Without screwing my face up too much and being obvious, I prayed very hard that day. At one point, I almost walked into a prickly cactus. It was simple but fervent praying. I asked God in plain, unembellished language over and over again to change Jesus’ mind. I refused to believe that He wanted him to be sacrificed like a lamb. This revolting prospect was unacceptable. In the first place, I never liked the notion of animal sacrifice. Though my dislike would be thought heretical by Pharisees, scribes, and priests, blood sacrifice went against my basic sensitivities. Jesus had taught me to love all of God’s creatures and treat them with compassion. That he supposedly replaced the sacrificial lamb of bloodthirsty priests was therefore especially repugnant. Afterwards, on the road to Jerusalem, Simon and I approached him during a rest stop. For the first time in hours, he wasn’t surrounded by the fishermen, who now lounged drowsily beneath a tree. Matthew and Bartholomew thought I was foolish for trying to change Jesus’ course, but hung in the background offering tepid support. Looking up that moment, he grinned with mirth
“You men have serious looks on your faces,” he acknowledged. “You seek to change my mind.”
“Oh, why do you do that?” I rolled my eyes. “Our thoughts aren’t are own. You know everything!”
“No.” Jesus chuckled. “God knows everything. Your thoughts are your own, but they also belong to Him.”
“I get it!” I threw up my hands. “And your God’s son, right?”
“Right…. I listen to him.” He sighed.
“Which means,” reasoned Simon, “you know everything!”
“Jesus,” I replied carefully. “Simon and I were wondering…. Are you planning on visiting our cousins in Bethany? Is that why we’re on this road?”
“Why yes,” he answered with a frown,
“that was my plan.”
“And after this?” I came straight to the point.
“I had a long talk with my Father,” he answered thoughtfully. “There is much left to do. In Capernaum, I’ll counsel the seventy followers selected as preachers. After I send them out to spread the word, as my disciples have done, I’ll wait for them to return. What they accomplish is vital for the Way. Jerusalem is our last stop. After that, the faithful are left in the disciples’ and seventy’s hands.”
I had silently rejoiced in my mind, thinking that God had answered my prayers, until he spoke that last sentences. Now my breath left me. “… What do you mean ‘your last stop?’” I stared at him in disbelief.
“Yes, Jesus!” Simon lurched forward. “That can mean only one thing!”
“Enough!” Jesus raised his hand. “From that point, it’s up to God. It’s always up to Him.”
“So, you won’t be killed?” Simon blurted. “Promise us this Jesus: you won’t die!”
“Simon the Zealot.” Jesus reached up to pat his arm. “From a temple spy, you’ve become one of my protectors. If God can make you a warrior for the truth, he can do anything he wishes—even change His mind.”
This ambiguous answer would have to suffice. Jesus rose up suddenly and rejoined the fisherman under the tree. Simon shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Feeling alone with my secret knowledge, I clung to Jesus’ words. They were like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. I had, in fact, been drowning in my doubt. Though I was losing my faith in the outcome of his mission, I would have faith in Jesus. This decision would save my sanity, if not Jesus’ life.
Not long after Jesus tried dispelling Simon’s and my concern, we entered the small village of Bethany. This would prove to be another occasion for Jesus to make a spiritual point. Considering his work ahead, there was no logical reason to make this stopover. Zacchaeus, who was destined to join the Seventy, tagged along at the rear of our procession, silently a part of our group. Though he spoke little during our journey, he seemed at peace with himself and his new life, often smiling for apparent no reason, looking heavenward as if he was in communication with God.
“I’ve never seen such tranquility,” observed James.
“Look at him.” Matthew pointed with esteem. “He gave away his house and life’s savings. Now he’s totally happy. That’s what I call faith!”
“Yes,” Judas replied sarcastically, “he’s a true believer or insane!”
Looking back at Zacchaeus, I could see what James and Matthew meant. After Jesus had given Zacchaeus the rite, he was transformed into a new man. Judas’ opinion, on the other hand, was tactless, so typical of his way of thinking.
As we entered Cousin Lazarus’ house, the smell of healing herbs assailed our nostrils. Lazarus was obviously very sick. Why Jesus didn’t cure him on the spot mystified us. He had cured all manner of people, including lowlifes and wrongdoers. So why didn’t he heal his own cousin? No one dared ask Jesus this question. The answer would prove to be a defining moment in Jesus’ life, but for now it was troubling to say the least.
Lazarus spent much of his time in a chair in his yard or in the corner of the main room that night wrapped in a blanket. His two younger sisters had greeted Jesus warmly, casting a worried looks at his sweaty, travel worn band. As Martha, the oldest sister, heated water for us to wash in, prepared our evening meal, and then served our evening meal, Mary, her sibling, frittered away her time listening to Jesus recount our travels. Distracted by her chores, Martha was unable to join the conversation. Eavesdropping on this drama, I heard her complain to Mary about her laziness. Then later, James and I listened to her bring her grievance to Jesus’ ears. That moment, reminiscent of Mary Magdalene’s fawning affection, Martha’s sister sat at Jesus’ feet, an adoring expression on her pretty face.
