On the day of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan by Cousin John I was angry and confused. John, who wore animal skins, had long hair, a scraggly beard, and looked around at his audience with wide, blazing, unblinking coals for eyes, appeared to be addled. Perhaps it was those many months of living in the desert that had driven him mad, but the truth was John had always been strange. As a youth he said the most preposterous things. Even Jesus found him peculiar. No one took him seriously, not even his mother. Now look at him! How could such a man impress anyone, let alone my brother? And yet he had many followers. Many of them, however, were probably idlers, drawn to his fiery sermons and gestures. Andrew and Philip, two of his first followers, whom he suddenly handed over to Jesus, his successor, were caught off guard that day. Despite the incredible things my oldest brother said and did in the past, I doubted his sanity too. What did such a baptism mean? Seeing him immersed in water by that man made no sense. Wasn’t the purpose of baptism ritual purification? What did Jesus need of purification? I couldn’t think of one sin he ever committed. He was a selfless man. He couldn’t cheat or lie. Great things awaited my gifted brother. Why couldn’t Cousin John have left Jesus alone?
While John’s other disciples re-grouped a distance from the river to discuss this turn of events, Andrew and Philip just stood there beside him shaking their heads. Amos, John’s courier and my guide, admitted, during our journey from Nazareth, that he had misgivings about John from the first. He didn’t know what to make of him either. Like me, he was upset and had many questions. John had turned his disciples over to Jesus. Did this imply he was retiring from preaching? Why had Jesus insisted on being baptized by that man? And was he really taking John’s place? What could it possibly mean?
To make matters worse that day, was Jesus’ decision to hike into the desert and pray. This was, in fact, the most insane thing he had ever done. I couldn’t discourage him from going to the river to meet John, even though Mama asked me to do just that. Now this. When it was apparent he was heading into the Judean wilderness with only a few skins of water, I ran over and tried to stop him, but it was no use. He grew irritable with me, and after scolding me for interfering, ordered me to return home. He would be gone for forty days and nights, he explained gravely, during which God would speak to him, telling him what to do. It sounded so crazy, I laughed hysterically, and then, regaining my wits, gripped his tunic in frustration and despair. Jerking away, he surged forward. Jesus’ blue eyes caught the afternoon sun, flashing with both anger and purpose. My muscles slackened, as if a spell had fallen over me, and I let him walk away. Dimly, I began to realize that Jesus had just embarked upon a great adventure or mission.
For Amos, who didn’t know my brother, there could be no justification for this action. “Scratching his unkempt beard, he muttered, “John just placed his mantle on your brother. Now Jesus is going into the desert for forty days. That doesn’t make sense. No one, even John, goes into the wilderness on purpose. Your brother’s even madder than John. Unless he’s hunting for food, John avoids it. He lives here by the river, only going beyond in the morning to hunt for grasshoppers, honey, and roots. It’s a furnace in the day, but freezing cold at night. Your brother will die in the wilderness. I’m certain of that!”
But I couldn’t believe this. Even at that early point in Jesus’ ministry, I knew he was no ordinary man. As mad as it seemed, he would return…. He just had to, I thought, as Amos and I embarked on my journey home.
On the trip back to Nazareth, Amos’ moods drifted back and forth from anger to amusement at the folly of it all. He had, after a wanderer’s life, found a purpose as John’s courier. Now, if John’s gesture meant anything, was he supposed to be a follower of my brother—a madman who, in the middle of the day, walked into the wilderness—a no man’s land, a place of desolation and bleached bones? That night, at a point midway between Nazareth and the River Jordan, we hastily made camp. Though weary, both physically and emotionally, I tried to analyze Jesus’ actions.
“… My brother isn’t like us,” I searched for words. “… Somehow there has to be meaning in this…. Jesus hasn’t always acted rationally, but everything he’s done made sense in the end.” “This will too,” I added, tossing a twig into the fire. “…. I just don’t know what that is.”
“Humph!” Amos grumbled. “I thought maybe your brother bedeviled John. That foolishness at the river seemed to prove it, until Jesus walked into the desert…. Now, it’s very plain to me. John has always been slightly mad. Your poor brother has lost his wits. He’s crazier than John!”
