The Rabbi’s Son
During the months following the apparent loss of our treasure, I gained something I was told was far more valuable than gold cups and plates. It’s true that I had made two close, though unlikely, companions, Boaz and Jonah, and because of tragic circumstances, Uriah would return to our house as a full time friend. But I had made big plans with my portion of the treasure. I still dreamed of taking the gold objects to an Arab shepherd and having him sell them in Jerusalem for me. I was a little embarrassed to be seen playing with a boy who looked like a girl and another lumbering half-wit twice my size. For a small fortune in gold the Lord had blessed me with a strange pair of friends. The gloom that came with Uriah’s appearance also put a damper on our fun, especially with Mama running back and forth to Joachim’s house. She had become a full time nurse it seemed. In a fit of rage, we were told, the rabbi suffered a stroke. Mama’s list of patients—Elizabeth, Samuel, Nehemiah, Uriah, and Reuben—now included Rabbi Joachim, himself. Such blessings I didn’t need!
Looking back over the years, with my pen poised over another scroll, I feel a recurrent stab of guilt. What had the great Paul said about this in his epistle to the Corinthians? “When I was a man I put away childhood things.” For love of a horse and my own childish greed, I was delighted in the knowledge that there was still treasure not far from my house—treasure I no longer had to share with my brother or my friends. It was there for the taking. After all, Boaz and Jonah didn’t care about the loot. What did I care about Jethro and Obadiah, who occasionally paid us a visit but remained critical of my families eccentricities, which now included my association with a bandit’s son.
I didn’t need such fair weather friends. Tomorrow, if they let slip they had been in that unhallowed place, Boaz and Jonah’s might be forbidden to come to my house, which left me but one friend—Uriah, and I would, of course never tell him. Uriah would never understand my frame of mind. Today, as I recall his curiosity at not being allowed into our house, I can understand Uriah’s thinking on this matter. Unless fever had softened Joachim’s views, Jesus would always be a heretic in the rabbi’s eyes. My family had always been quite peculiar in its protection of orphans and widows. What would Uriah think if he knew Reuben was staying in our home? What would he say if I told him that, with a bandit’s son’s help, I had hidden stolen treasure in a pagan shrine? Here I was holding the darkest secrets for myself, and I pretended that all was well, when in fact I was the greatest heretic of them all.
Back then we were suppose to confess our sins openly amongst fellow Nazarenes, which is why many folks stayed away from synagogue at such times. Ironically, in many ways Joachim, the rabbi, was a great sinner himself. Jesus taught his disciples that they didn’t need a priest or rabbi and to pray quietly and confess their sins privately to God. Had I that comfort then my soul would not have been in torment. Because of his probing eyes, I avoided Jesus’ gaze, for I still believed he could read my mind.
For obvious reasons, we couldn’t let Uriah stay with us while his home was in turmoil nor could we tell him the truth about why he couldn’t come into our house. The story about the twins’ illness had become transparent to many of Papa’s friends, who now shunned us as he allowed Reuben to convalesce in our home. It was time, my parents decided, to confide our secret to Samuel, in the hopes that the old man would allow Reuben to stay there until he got on his feet. I followed along behind them ostensibly to visit Samuel myself, while the rest of my brothers stayed at home fearful that our parents would dare ask Samuel for such a thing. Fully intending to eavesdrop on them so that I could report back to the others at home, I found my parents motioning me into Samuel’s chambers in order to greet our old friend. After exchanging greetings with the old man, I stepped back politely into the hall, listening to their conversation.
It’s hard for any of us to recall the ill-tempered Pharisee as he once was. The old Samuel might have flatly refused our request and notified the other elders immediately of this impropriety, but the crotchety, nearly blind old man who listened to my parents plea, nodded his head, smiled, and broke into cackling mirth.
“Ho-ho, this is worth more than gold to my fading wits,” he hooted wildly and slapped his knee. “Reuben’s back. After all these years haunting, as a phantom, our little town—the mere mention of his name bringing terror to our hearts—you’ve taken this blackheart in and made him a new man. And your asking me to hide him, while you nurse Joachim back to health, after all that man’s done to sully your son’s good name. That’s beats everything Joseph! I don’t know what act of charity is worse. Your wife Mary is an angel and living saint!”
“Joseph must take much of the credit,” demurred Mama. “None of this would’ve happened without his iron well.”
“And your heart is of purest gold,” Samuel coughed and wiped his eyes. “The question is, of course,” he said with a frown, “will I agree to such an outlandish request? Ho-ho, you have some nerve Joseph—some nerve indeed!”
“Yes,” Papa’s voice quivered, “you have done much for our family. I’m sorry to burden you with this problem, but we’ve come to the end of a long lie. I don’t think anyone believes the twins are sick anymore.”
“Don’t worry,” Samuel waved dismissively. “You had to tell them something. I’m glad you’ve told me the truth. I wouldn’t worry too much about the townsfolk. You folks have a reputation for eccentricity. Unless one of your sons tells, no one can prove Reuben’s in your house. Your friends and neighbors will just shrug it off. Ho-ho, what’s Joseph’s crazy family up to now?”
Mama smiled tolerantly as Papa bristled at his teasing. A mischievous gleam twinkled in Samuel’s dark eyes. I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to hide Reuben in his house. What I didn’t like was the way he toyed with my parents. For several moments he enumerated the many things Joseph and his family had done that rankled the townsmen, including harboring a witch, assaulting a rabbi, and encouraging Jesus in ‘dabbling in the black arts.’ What would they think if they found out Papa talked him into moving Reuben into his house? Not long ago Papa had complained that the old man was getting senile. Occasionally, he gave Papa riddles to solve or played silly word games. Once, during her weekly visit, Samuel forgot Mama’s name, asking her what she was doing in his house. But Samuel was eighty-one years old, Mama also told us—what did we expect?
