his head. “Peace be upon you Jude!”
“Jesus,” I whispered sharply, “why aren’t you in bed?”
“I heard a noise,” he answered discreetly, “over there in the road. One of our neighbors was peeking over the fence. I must have frightened him away.”
“One of our neighbors?” I was taken back. “Whom? You sure that’s what it was? I just had the worst dream!”
“It wasn’t the devil.” He smiled wryly, “I think it was old Nathan or perhaps Samuel, the Pharisee.” “Please Jude,” he prodded gently, “it’s not safe out here. Go back into the house where it’s safe!”
“It’s not safe for you either,” I protested, as he took my arm. “You must go inside too. Some of the townsfolk think you’re strange Jesus. They might even stone you!”
Jesus reached down with his free hand and pulled me toward the house.
“All right Jude. The prowler’s gone. We shall both go inside. But be very quite; we don’t want Mama to worry.”
I didn’t have a chance to argue with Jesus when we entered the house. It seemed preposterous that he thought he was protecting our house. There had been dozens of townsmen hunting for Mariah today. Many of them were big, burly men. With his coaxing, however, I returned to my spot on the floor between Michael and Simon. A strange peace buoyed me. I wasn’t afraid. After extinguishing the larger lamp, Jesus stood for a while looking out of the kitchen window. The smaller lamp had been returned to the table. Its faint glow highlighted Jesus’ youthful face, leaving the remainder of him subdued in shadows. His disembodied head, flashing blue eyes, and golden tinged locks seemed otherworldly. As so many memories I have of him, I will never forget that moment in which he turned my way in the darkness and smiled.
“Go to sleep Jude,” he whispered. “Tomorrow will be a long day.”
“Good night Jesus,” I called faintly. “You should get some sleep too.”
I would mentally label this scene “Jesus standing watch.” There would be many more milestones in Jesus’ life. This memory stands out particularly in my mind, because it so clearly defined, even at this early date, whom Jesus would one day be. At that point, in the dawning of my understanding, I wouldn’t have thought to call him the Savior or the Good Shepherd, but that’s who he was. . . and is today.