“Hah!” I uttered a sour laugh. “There’s no question about it. As soon as Jesus heard about John’s preaching everything changed. I can thank you for that, Amos. You reported it to us, and off we went! Now he’s in the Judean wilderness, the most god-forsaken place on earth! The question is, ‘What am I going to tell my mother?’ I promised her I’d bring him back. It was a stupid promise, but I thought Jesus would get his business done at the river and return. It turns out that his business has just begun!”
“What does he think he’ll find out there?” Amos asked drowsily, stroking his beard. “Even Jackals avoid the wilderness. There’s many places to go when a man wants to talk to God. Why didn’t he pick the temple or synagogue? Why that dreadful place?”
I looked over at him and smiled. “Jesus has his reasons,” I murmured sleepily. “To answer your question you’d have to be in his mind. I’m reminded now just how inscrutable his mind is…. You don’t need the temple or synagogue, Amos. God speaks everywhere. Perhaps Jesus wishes to test himself in that place. Why that would be, I haven’t a clue. I will pray that he returns safely.”
Amos nodded reluctantly. As dismayed as I was with Jesus actions, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt; unfortunately, my thoughts belied my words. It appeared to me that Jesus was on a fool’s errand. As we drifted off to sleep, I thought about what I said to Amos—words, hollow words! I didn’t know then that Jesus would return from his mission and yet not come home. I was hoping he would finish his mad folly and things would somehow get back to normal…. But things would never be normal again. I had, as the record now shows, underestimated and misunderstood him. That day by the River Jordan was merely the start of his ministry in Judea. During his journey into the wilderness, as Matthew, Mark, and Luke would report, he proved himself to God. It was only the beginning!
When Amos and I reached Nazareth, it was late afternoon. We had traveled from our last encampment at dawn. We should have entered town at first light, but the fear of highwaymen played heavily upon our decision to wait. Now, to my embarrassment, I rode into town alongside of the scraggly, unwashed courier in broad daylight, familiar faces peering at us as we road past. There, ahead of us, as our horses trotted by, strolled Malachi, the town weaver, carrying some of his wares. Also looking on from that direction was Noah, standing there in his garden, a quizzical look on his grizzled face. I could, in fact, feel several unseen eyes staring at us. Voices murmured on each side of us as more people saw us riding in, until finally, on our left, I heard someone mutter, “Is that Jude, Mary’s son?” Afterwards, on our right, cane in hand, appeared Ethan, one of the village’s patriarchs, glaring fiercely our way and not far behind ambled Jubal, another elder, calling out to him in a gravelly voice, “Hah! It’s Nazareth’s lost sheep. Whose that other scallywag?”
“The old fool!” Amos grumbled. “He’s talking about me.”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled apologetically. “That’s Jubal. The one in front is Ethan. I told you we should’ve entered at first light!”
“Jude,” the nearsighted Ethan shouted, “is that really you? I don’t see Jesus? Where’ve you been? “
“Oh, hello Ethan” I replied awkwardly. “Jesus will come later…. It’s a long story.”
Amos and I gave our horses a kick and galloped forward. While the two elders retraced their steps in order to further harass me, I felt as if all of Nazareth was closing in. When we reached my home, Amos and I quickly hitched our mounts and ducked into the house. I was certain that my mother, my brothers, and sisters waited inside. Sure enough, as we entered, she stood there in entry way with her other children standing behind her, an expectant look on her face, crying out in a wounded voice, “Where’s Jesus? Why isn’t he with you? Where’s my son?” Whispering amongst themselves, my brothers and sisters frowned severely, as if a tax collector or brigand had just entered the house.
I had expected such a reception, and yet I froze in terror.
“I should leave,” mumbled Amos.
“What happened?” Mama wailed. “You promised to bring him back?”
“… No one controls Jesus,” I found my tongue.
“Jude,” She blared in my face, “I trusted you. Where’s Jesus? John bewitched him, didn’t he? You promised to bring him back!”
James, a student of Nicodemus in Jerusalem, whom I was surprised to see present, stepped forth in my defense. “He’s right, Mama. Jesus does as he pleases.” “The question is.” He looked over at Amos, “who is our guest? Are you one of John’s disciples?”