I held my breath as Mama now came to the point. “Samuel, please don’t tease us—will you help? We have nowhere else to turn.”
“Why are you nursing Joachim?” He grew querulous. “That man hates your husband and tried to turn everyone against your oldest son. And why would you bother with a rogue like Reuben? Explain to me how he came to be in your house? I’m sure he didn’t just walk up to your back door and beg admittance—after once wanting to kill Joseph and burn down your house.”
“There’s much you don’t know.” Papa stepped forward.
“Reuben is not the beast we thought he was.” Mama looked dreamily into space. “I believe he’s a changed man.”
“Bah!” Samuel tried to rise up. “Does a leopard change its spots?”
“There-there.” Mama eased him back down. “We didn’t come here to upset you. You’re our friend. That’s why we help each other.” “Now it’s your turn again,” she said stroking his matted hair. “Reuben, whose appearance is not the same, would be spirited to your estate in the dead of night. No one would see him. Now that I must help Hannah nurse her husband and Joseph is so busy, we can’t watch our house closely. What with my sons new friends and Uriah lurking about it seems unreasonable to expect James and Joseph to shield our house, and remember, Samuel, Jesus can’t lie.”
“All right, I’m thinking about it.” Samuel’s toothless jaws moved to and fro. “But I want to hear everything, including how Reuben wound up, after all the Romans’ protection, in your house.”
I knew that moment why they let me come along and listen in, for this was my story. I had no intention of telling them about the treasure and the pagan shrine, but when Mama motioned me forward to speak I gave him a careful account (with careful deletions) of when Simon and I and our friends Jethro, Obadiah, Boaz, and Jonah stumbled upon the abyss where poor Reuben lie bleeding to death. From this point, I took great pains to spread the credit or blame to all of us but could not hide the fact from Samuel, when he asked, who first discovered the path. I didn’t tell him about the inscriptions on the walls below the path nor what lie beyond, yet, with dramatic flare, explained the deathly look on the man we drug out and carried to our house. Samuel’s jaws continued to work as if he was chewing on something as I told him about the miraculous healing in which Mama applied her medicinal herbs and what I believed was Jesus part in Reuben’s cure. Samuel nodded at my suggestion that Jesus personal prayer was a factor. That our prayer circle may have played a part went unsaid when I recalled the mean spirited attitude of my other brothers and myself.
“Now,” I concluded, gazing into his black pupils, “he doesn’t look like Reuben anymore. He doesn’t act like him. . . and it isn’t him. We found out that he speaks Greek and has a sister in Joppa. He’s even changed his name to Bartholomew, the name of an uncle now dead. He’s sorry for his past life and promises to make amends. He is, as my mother believes, a new man.”
Samuel clapped his hands in delight. “Come here boy,” he cackled, reaching out to ruffle my hair. “With your memory you’ll go a long way.” “But tell me the truth,” his tone changed suddenly. “Do you believe that man has changed?”
“Yes,” I answered dubiously, “he’s trying very hard.”
“He’s a murderer and thief!” Samuel looked accusingly up at me.
“Reuben’s not a murderer,” Mama said, hovering nearby. “He never killed anyone himself, and he’s never been a very good thief.”
“And how do you know that?” Samuel demanded. “Did Reuben tell you this?”
“I can look into a man’s eyes and tell if he’s telling me the truth,” Mama assured Samuel.
“Do you believe this man?” He looked over at Papa.
“Yes,” Papa said quietly.
Turning his gaze back to me, Samuel’s raptor eyes belied a generous soul. I knew what he would do. He would never let us down. Taking my hand in his, he smiled crookedly and inclined his head.
“You also have saved that man’s life,” he decided with a faint nod. “You led your friends down a forbidden trail to save your family’s enemy. Because of this selfless but foolish act, a whole chain of events unfolded. Your mother’s medicine and, I’m certain, Jesus’ prayers brought Reuben from death’s door, and it appears that your family’s charity inspired him to change his ways. In spite of the dangers of protecting such a man and offending his friends, Joseph, your courageous father, then shielded him in his house. You’re family suffered because of this man. Now, because of my friendship with your family, I, too, feel compelled to help this man—one more event in the chain that will not end until Reuben is gone once and for all from our lives.” “. . . . But without your brave deed, Jude,” he added with great respect in his voice, “Reuben would have died.”
My fear for Samuel’s state of mind vanished after that burst of words. I was certain that my parents felt the same. The complement he gave me should, of course, be shared with my father and brothers. I hadn’t been brave that day; I had been curious, perhaps even stupid. After hearing Reuben’s plea, I fled in terror from that dark hole. Only after coaxing from Mama, did I tell her what I heard. The rest is history. The question was, I thought with bated breath, had Samuel just given us his nod? My certainty that this was what he meant grew as he squeezed my hand and then patted my cheek, whispering faintly, “You, too, have a great destiny Jude. I’m sure of this now. Has Jesus ever told you this?”
“Yes, . . . I think so.” I searched my memory. “Once he said my memory would serve me well and something else. . . dreams, he called revelation—a word I still don’t understand.”
“Ho-ho, he said that?” Samuel laughed gently. “I was thinking of your character. Two exceptional sons in one family.” “We must talk about this sometime,” he said his eyes traveling to my parents, who approached as supplicants to the bed.
“Samuel, . . . Samuel, ” Mama broke into his reverie, “can we take this as a yes? ”
“Of course.” He sighed, reaching over to ring the servant’s bell. “We must do this quickly before I lose my nerve. I don’t fear for myself. What could the townsfolk do to my withered carcass? I fear for you, Joseph and Mary. It’s the movement of Reuben across town that worries me. This is a small town, filled with suspicious and superstitious folk. As soon as he steps out of your door into the darkness a passerby may spot him. What if he runs into someone carrying a lamp? Even in disguise, his appearance at such a late hour will alarm people on a night errand or peeking from their homes. He will be safer in my large estate than he would be in your small house, but you must not forget our town is subject to unscheduled visits by Cornelius’ men. What if one of your enemies reports their suspicions to the next Roman arriving in town? . . . Or worse, what if a band of cavalrymen spots Reuben themselves? All of your efforts will prove disastrous if his capture leads back to you.”