“Jesus,” Martha said, casting Mary a resentful look, “am I not a caring host? Can’t you see that she’s left me to serve alone?”
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus scolded gently, “you’re worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which won’t be taken.”
Martha stormed away understandably upset. Jesus continued chatting with Mary as if it had been a trifling matter, leaving all twelve disciples confused and dismayed. Out of earshot of Jesus, as he conversed with Mary, we discussed this injustice.
“I don’t understand him,” Andrew shook his head. “That poor woman’s waiting on us hand and foot and he says that?”
“It’s Mary Magdalene all over again,” Philip threw up his hands. “All that little maiden does is sit at his feet and listen, and she has the better part? Doesn’t diligence and service count? I never heard him say that to Esther and Dinah?”
“Jesus is making some kind of point,” I searched for meaning. “It’s as if he’s saying, ‘don’t worry about our physical needs—the matters of this world; it’s our spiritual needs that count.’”
Though this is how many people interpret Jesus’ words now, not one of the other disciples agreed with me then. In spite of my effort at defending his action, I didn’t either.
“Maybe someday he’ll explain it,” Peter said lamely. “Right now I just don’t understand.”
“Jude might be right.” James sighed. “Mary has wormed her way into Jesus’ heart.”
“You have to admit.” Judas grinned. “She’s a pretty young thing!”
“That has nothing to do with it.” John frowned at him. “You would say something like that!”
“Let’s go find Martha,” suggested Thomas. “She needs cheering up.”
Jesus wouldn’t agree with such a suggestion, but we went in search of our host. Martha wasn’t in the house or front yard. Lazarus, who sat medicated in a daze, told us she was tending to Bartholomew’s mule. We found her in back of Lazarus’ house, the very picture of domesticity. A pale of water sat in front of the beast’s snout, as he grazed in the field. Unlike Mary, Martha was plain and slightly overweight, but there was gentleness in her face as she stroked the mule.
The first to express his thoughts was Bartholomew, who was visibly moved by this scene.
“Martha,” he said quietly, “you have a good part, too. We, his disciples, see that. It’s hard to understand the master. He has his reasons. We’re sorry he hurt your feelings, but he’s trifled with our feelings before.”
“Yeah, tell me about it!” Judas scowled.
“He says the strangest most confounded things!” Philip said in wonder. “He won’t tell us where he’s going or explain the road ahead. As we follow our shepherd, it’s as if we march in a fog.”
“He doesn’t think like mortal men,” Matthew decided. “What we think is right, he often thinks is wrong.”
“So he thinks I was wrong?” Martha wrinkled her forehead.
“No, he didn’t mean that.” John shook his head. “How do I explain it, Martha? He doesn’t like anyone questioning his motives or his destination. After all, he gets his orders from God.”
“He won’t even let us protect him,” exclaimed Peter. “When I tried, he said to me, ‘Get thee behind me Satan.’ How more hurtful is that?”
“Look at me.” Judas pointed to himself. “I’m always getting scolded!”
“Hah!” Simon mumbled under his breath. “You’re lucky you haven’t gotten the boot!”
“Martha,” I took my turn. “Jesus’ main concern is getting out the message. Everything else—food, bodily comfort, even wine—is secondary. Sometimes, I wonder if he even sleeps.”
“I’ve never seen him relieve himself,” offered Thomas. “That proves he’s divine.”
Everyone broke into laughter that moment. Perplexed by these implications, Martha looked around at the group. “So it’s true what I’ve heard… Jesus is the Messiah.”
“Oh, he’s more than that,” James stepped forth to clasp her hands.
Remembering Jesus admonition to be discreet about his identity, James stopped short of telling her Jesus was the Son of God. That very moment, as if he overheard this last exchange, Jesus appeared in our midst. Embracing Martha tenderly, he whispered something into her ear, which seemed to make everything right. What it was no one will ever know. Perhaps, as John’s brother James suggested, he explained to her what he had meant. If that was the case, it remained a secret between them. Matthew suggested Jesus might have told her a joke. In deed Martha laughed softly to herself, but no one seriously entertained this possibility. I’ve heard Jesus be humorous, but he’s never told a joke. It was Peter’s notion that Jesus had complimented her on her hospitality that seemed to be the most logical reasonable. Jesus was honest. He was never cruel or deliberately thoughtless. Of the two sisters, Martha will be remembered the most for what he would one day say to her.
That day, as we ate a sumptuous feast and drank Lazarus wine, Mary sat on one side of Jesus and Martha on the other. Jesus gave the Shema and an added blessing to our hosts. Lazarus, who had been in torpor before, finally spoke as we commenced eating. “To our honored guest, Jesus!” he toasted, raising his mug in the air, “who will one day save the world!”