“I’m Amos,” my friend said with a bow, “no one’s disciple. I’m a messenger between John and the outside world.”
Amos scraggly and unwashed appearance, though not that different than my own travel worn appearance, offended my brothers and sisters. James, like Joseph, had been away when I first introduced Amos to my mother, Simon, Abigail, and Martha, so he and Joseph were especially shocked. Mama also looked at him as an interloper, a link with Cousin John, who was responsible for Jesus’ absence.
“This is James and that is Joseph.” I motioned for his benefit. “You’ve already met other members of my family. Please excuse their rudeness. This isn’t normally our way. “Please, Mama,” I grew impatient. “We’re hungry and weary. Can we at least have some water and a crust of bread?”
For a moment longer, Mama and my siblings stood there, as if to bar our entrance.
“I think I should leave,” insisted Amos, backing towards the door.
“No, stay!” I grew irritated. “You’re our guest. In the past you took in all manner of strays. Please, Mama, Amos is my friend!”
As if awakening from her lapse in manners, she shrugged her shoulders and muttered a tired apology, adding with forced friendliness, “You’re welcome in the house of Joseph.”
Because Papa had been dead all these years, her welcome had a hollow ring. Her tone was flat and emotionless. Since Papa’s death, her personality had changed. She had lost much of her energy. I had noticed, and I’m certain my brothers and sisters had noticed when she scolded me, her reference to ‘my son’. In spite of Jesus’ special status, Papa had always tried to be impartial, but at times Mama’s favoritism for him loomed large. Today her partiality was huge. All of her children, including me, resented her blatant one-sidedness. There were, considering the hostile glares of my brothers and sisters, two strong emotions aimed at me: resentment for bringing a stranger into our midst and resentment for not bringing Jesus home, both of which struck me as both irrational and unfair. I now sensed, at that point, a third emotion: resentment at her preference for the oldest son.
As it turned out, Mama had just baked loafs of bread for the noonday meal. Unceremoniously, she handed Amos and I loaves, handfuls of goat cheese, and mugs of well water, then stood there as we wolfed down our meals, with folded arms, a frown playing on her face. James, Joseph, Simon, Abigail, and Martha exited the house, not wishing to suffer Amos’ presence, leaving us alone with Mama. Proof of their frame of minds, were words spoken by Joseph to James under his breath as they departed: “Are we not her children too?”
Our mother couldn’t hide her resentment and disappointment. “…So,” she grumbled, tapping her foot, “what happened out there? What was he thinking? Has joined that desert madman? Does he plan to return?”
“Tell her the truth,” whispered Amos.
“Uh…” I responded nervously, “I-I don’t know.”
“Tell her!” I felt Amos elbow.
“I asked you four questions?” she shot back. “Which one do you not know?”
“…All of them,” I answered hesitantly, “…except what happened. John called him the lamb of God—”
“What?” Her hand flew to her mouth. “That’s nonsense. John’s mad”
“Let me finish.” I held up a hand. “None of this makes sense. I don’t know when he’ll return. I do know he’s joined John’s band, but your nephew turned two of his disciples over to him. It appears, at least in the future, that Jesus will become a prophet or great teacher. As far as his immediate plans, before he hiked into the wilderness he explained that God would tell him what to do…. Don’t worry, Mama. Regardless of what John has in mind, Jesus will be guided by God,” “whatever that is,” I added with a shrug.
“How long will he be gone?” her voice constricted. “…Is he coming home?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Jesus’ trek into the wilderness will last forty days and nights. Whether or not he returns home afterwards, he didn’t say. I tried to change his mind, but he grew angry. I couldn’t stop him. Even John thought he was mad going into that place.”