Normal folks might have been alarmed by Samuel’s doubts, but my parents had stuck their necks out too many times to be upset by one midnight transfer of Reuben to Samuel’s house. It would have been much worse if we attempted to do this in the day. After we bid good day to our old friend, we could see the distress on Samuel’s chamberlain’s face as he stood by the door. The elderly man had served the Pharisee for many years and was now being asked to help shelter a wanted criminal. We talked about this in muted conversation as we walked home. Papa confessed to Mama his fear that one of Samuel’s servants might betray him, but Mama dismissed his worries with the wave of her small hand.
“Samuel’s loyal servants won’t betray us,” she insisted. “He’s been good and generous to them. When they see Reuben, they’ll barely recognize him. The transformed Reuben we’ve seen will convince them they have nothing to fear.”
Even as a child I was surprised by Mama’s naivety. Of course, I didn’t know the proper word for it then, but it seemed to me that she trusted people too much. Her confidence in our neighbors, who shunned us for so long, had been misplaced. She had kept faith in Michael’s innate goodness when none existed. For a very long time, she refused to believe that Papa was becoming a drunk. Michael had been gone for a long time now, and Papa had been sober for quite awhile. Our neighbors continued to drift back as customers and it appeared, at least on the surface, after Mama had shaved, scrubbed and given him fresh clothes, Reuben was a new man. But I think it was a big mistake for us to trust Samuel’s servants. I was also not completely convinced of Reuben’s transformation. What if Papa’s suspicions were correct and all this time Reuben was just pretending? As for the citizens of Nazareth, Samuel was right. All it would take would be one inquisitive townsman to inform on him, and if a Roman legionnaire came riding by he would be caught in flight.
I wanted to talk to Jesus about this as we returned home, but I was afraid he would look into my mind, as he had before, and see darkness—the workings of the Evil One. What would he think if he knew I was hording stolen treasure in a pagan shrine? What if he read my very thoughts and saw the conniving, deceitful person I had become? After we entered the house, I scampered quickly ahead to avoid running into Jesus. Before I could exit the back door, however, Papa reminded me to do my chores. After a request by Mama that Simon and I weed her garden, I gave them both a hasty nod, ran into the backyard and began searching for Simon. A nagging fear at the back of my mine had been that Simon would join my friends in a hunt for the treasure. If our parents caught them in the orchard or on the trail, they might mention the treasure we found in the hills. I had encouraged them to dig it up and hide it under a bush. I had also moved it, at Adam’s suggestion, to the pagan shrine. How could I explain all this without incriminating myself? The answer, of course, is that I couldn’t. I must avoid Jesus probing gaze and pray that Simon kept his mouth shut and Jethro and Obadiah didn’t sneak into our yard.
For just one more day I would have to lie to Uriah about my sick sisters. I was not looking forward to trying to fit him into my gang. While Mama looked after his father in the afternoon, I was suppose to be nice to him and let him join in our games. With so much reeling in my mind, this was a terrible burden. I longed to share it with someone else, who would not judge me as a criminal and heretic. Who could that be? Certainly not Jesus! My head felt as if it might explode when I looked out into the orchard and saw Simon and our friends wandering through the trees and then, as I began trotting down the path, being informed by no other than Jesus, himself, that Uriah was at the front door.
“Are you all right?” Jesus asked, as I shuffled up to the house.
I kept my eyes riveted on the ground least he read my mind. “I’m fine. I’m fine.” I mumbled repeatedly.
“Jude, what’s wrong?” He gripped my arm. “Why’re you avoiding me?”
“I don’t want to play with Uriah,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes. “He whines constantly and keeps asking questions. I wanna play with my friends.”
That moment I heard voices in the orchard: Jethro and Simon were arguing, probably about the missing treasure. It couldn’t have been a worse time for me. Jesus pricked up his ears, as he had all those times he was listening to God. This time, though, there was a look of suspicion, not illumination, on his face.
“What are those boys doing?” He inquired, shielding his eyes from the sun.
“I dunno.” I shrugged. “Maybe hide-and-go-seek or tag?”
“Why are they yelling at each other? I thought they were Simon and your friends.”
“Honestly, I dunno.” I repeated, feeling myself shrink before his gaze
Suddenly, I felt trapped by Jesus’ question. He knew I was hiding something.
“I think you do,” he murmured, leading me through the house. “Go speak to Uriah in the front yard, but later, when we’re alone, we must talk. Tell Uriah to wait outside a few moments, while you fetch him one of Mama’s honey rolls. While Mama’s at Joachim’s house and Papa’s in his shop, I want you to tell me the truth.”
I did as I was told. I couldn’t escape my fate. Though what he asked to do that moment sounded like subterfuge, Jesus could not lie and would be forced to tell our parents, who would not be as calm as he was acting now. If the whole truth came out, they might never trust me again. Without even greeting Uriah, I reminded him that my sisters were sick and he would have to stay outside. His disbelieving face brightened up quickly when I told him I would bring him back a roll. Jesus placed his fingers in front of his lips as I re-entered the house and pointed to the window, then walked over to pull in the shutters in case Uriah was lurking nearby. As an afterthought, he tapped on Reuben’s door and, when Reuben peeked out, chatted with him briefly. Reuben’s quiet and cloistered existence and nocturnal walks almost made us forget he was hidden away in our house. Jesus reminded him that he would soon have more spacious accommodations, which included Samuel’s extensive gardens. When he asked Reuben if he was hungry or thirsty, Reuben requested some water and a roll. Uriah began knocking on the door that moment. I dawdled awhile in the kitchen in order to delay my confession to Jesus, but Jesus, always cagey, sat me down on a corner stool and fetched the rolls, himself. When he returned from the kitchen, with a mug of juice and a basket containing two large rolls, he gave Reuben the juice and one of the rolls, then handed me the basket so I could answer the door. Of course, I thought grimly, Jesus couldn’t lie.
“Tell him you’ll be out soon,” whispered Jesus as Reuben retreated into his room.
Nodding unhappily, I opened the door and handed the basket to Uriah, mumbling hastily “I’ll be out in a few moments.”
“Are you in trouble again?” He asked intuitively.
“Yes,” I admitted glumly, shutting the door.
“I’ll wait for you,” Uriah shouted. “We’ll play games like we use to.”
The thought occurred to me that, all things considered, Uriah was probably my best friend and, after today, might be the only friend I had. I followed Jesus into the kitchen, which, because the window was shuttered, seemed dark and sinister as he sat me down on the table bench. Understanding that Uriah might be eavesdropping outside, we talked in low muted voices, another creepy effect highlighting my doom. I immediately broke into tears as he came to the point.
“Don’t cry Jude.” He stroked my hair. “You must tell me the truth. Why are those boys in the orchard?”
“You know the answer.” I rubbed my eyes. “You just wanna make me feel bad.”
“I don’t won’t to make you feel bad,” he said, rising up and pouring me a mug of juice. “I want to help you. This secret will consume you. It will eat up your spirit as lye. Remember what I once told you, Jude: the truth shall set you free.”
My mouth dropped in disbelief. Jesus had said this before. These words would one day promise salvation to the world. In my current state of mind, however, it gave me no comfort at all. I didn’t want to tell the truth. It wouldn’t set me free; it would get me into trouble.
“Come on Jude, Uriah’s waiting patiently in front. While our parents our away and our brothers are occupied elsewhere, come clean—be free, be pure of thought.”
I slapped my forehead and gasped. Now I was supposed to be pure of thought! The entire adventure, from our discovery of the treasure until its final deposit in the pagan shrine, was on the tip of my tongue. What kept the story from pouring out of my mouth was a vision of my parents pummeling me with slaps and curses once they heard the truth.
“I have an idea.” He said, after studying me a moment. “I’ll tell you what I think happened and you just nod your head, all right?”
Responding, with wide, fearful eyes, I braced myself for what came next by taking a long swallow of juice.
“Adam, who is really Jesus Bar Abbas, has played a trick on you,” he whispered loudly. He will come back to your hiding place and retrieve his loot. Has this not occurred to you?”
I nodded grimly for, indeed, the thought had crossed my mind. Adam, after all, was a thief.
“You moved the treasure from its original hiding place, didn’t you? That’s why they’re trying to find it. You rascal,” he snickered, gently punching my arm.
Noting my guilty expression, he continued in a subdued voice. At times I could barely hear him. With Uriah standing by the window, Jesus was forced to lean forward and raise his voice “Is this true Jude?’ Are your friends upset with you for hiding their gold?”
Dropping my chin onto my chest I answered miserably, “Yes.”
“Humph, I thought so.” He smiled and frowned at the same time. Rising up to open the shutters, he called back discreetly, “Don’t worry, I’ll explain it to Papa and Mama. You go out and play with Uriah. Unlike all your fair weather friends, he wants nothing from you. Papa’s at Samuel’s house. I have to supervise James and Joseph in the shop. If you like, I’ll let you and Uriah help sand furniture. That’ll keep Simon and your friends off your back.”
Jesus poked his head out and reached down playfully to Uriah. “Ah hah—caught you!”
Uriah, who had been eavesdropping, blushed foolishly, receiving a pat on the head. I wondered now, as I pondered on the promise Jesus made, if Uriah would overwhelm me with questions. After all, I told him I was in trouble, and he had waited patiently for so long. How much should I tell them? I couldn’t tell him the truth. He might tell his father. Should I lie to him? I wasn’t a good liar, especially with Jesus probing my mind. Hastily, filled with misgivings, I grabbed a few more rolls, which had been intended for our dinner, and trotted outside. The frown on Uriah’s pudgy face disappeared entirely when he saw my offering. Simple food, not treasure, worked best on him. Of all my childhood companions, I recall, he displayed little or no guile. He was and would always be Uriah Bar Joachim, the rabbi’s son—at times annoying, sometimes boring and unimaginative, but always a faithful friend.
“Does your Mama have any freshly crushed pomegranate juice?” He asked, wolfing down a roll.
“Sorry, I forgot.” I frowned, running back into the house.
“Hey, you got any chopped fruit?” He called after me. “Later maybe we can pick some ripe, juicy plums.”
Uriah probably felt like he was starving because of the inattentiveness shown to him at his house. Mama and Joachim’s wife had their hands full with the rabbi, who was much sicker than they had thought. In the past few days poor Uriah has had to fend for himself, which is why I was so patient with him this hour. Another reason for my patience was the fact that, after today, he might be the only friend I had. Jesus was strolling to the carpenter’s shop and stopped to ask him if he was eating properly. The plump little boy quickly recounted his misery at missing breakfast three days in a row and his mother’s failure to even feed him lunch. Jesus promised him that he would not go hungry in our house, stopping just short of inviting him for dinner tonight. Uriah danced around happily in the yard, clapping his hands. Had Jesus forgotten that we were moving Reuben to Samuel’s villa tonight? What about Abigail and Martha’ alleged sickness? How would we explain that? Why had he said such a foolish thing?
Quickly, as I handed him a mug of juice, I clarified what Jesus meant. “Tomorrow night, Uriah, we shall have lamb and lentils. Won’t that be great?”
“What about tonight?” He groaned.
“You greedy little pig!” I growled under my breath.