Mama plopped down heavily on the nearest chair. I had no intention of telling her Jesus left without food and only two skins of water. John’s exclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God,” which John, the disciple, would one day write down in his scroll, was too abstract for Mama or me to comprehend. The overriding fact was Jesus, a carpenter, who had apparently resigned himself to a quiet life in Nazareth, had joined a mad preacher in the desert and was, at this very hour, hiking in the Judean wilderness, alone and bereft of his senses. After the rituals John performed at the river and the pompous way he turned two important disciples over to Jesus, my cousin had been dumbfounded himself, a conclusion I based upon the Baptist’s shocked expression as Jesus traipsed off. Despite what seemed like madness to everyone, I sensed inexplicably that Jesus was much more than a prophet, and yet, as I looked down at my stricken mother, I was confused and filled with doubt. She had given birth to Jesus and knew him better than anyone. Who knew him more than his mother? After all of the signs and wonders in Jesus’ life, was she doubting him? She thought he had been bewitched. Was my oldest brother mad? Even our crazed, locust-eating cousin, thought Jesus had lost his senses. Why had Jesus gone into that god-forsaken place?
“What else aren’t you telling me?” She looked up expectantly.
“What else?” I muttered, scratching the bristles on my face. “…Oh yes.” I grinned, snapping my fingers. “John was baptizing people in the River Jordan. He baptized Jesus too. He mumbled something to Jesus before dunking him into the river. Uh, let’s see…. He said: ‘It’s you who should be baptizing me.’ Strange huh?’”
“More nonsense,” she grumbled. “That’s done for ritual purification. Jesus is without sin.”
“ I dunno.” I sighed. “You’ve said that many times. We never saw him sin. The point is, Mama, the baptism made no sense, at least not how John is doing it. Before Jesus approached him, he was hollering out ‘repent, the day of the Lord is at hand.’ He promises those baptized eternal life!”
Suddenly Mama’s expression changed from gloom to alarm. She gasped and clutched her throat again. It was as if a distant memory had returned to her.
“Is this how it begins?” she mumbled to herself. “…Long ago, an angel appeared to me. He told me Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High. I didn’t understand what he meant. Then Simeon told Joseph and I in the temple that Jesus was sent as a sign from God, but many would oppose him…. He told me that a sword would pierce my soul. It has haunted me ever since.”
“What?” I caught my breath. “You never told us that? Where you dreaming? What could that mean, Mama? Why would a sword pierce your soul?”
Dreamily, Mama looked into space, murmuring, “I was awake or at least I thought I was. Now this…. Joseph and I have lived with this mystery. It didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s insane!” I exclaimed.
Mama’s eyes lit up that moment. “Jude!” She cried, springing to her feet. “We’ll bring Jesus home! He’s meant for great things—a teacher or rabbi of renown, not following a madman into the desert. John bedeviled him. After he abandoned poor Elizabeth and began acting strangely, I never trusted him. He’ll lead Jesus to ruin.”
“No. John tried to stop Jesus from going into the wilderness,” I reminded her. “Jesus said God would tell him what to do. I’ve never seen him like that. No one could have stopped him!”
Nodding faintly, she stood motionless a moment. A look of despair was frozen on her face. Walking over to the window she looked out at Nazareth, whispering, “…This isn’t how I pictured Jesus’ future.”
James and Joseph entered the room that moment. Apparently, they had been eavesdropping. Casting Amos a withering look, James turned to me and shook his head. “Forty days and nights is a long time, but he knew what he was doing. I fear for Jesus’ health. We can’t take Mama to a place like that. We’d have to wait for him at the river until he returns.”
“If he returns!” grumbled Joseph.
“Don’t worry,” Amos finally spoke. “I’m going back to the river. When he returns, I’ll find out where he’s going and let you know. If I don’t come back myself, I’m certain Jesus will send word. Who knows? He might return home for a while. Then again, he might not. There’s nothing we can do until then.”
By his irresolute tone, Amos didn’t have a clue. After his reception in my home, I doubted he would return, himself. I also doubted that Jesus was coming directly back to Nazareth. Whatever he had planned, it had started at the river. I had no idea where this would lead him, and yet a dark abstract, intangible premonition reeled in my mind, one similar, I sensed, to Mama’s premonition of Jesus’ fate.
“Thank you, Amos” she smiled wearily. “…You’re most kind. You must talk sense into him…. This is all a great mistake…. Somehow, we must bring him home!”