“Is your Mama really serving lamb?” Uriah eyed me suspiciously. “I think Jesus meant tonight. Why are you acting so strangely?”
Before I had a chance to sock Uriah in the arm, I heard Jesus calling my name. While devouring the rolls and fruit I brought him, Uriah remained in the yard, blinking stupidly at our house as I settled forlornly on the garden bench. Having done one more good deed in his blameless life, Jesus invited me into the shop to help James, Joseph, and himself sand and paint table legs. My old resentment at Jesus’ high and mighty ways boiled up that moment. I told him that I was suppose to pick some weeds for Mama, which, in fact, Simon and I normally did at this hour of the day. Jesus said nothing, as he turned the corner of the house.
“That sounds like fun,” Uriah exclaimed, jumping up and down, “I wanna paint too!”
“Shut up, you fool!” I cried, charging from the bench.
Considering the ill feeling in the orchard and the trouble waiting for me when my parents returned, I felt surrounded by tormenting factors. I was annoyed with the pesky Uriah, and I felt guilty for dodging Jesus offer to help him in the shop. Feelings of fear, irritation, and guilt, weighed heavily upon as I muffled Uriah’s mouth. Though I was in no mood to entertain him, I had an excellent excuse for not going into the backyard. Embracing this chance as the lesser of two evils, I forced a smile for him.
“I’ve got an idea.” I sighed, pointing to the garden. “Why don’t you help me pick weeds? Afterwards, I’ll find you something more to eat.”
Easily persuaded, Uriah assisted me cheerily in the task Simon was supposed to do. I made sure that I was busily plucking weeds alongside of Uriah when Jesus came to inspect our work. “It looks much better,” he observed, reaching down to pat our heads.
Afterwards, when I wasn’t paying attention, Uriah crawled over to the fig tree and took a nap. After clearing several rows of herbs and vegetables, I paused, slipped into the house while Uriah dozed, and brought out more rolls and juice. I had to keep him in the front yard, away from Simon and my friends, and divert his attention from the carpenter’s shop. When Uriah politely asked me why I wasn’t eating and drinking myself, I giggled hysterically without answering, settling heavily on the garden bench. Already I had depleted the entries for our evening meal. It couldn’t be grape juice in the pitcher, I swore silently to myself; it had to be pomegranate, my favorite juice. I found his gluttonous behavior especially unsettling in my state of mind. I remember watching him stuff himself with the honey rolls earlier and then guzzle down the pomegranate juice in practically one gulp. In my long life I’ve seen many men with bad manners, but I’ve never seen anyone—man, woman or child—gorge themselves like that. Swept with revulsion, I wondered, as he wolfed down his second snack, where he put it all. I would, after all that food and juice, be visiting the cloaca by now. He prattled on through mouthfuls of bread about his favorite delicacies, as if I could muster them up for him out of thin air. I refused to chop him up some fruit, but I did pick him a ripe plumb, which he gobbled down with dispatch.
“Thank you,” he said, licking his fingers, “I was hungry.”
“I’d never have guessed.” I looked away in disgust.
I heard him belch and hiccup at the same time but forced myself to smile. Once again, I reminded myself, after what happened yesterday, he was probably my only friend, which strangely enough gave me comfort those moments. Loyalty was an important thing. Though forbidden to associate with me, he always came back. In spite of his father’s bitterness, he refused to turn on me. From the beginning of Joachim’s quarrel with us, Uriah had been forced against his will to shun us. Now here he was again, a steadfast mooring to my past. Never quite understanding our childhood games, he had a forgiving spirit. Many times, I recalled, at his own expense, he had made my old friends and I laugh. Though he said many stupid things, I don’t remember him ever deliberately saying an evil, hurtful word.
Since Nehemiah was dead and Michael had fled, I prayed that God would watch over Uriah. He was all that I had. I also felt sorry for him now that his father was sick and might die. I wondered, as he sat on the bench staring dumbly into space, what he would grow up to be. I planned on being a soldier and world traveler. Would Uriah be a rabbi like his father? If so, I told myself giddily, maybe I should kill him right now.
“Are you laughing at me?” He recoiled at my mirth.
“I was picturing you as a rabbi.” I giggled hysterically. “Can you imagine that?”
“No,” he answered indignantly, “I don’t wanna be like him. I’m gonna be a Pharisee like Samuel or my Uncle Tobin.”
“No, I don’t see you as a Pharisee,” I replied, wiping my eyes, “nor a priest or scribe. You’d be smart if you learned a trade. You could be a blacksmith, like Boaz’s father, perhaps a wool carder, like Papa’s friend Ezra, or learn to be a baker, like Jonah’s uncle Jared. You’d be good at that, Uriah. Remember when you showed Mama how to make those fantastic rolls?”
“Yes, I remember.” He nodded slowly. “I watch my Mama cook and bake, but Papa says it’s a woman’s work.”
“Joachim said Jesus is a heretic and blasphemer. He was wrong about that too. Come on,” I nudged playfully, “let’s go help Jesus in the shop.”
Though carpentry had been the obvious choice, I had left it off my list. I was in no mood to be around James and Joseph this hour nor suffer Jesus’ gaze, but now that I had picked most of the weeds, there was nowhere else to go. Afraid that Simon and our friends would appear, I grabbed Uriah’s sleeve, stifling an urge, when he protested, to give him a swift kick in the rear.
“Why must we work?” He whined pitifully. “I came over to play!”
“You came over mostly for food,” I said, dragging him remorselessly across the yard.
“I hate sawdust,” he wailed, “it makes me sneeze.”
“You hate work,” I replied, as we rounded the corner and I deposited him in front of the shop. “Jesus is going to introduce you to woodwork.” I smiled at my oldest brother. “Who knows he may one day pay you a day’s wage.”
And so began Uriah’s first day in the carpenter’s shop, an occupation we would share for many years. Simon didn’t dare berate me in Jesus’ presence. None of my new friends dare attack me for Adam’s removal of the treasure. It would, using a word I didn’t know then, incriminate them. Whether or not they would believe that Adam was to blame for taking our treasure away to another hiding place was out of my hands. Nevertheless, I dreaded confronting Jethro and Obadiah and having to explain why actions to them. My chief concern, which I also placed in Jesus hands, was how my parents would react when they found out I had conspired with a thief to hide stolen loot in a heathen shrine.
I showed Uriah everything I knew about carpentry, including the sanding and finishing of wood. Jesus supervised his learning, even allowing him to paint a few strokes of stain on a table leg. James, Joseph, and I thought it was funny when he dripped varnish onto his toes. Uriah was the clumsiest boy I had ever known. When the little fat boy got a splinter in his hand and squealed like a Syrian pig, Joseph raced into the house to fetch a sewing needle. James held Uriah’s arm steady, while Jesus carefully dug the splinter out. I’ve never heard such commotion. After awhile, Uriah’s caterwauling brought Simon and the others running up the hill and into the shop area, eyes wide and mouths agape, expecting one of those dreadful accidents carpenters have. A few townsmen passing by stopped to gaze with concern but then, remembering our family’s eccentricities, continued on their way.
It must have looked like he was being tortured by Jesus and James, but Simon, Jethro and Obadiah, ignored Uriah’s plight and came straight to the point.
“Where is it?” Simon snarled.
“Yeah, you little thief,” spat Jethro, “it belongs to us all.”
“Where is what?” Joseph challenged him. “Don’t call my brother a thief!”
Uriah was sobbing loudly as the splinter was displayed to him. Jesus blew the tiny piece of wood off the needle and stuck the needle calmly into his sleeve.
“There, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, tousling Uriah’s hair.
“What’s he talking about?” James looked squarely at me. “Why are they calling you a thief?”
“I dunno,” I muttered, staring at the ground.
“Jethro, Obadiah, Boaz, and Jonah,” Jesus looked at each one of them, “go home and think about what your parents would think if they knew what you’ve done.”
“We haven’t done anything wrong.” Boaz said challengingly. “Jude hid the treasure.”
“Yes we did.” Jonah smiled at Jesus. “We took treasure from a thief—all of us, not just Jude. That makes us thieves too.”
After this disclosure, James and Joseph’s eyebrows shot up and mouths dropped wide.
“What?” sputtered James. “There’s treasure. Where? Tell us where?”
“What’s he talking about, Jude?” Joseph placed his hand on my shoulder. “Did you find the Magi’s gifts?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jesus scolded. “Papa told me where he hid the gifts.” “Are you boys saying there’s treasure in the hills?”
“No, no,” Obadiah said, shaking his head. “We never said that.”
“We were playing a game,” nodded Jethro. “Make believe treasure—pretend gold, that’s all.”
“Uh-uh.” Boaz folded his arms. “It was gold—real gold, and we found it first!”
Jethro, Obadiah, and Jonah walked away dejectedly. Boaz followed reluctantly behind them, looking menacingly back at me, while Simon just stood there in front of me, a mixture of loathing and disappointment on his face. I was disappointed in Boaz and Jonah. Obviously, Jethro and Obadiah had gotten them worked up over the misplaced gold.
“We’ll talk about this later.” Jesus said to me, as Papa called suddenly from the road.
“My finger hurts real bad,” simpered Uriah. “It needs some of Mary’s potion.”
“Has your mother returned?” Papa asked, wiping his brow. “Don’t tell me she’s still over at the rabbi’s house.”
“Still there.” I sighed, edging close to Jesus. “What’re you going to tell him?” I whispered as Papa walked up. “Protect me Jesus—they’re gonna kill me when they find out what I’ve done.
As I think about it, my plea was made to the future Savior of Mankind. At the time, however, all I wanted was for my big brother to save me from my parents. Papa had never really been hard on me, but Mama’s sense of right and wrong was very strong. Jesus said nothing but gave me that enigmatic smile, which said so very much. When he added a sly wink and reassuring nod, I wasn’t afraid, because I was certain he would somehow make it all right.
As we returned to our work in the shop, Papa glanced at us suspiciously a moment before grabbing up his shaver and returning to his bench. Uriah continued to whine about his finger. James and Joseph cast accusing looks at me, as Simon, angry about his lost treasure, ran back down the hill. Before Mama returned from Joachim’s house, Papa asked me to go fetch some fruit and vegetables from the garden. When I had begun picking plums from the tree, he appeared suddenly beside me, startling me out of my wits.
“I’m sorry Papa,” I blurted.
“About what?” He frowned, biting into a plum. “I’m proud of you for showing Uriah the craft.” “Trouble is,” he said, looking back at the shop, “I think he expects to be invited to dinner, and we still have Reuben in the house.”
“What’re we going to do?” I asked, sighing with relief.
“Reuben will have to eat in his room. I think Hannah expects us to feed her son.”
“What?” I gasped. “Uriah’s staying for dinner?”
This struck me as ominous. I felt light-headed after all that had happened to me. Papa frowned as I giggled hysterically to myself. What next? I wondered. Will Uriah become a permanent guest in our house?
“Jude, are you all right son?” He shook me gently.
“Is Reuben happy about going over to Samuel’s house?” I changed the subject, grinning foolishly.
“Let’s put it this way.” He shrugged and scratched his beard. “He’ll miss our family, but he won’t miss being kept a prisoner in that room.”
“Everything’s spinning so fast,” I muttered under my breath.