I could tell by his browbeaten expression that Amos regretted his words. He had by implying Jesus would send word and might return given Mama hope. That day when he and I accompanied Jesus to the River Jordan had, for better or worse, marked another milestone in my life. I sensed, without knowing why, I was a witness to an important event. John had singled Jesus out for greatness, whatever that was. Then Jesus walked into the wilderness, making John’s actions seem foolish, a hollow gesture after such a beginning. If I didn’t have this nagging feeling, what happened when we returned without Jesus would have made it all the more meaningless and anticlimactic. Though I might deny it to anyone else, I knew Jesus meant business; he knew exactly what he was doing. It was both a moving and frightful feeling. Even the reception Amos and I received when we returned couldn’t change that.
I had, as a child, witnessed many things, such as the miracles I saw in Jesus’ youth, the stories he shared of his travels with Joseph of Arimathea, and recently, at the River Jordan, Jesus’ baptism and anointing by the prophet John. There were countless times in which I was astonished by his words and deeds, but nothing had prepared me for his transformation at the river. On my own I had survived my own perilous trek from the Galilean Fort, been captured by bandits, sold into slavery, and rescued by Elisha, a rich Pharisee. Added to these adventures was Jesus fateful meeting with John, which culminated in Jesus’ trek into the wilderness. I had seen, heard, and done much in my short life, all of it but a prelude to what lie ahead.
During the days following my return, however, my mind was in turmoil. It didn’t matter what I had experienced during my own travels or what I had gone through at Jesus’ whim. In her irrational state of mind, I had failed Mama because I didn’t bring Jesus back. My personal travails, efforts on Jesus’ behalf, and, in fact, my entire life as her son, didn’t balance out with her grief or compare with the importance of her oldest son. During that hour Simon, Abigail, and Martha had entered the room to join James and Joseph. Standing as a group—my brothers and sisters—we shared this awareness. I had heard Joseph grumble about this earlier, but now I saw it on all my siblings’ faces. Jesus was the chosen one. We had to accept that. How that realization would one day expand to include the world was the furthest thing from our minds.
After we left Mama alone in the house, we congregated in the backyard. To oblige my brothers and sisters, Amos found a pale of water to wash off the grime of the road. Though this gesture couldn’t hide his overall scraggly appearance, they seemed impressed with his effort. As we walked down the path leading into the grove, we discussed what happened at the river. We all agreed that Jesus has been wrongly influenced by Cousin John and must be brought to his senses. Simon suggested half-heartedly that we go fetch him as Mama demanded. James, Joseph, Amos, and I had already seen the folly in trying to control Jesus. After traveling to the River Jordan, I explained to them, we would have to wait for his reappearance in the desert, which wouldn’t occur for over month. If we waited for the forty days Jesus planned to wander the Wilderness, there was no telling were he might travel next. He was, I reminded everyone, guided by God. No matter where we went in search of him, there was the danger of bandits on the road. More importantly, I pointed out, Mama, whose physical condition had declined after her husband’s death, could not be that far away from civilization. Such a long, hot, dusty trip would damage our mother’s health. Since everyone was in agreement on these points, this was an easy argument to win. Added to the cold logic of the situation was the resentment of my siblings, who blamed their ‘unhinged’ brother for this state of affairs. After hearing about the difficulties in such an enterprise, we agreed not to search for Jesus. Sooner or later, Abigail and Martha agreed, Jesus would come to his senses. When he got this nonsense out of his system, suggested James, he would come home where he belonged.
That matter settled, our discussion turned to other matters.
“Once and for all,” protested Joseph, “we know our mother’s mind. Jesus is first and foremost in her life. Papa never made us feel that way. We were, on any account, after thoughts—all of us, orphans taken under their wings.”
“I’ve always known that,” grumbled James. “After Jesus returned with Joseph of Arimathea, all puffed up and boastful, nothing was ever the same.”
“Hah,” I joined in moodily, “it started long before that. Don’t forget the dead sparrow.”
“The sparrow?” Amos frowned. “A dead bird?”
“Yes,” I snarled, “…he healed the sparrow—raised it from the dead. And that’s not all. He’s done so many strange things I’ve lost count.”
“Lots and lots!” Martha sighed.
“In his letters, he told us fantastic things,” Simon said thoughtfully. “Mama can’t read. I’ve read his letters to her so many times I’ve almost memorized them, but I still find them hard to believe.”
“Like what?” Amos pressed forward. “Give me an example.”
“He calmed a storm,” offered Abigail.