I could see Jesus emerging from the house with some of Mama’s ointments to prevent infection in Uriah’s tiny cut. I’m convinced that Uriah whined and complained for attention he didn’t get at home. As I watched him run up to Jesus, holding his hand as if he had a serious wound, a revelation swept over me that would, as Papa might say, tip the scales. Because of Joachim’s sickness, Uriah would be sent to live with us. I would have to listen to his whiney, simpering voice day and night. The great weight of issues I had felt for so long, which had increased greatly in the past few days, now slammed down. The thought of having Uriah living in our house, though unsupported by fact, was the final measure. My knees suddenly weakened and head swooned as the weight pressed down on me. A strange combination of light-headedness and heaviness sent me plunging down to the ground. I was aware of a soft landing on a pile of picked weeds, Papa’s voice, and momentary blackness, but the time from when Papa carried me into the house and I awakened on the kitchen table was forever lost in my mind.
“Jude, Jude,” Papa’s voice seemed to echo down a long, hollow tunnel.
I heard Uriah whimpering in this distant world “What’s wrong with Jude. Is he sick? Will he be all right?”
James voice was also filled with concern, “Maybe he hit his head. Check his pupils like Mama does. Check his pulse.”
“Maybe there’s a knot on his head,” Joseph offered, his fingers exploring my scalp.
“He didn’t hit his head.” Papa waved them off. “I was standing right next to him when he collapsed. We need your mother. Uriah, go fetch my wife.”
I could see all of them hovering over me now. Nearby, the all-knowing Jesus was comforting them, “Have no fear; Jude has merely fainted. Bring him water and Mama’s smelling salts.”
“Wha-a-a happennned?” my tongue rolled thickly in my
“Uriah, come back,” Papa shouted belatedly. “His eyes are opened. “Oh thank you Lord.
Joseph, bring him some water.”
Before Uriah had ran back into the house, I heard Jesus whisper to Reuben, “He’s going to be all right. Quick, shut the door before he returns.” Through the blur of motion, the first face to become clear in my eyes was Jesus, as he waved smelling salts under my nose.
“Merciful Lord, what caused this?” Papa wiped his sweating brow with his sleeve.
“I dunno,” muttered Joseph, “there’s no bumps on his head. I didn’t see any bites.”
“His eyes are all right,” James piped, “and his coloring’s good.”
Jesus, who knew better, looked down at me, his eyes filled with great compassion, the afternoon sun glinting in his hair. “I think Jude’s head was like a pot simmering on a fire. If there’s too much broth and too hot a fire, steam will build up and the pot will boil over. When the pot is taken off the fire and is allowed to cool, the broth will stop bubbling and the boiling will cease.”
“What does that mean?” Simon made a face.
“It means,” Uriah offered, his chubby face looming above, “Jude’s head almost popped.”
My brothers and father laughed, more from relief than Uriah’s silly statement. With characteristic sarcasm more than intuition James came close to the truth.
“I know what it means,” he said, tapping my skull, “its all that guilt inside.”
“Hello demons,” Joseph bent down to whisper in my ear, “demons come forth!”
Unwittingly, of course, but no less effective, they offered one possible reason for my behavior at times. One day, as I recall—a memory foremost among his deeds—Jesus would cure a madman of his demons, a miracle he had also done for Matthias, Joseph of Arimathea’s son. That day in our house I was just a boy filled with childish things, and yet once, in the darkness, I saw the Evil One with my own eyes. Gripped with sudden terror, I considered this possibility. Could that be the reason I had hidden stolen treasure in a pagan temple and concealed it from my parents. Tears filled my eyes, blurring my vision again. A sob escaped my throat as they loomed overhead.
“No-o-o-o-!” I screamed.
“Now look what you did!” scolded Uriah. “Jude doesn’t have demons. My Papa has demons!”
“James, Joseph—that’s wasn’t funny,” Papa snapped. “Your brother’s not possessed with demons. Where did you hear such drivel? I’ve seen a possessed man, more likely mad, raving and foaming at the mouth. The only demons I’ve ever seen are at bottom of a wine cup, not someone’s head.” “Jude,” he whispered, raising me into a sitting position. “Boiling broth makes sense. What’s troubling you my son. What terrible things could bother a child?”
“Nothing,” I answered miserably.
“There are demons in the Torah,” grumbled Joseph.
“Tell me the truth.” Papa leaned down for my confession. “What’s boiling inside your head?”
Jesus, who disapproved of this line of questioning, pulled Papa gently away from the table. For a few moments, as I sat there, I could hear them mumble back and forth. At one point Papa looked back at me in disbelief, a sly smile almost lost in his bearded face. It was a reassuring sign. I could scarcely believe that Jesus had told him what happened so quickly.
Uriah smiled at me.
“So your Papa has demons.” Simon gave him a playful sock.
As Papa and Jesus walked back to the table, Uriah nodded faintly, a simple admission that shored up my faith in him. In spite of everything, he spoke up for me as a steadfast friend. Now, with what he said about his father, he showed his solidarity with my family. Simon, whose loyalty always returned, stood on the other side of me, as if he had forgotten completely about the lost treasure. I’m certain Jethro and Obadiah got him riled up, as they had Boaz and Jonah, today. If Jesus had, within such a short time, told Papa what I had done, I prayed silently that it would all come out smoothly this moment and not spoil the feeling of well being I suddenly had.
Papa began what I thought would be a long interrogation: “That Adam was a rascal, was he not? He tricked you boys into playing his game. All along he must have known he would retrieve his treasure. The fact that it’s hidden in a pagan temple insures that faithful Jews will not trespass this forbidden place.” “Is this not true, my son?” He placed his hand on my head, as if in blessing.
“Yes Papa,” I answered slowly. “. . . Adam was sorry he tempted us with the treasure. That’s why we put it where we did, so no one would dare try to find it.”
“I heard it was on a pagan alter.” Papa frowned severely. “I wonder what purification rite we must perform for this.”
“Where? Where is the alter?” Simon drooping eyelashes flew open.
James and Joseph, for all their piety, also grew excited, as they contemplated treasure so close to our house.
Simon and Uriah moved aside, so that Papa could loom over me and Jesus could stand by my side. My other brothers stood behind me mumbling excitedly, as Papa asked me a series of questions.
“Did you know it was a temple to the old religion, an abomination to our faith?” He gave me a stern look.
I chewed on my lip a moment. “. . . . I wasn’t certain what Adam was up to . . . but I knew when we entered that it was very old—an unclean place where I shouldn’t be.”
“Where is it?” Joseph now asked eagerly. “Is it far from our house?”
Another hysterical giggle escaped my throat, as James and Uriah asked the very same thing.
“Don’t answer that question!” Papa turned and gave them a menacing look. “You know what you did was wrong, even dangerous, considering the person who led you there. Promise me that you’ll never go back there and this will between you, God, Jesus, and me.”
“And us!” Joseph glanced at Uriah and James.
“I promise,” I said, hanging my head.
“Jude’s been defiled,” Uriah announced, clasping his forehead. “He will have to see a priest!”
“No priests,” Papa spoke with distaste. “In His own way, God spoke to Jude. When he awakened on the table, I forgave him for his childhood stupidity. So did God. You should too.”
I know Papa was speaking to everyone present, but Uriah thought Papa was talking to him personally and, with a contrite expression, gave me a hug.
“I forgive Jude for his heresy and blasphemy,” he exclaimed, looking around for recognition.
Papa snorted irritably, Joseph shook their head, and Simon rolled his eyes.
“He’s his father’s son,” James snarled.
“He means well,” observed Jesus. “More than mere words, you must look into someone’s heart.”
“Uriah’s my faithful friend,” I said so faintly that no one, even Uriah, heard.
The truth was, of course, I still had misgivings about him. Papa now gave me a short lecture on trusting people. I had trusted Michael, and he had tried to steal from us. Adam, the son of a bandit chief, had been much worse, and yet I had trusted him too. Now, because of my mischief, one of my friends might slip and tell their parents about this stunt. Above all, I should never have trusted Caleb’s sons! We didn’t need any more scandal. When would I learn? Far from upsetting me, Papa’s words gave me comfort, because he had already forgiven me. I could see it in his eyes. I expected to be punished and scolded again by Mama, but I was content with his rebuke.
When Mama finally returned from Joachim’s house, she had good and bad news for us. The good news was that Joachim wasn’t going to die. The bad news was that Joachim’s distressed wife asked us to take in Uriah for awhile.”
“I knew it!” James gave a wounded cry.
“How long is awhile?” growled Joseph. “What if the rabbi dies? What if his wife runs off, leaving her daughter? Are you going to adopt her too?”
“Huh? What? What did she say?” Simon, who had been dosing at table, came alive.
My revelation was correct. My thoughts mirrored Joseph’s concerns. As the three brothers murmured anxiously amongst themselves, Papa told Mama about my lapse of judgment. I expected her to be angry with me, but she was much too exhausted to show it. There was, we all knew, much more important business tonight. Papa and Jesus had prepared dinner for us, which allowed Mama a chance to relax as Simon, the twins, and I served our meal. Before the blessing, Mama looked at Uriah, and receiving a nod from Papa, revealed our secret.
Without telling a falsehood and cause Jesus dismay, she said very simply, “Uriah, you haven’t met our friend Bartholomew, have you?”
“Father Abraham,” I groaned.
“She’s going to tell him. She’s going to tell him,” Simon whispered fearfully to me.
Since it was decided that Reuben would be given a new name, this was an acceptable subterfuge for Jesus. Had not Abram been given a different name in the Torah, signifying a new beginning with God? Bartholomew, though once a brigand, was, as Abraham, reborn in the eyes of God. Jesus would one day incorporate the concept of rebirth in his doctrine of salvation. Back then, of course, he had meant only that Reuben was physically and mentally changed from his old self. When he brought him out for inspection, we could see no recognition in Uriah’s face.
“Hello Bartholomew,” he promptly greeted our guest.
“Greetings Uriah, friend of Joseph, my kinsman, ” he responded quickly.
Jesus recoiled at this exaggeration, yet Papa smiled at Reuben’s nerve. I couldn’t see Mama’s reaction, but James, Joseph, and Simon giggled like jackals, almost giving him away.
“What’re they laughing about?” Uriah turned to me.
“I dunno.” I shrugged, glancing angrily at my brothers.
All of them, including Jesus, found Reuben’s statement outlandish, and yet a warm smile spread on Mama’s face.
“Please sit down and sup with us.” Papa came forward, directing our guest to a seat at the table. “Ru-er-Bartholomew is visiting us from Joppa,” he announced dubiously. “He plans on visiting his old friend Samuel tonight before returning home.”
Uriah nodded thoughtfully. In his trusting gaze, we knew he had accepted this falsehood. “Samuel?” he chattered innocently. “My father hates Samuel, but I know he’s a good man. I’ve never been to Joppa. It’s a big city like Jerusalem, is it not?”
“Ho-ho, not as big as our holy city,” Papa replied good-naturedly.
For several moments, Uriah prattled amiably with Bartholomew about the ships that sailed in and out of Joppa, some traveling to distant lands. My heart leaped at the thought, for I hadn’t given up my desire to be a world traveler, perhaps as a soldier of Rome. As Papa gave the blessing, which included a prayer for Bartholomew’s safety, I realized that he had carried their fabricated story straight to God’s ear. I hoped the Lord had a sense of humor. With our family’s eccentricities, He needed one. As we ate a simple dinner of stew, biscuits, and chopped plums, grapes, and figs, we paused at times to toast, our mugs filled with the juice Uriah had not drunk, to Joachim’s health, for the comfort of his wife Hannah, and the safe journey of Bartholomew back to Joppa. Secretly, as I sipped my juice, I drank my own toast that my friends would one day forgive me and that I would someday find the Magi’s gifts to replace the treasure now out of reach.