“He raised the Pharisees son,” Martha beamed.
“From the dead?” Amos looked at her in disbelief.
“Uh huh.” She nodded. “It’s all in the letters. Mama treats them like sacred things.”
Amos rolled his eye, shaking his head in wonder. Unimpressed with these wonders, ourselves, my siblings and I stood silently thinking about this state of affairs. Despite our accord, we knew what this meant: Mama would demand that we bring Jesus home. Jesus had once again affected our lives, this time permanently it seemed. James and Joseph paced fretfully in the grove, feeling snared by this turn of events. Martha and Abigail were probably thinking of Isaac and Jeremiah, their onetime suitors, also feeling trapped. Simon, however, as was his custom, began dozing against the trunk of a tree, resigned to his fate. The subject of Jesus wonders, which was distressing to his brothers and sisters, caused James and Joseph the greatest distress. Both of them had found employment away from Nazareth. Jesus actions boded ill for both of their careers.
“I’m returning to Jerusalem!” announced James.
“And I’m going to Sepphoris.” Joseph glared back at the house. “I’m not sticking around for his return!”
“Really?” Amos cocked an eyebrow. “You’re not waiting for word from Jesus? He might just show up. You said so yourself, Jude. No one knows his mind.”
“Hah!” I replied bitterly. “If I had somewhere to go, I’d leave too.”
“I can’t leave.” Simon said wistfully. “Whose gonna take care of Mama? Who’ll watch the shop?”
“Go ahead, all of you, leave! Martha and I can take care of Mama,” spat Abigail.
Martha opened her mouth as if to protest. I almost laughed. Abigail’s reaction struck me as unbelievable and insincere. Perhaps she felt guilty for how she really felt. According to what Simon told me before I left with Amos and Jesus, the twins, Abigail and Martha, were fearful that they would become old maids. Before he passed away, Papa gave Isaac and Jeremiah, James and Joseph’s friends, permission to court his daughters. Mama reluctantly agreed. When Papa died, however, the arrangement turned sour. From the beginning, she distrusted the young men. According to Joseph, Isaac and Jeremiah womanized with women in Sepphoris. It didn’t matter that Isaac and Jeremiah were gainfully employed and loved her daughters or that James and Joseph had womanized themselves. No one was good enough for the daughters of Joseph the carpenter. I felt sorry for Abigail and Martha. After Papa’s passing, they became trapped. Added to Mama’s natural possessiveness, was the crisis at hand caused by Jesus’ actions, which would be one more reason for them to stay.
Mama expected much from her children. The fact was, we were all trapped. As a scribe studying with Nicodemus in Jerusalem, James future had seemed set, as did Joseph who had found work with a wealthy merchant in Sepphoris. How long they would stay on in anticipation of Jesus’ return no one knew. For these reasons, I felt more pity for them than the twins. Our sisters were attractive young women and could wait out Mama’s prohibition. James and Joseph might lose their jobs if they didn’t return. Papa would have been saddened by the mood in our household. Considering my own itch to move on and my sisters’ attitude, only Simon, now a master carpenter, himself, might stay on, and yet even he wanted to make his way in the world.
For several moments, we discussed our dilemma. Like all young people, we had or own plans. While James and Joseph were already settled in Jerusalem and Sepphoris, I was a man of the world. If it hadn’t been for John the Baptist’s fateful call, I would somewhere else: Egypt, Greece, maybe even Rome. Simon and the twins at least wanted the option to leave this backwater town. For the foreseeable, though, because of Jesus, our plans were on hold, indefinitely it seemed. Until we knew Jesus was safe and sound and word had been sent, we felt compelled to remain. Our lives had been turned upside down.
That night we ate a frugal meal and, after another walk, this time down the path leading to the edge of Nazareth, we all retired to her our pallets filled with gloom and disquiet. We said little to each other. What was left to say? In the morning, at the break of dawn, Amos was up and ready to leave. Mama gave him bread and cheese again. Water had been drawn for his water skin and his horse was allowed to graze once again in our backyard. Then, clasping his forearm in the Roman manner, I bid him farewell. As he mounted his horse, he looked down at me and smiled.
“Jude,” he exclaimed, “I’m but a courier, but I’ve learned many things. I’ve learned to read the stars and people. I’ve given this much thought. I can tell that you are meant for great things. Don’t worry about Jesus. He’s meant for great things too. John was touched by the Most High, but I fear his time’s short. Sooner or later, what he’s preaching will get him into trouble. That he singled out your brother, means Jesus is also touched by the Most High. He’s a brave and foolish man to hike into the wilderness, yet he’ll come out alive. He has to. He has a purpose even John doesn’t see. I have this feeling Jesus is bringing a new religion to the world. I fear for him. Like John he will, as soon as he begins preaching, find trouble. I know what the priests, Pharisees, and rabbis think about John’s message. They’re afraid of him. They’ll be afraid of Jesus too.”
“Are you a prophet, too?” I asked drolly.
“No, just a man.” He shook his head. “I keep my eyes and ears open. John’s the prophet, but he listens with his heart and looks into men’s souls. The wind blows were it wishes. Only the Most High can tame a storm…. To tempt Him is purest folly, and yet that is what the Baptist and your brother are doing. They’re that kind of men.”
“Ah but Jesus quieted a storm,” I replied half-seriously. “He raised a bird and the Pharisees son from the dead. Long ago, the story goes, as a mere child he discussed points of law with the temple priests. My parents believe he was born with all knowledge in his head.”
“Jude,” he spoke as kindly as possible, “you don’t believe that. Remember what I said. I can read people. I studied your mother closely. Are you certain she believes that too? She wants Jesus to come home and be an ordinary man…. But he isn’t an ordinary man, is he?… What he is only time will tell.”
“Be careful, my friend,” I called out, as he galloped away.
“You be careful too,” he called back blithely. “For many centuries our people have resisted change. John and his followers are kicking against the goad. Calling Jesus, the Lamb of God won’t make him popular with the temple priests. It doesn’t take a Pharisee or rabbi to understand what that means.”
With those words, which I shrugged off at first, Amos disappeared from my life, not resurfacing for many days. Gradually, the words, which I heard John shout, as he saw Jesus approach, triggered my memory of Hebrew religion: a conclusion so obvious I caught my breath. The temple sacrificed animals such as lambs—unblemished and the first born, and Jesus, being the first-born son and without sin, had been called the Lamb of God. The connection seemed so outrageous I never would have made it myself had Amos not tossed it my way.
“That is ridiculous!” I grumbled as I entered the house.
“What’s ridiculous?” asked Mama. “What did that strange little man say?”
“Uh nothing,” I answered, quickly mustering up a reply. “Amos said something stupid.”
“About Jesus?” She searched my face. “Tell me, Jude…. I don’t trust that fellow.”
“He believes John is a great prophet—the same John who wears animal skins and eats bugs.” “Ho-ho! Can you believe that?” I managed to laugh.
“John’s mad,” came her refrain. “…. Jesus will come to his senses. He just has to. Simon hasn’t managed Papa’s business well. Everyone wants to leave me.” “Do you want to leave me, Jude?” She gripped my arm.
“No,” I lied again, “I’m staying. We’ll hear from Jesus soon.”
In barely a moment, I had lied to Mama three times. One day the number three would mean something, but with far greater meaning. For now, I felt both guilt and stress. Like Amos, I had given her false hope and placed myself once again in a dubious situation. I had no idea whatsoever when Jesus would return or what he was going to do. Earlier, as I embarked upon our fateful trip, I had promised to bring Jesus home. Just now I implied his return was imminent. As the remainder of the house awakened and Mama busied herself preparing the morning meal, I realized my words had entrapped me. I could almost see Jesus’ eyes boring into me as they often did. After watching him traipse off into the wilderness and seeing that look in his eyes, I knew he expected much of me. However insane it all seemed, I felt compelled. I couldn’t let him down.
I wolfed down my bread and cheese and, to clear my head, took a long walk. No one said a word as I slipped out. Because of my involvement in Jesus’ absence, I had fallen out of graces with my family. Several questions reeled in my mind. Why did John have to call him the Lamb of God? It had such an ominous ring to it. Was John really mad, as even Amos suspected? Or had he, in the clear light of reason, singled Jesus out for great things? If so, what were these great things? Who was Jesus supposed to be?