Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 12

My aunts used this festive occasion to hammer on the door.

It did no good.

"I pray Silent Hannah's asleep next to her," said my mother.

The Rabbi called us all to the synagogue to give thanks for the peace.

But no one really rested easy until the next afternoon, by which time Jason and several of the men, hiring mounts for the whole way, had reached Nazareth.

We threw down our bundles, fed the animals, and made for the synagogue to pray and to hear the story of what had happened.

As before, the crowd was much too big for the building. People were lighting torches and lanterns in the street. The sky was quickly darkening.

I caught a glimpse of Jason, who was bursting with excitement and gesturing wildly to his uncle. But all begged him to stop and wait and tell the tale to the whole village.

Finally benches were dragged out of the synagogue and up the slope, and soon some fifteen hundred or so men and women were massed in the open area, torch begetting torch, as Jason made his way up to the place of honor, along with his companions.

I couldn't see Silent Hannah anywhere. Of course Shemayah was not there, and certainly there was no sign of Avigail. But then, again, it was difficult to tell.

People were embracing and clapping their hands, kissing one another, dancing. The children were in a paroxysm of delight. And James was crying. My brothers had brought Joseph and Alphaeus along slowly. Some of the other elders were also late in coming.

Jason waited. He stood on the bench, embracing his companion, and only then as the torches drew in, clearly illuminating them both, did I realize that the companion was Hananel's grandson, Reuben.

My mother recognized him at the same moment, and the word spread in a whisper through all of us, as we stood crowded together.

I hadn't told them any of what Hananel had said to me. I had not even asked the Rabbi why he hadn't warned me that Hananel's grandson had once come to court Avigail.

But all knew how the grandfather had grieved for two years for this lost son who had gone abroad, and soon the name "Reuben bar Daniel bar Hananel" was being whispered everywhere.

He was elegant, this one, and beautifully dressed in linen robes just as was Jason, with the same barbered beard and anointed hair, though both were thoroughly soiled from the long hard ride, and neither seemed to care about this.

Finally the whole town shouted for the men to tell the story.

"Six days," declared Jason, holding up his fingers so that we might count. "Six days we stood before the palace of the Governor and demanded that he remove his brazen and blasphemous images from our Holy City."

Shouts of wonder and approval rose in a soft roar.

" 'Oh, but this would give injury to our great Tiberius,' the man told us," Jason cried. "And we to him, 'He's always respected our laws in the past.' And understand that for every day we remained firm, more and more men and women came to join us. Understand that Caesarea was overflowing! In and out of the palace of the Governor went the men who presented our petitions, and no sooner were they dismissed than they returned and presented them again, until at last the man had had his fill of it.

"And all the while soldiers had come pouring in, soldiers taking up their stands at every gate, at every door, and all along the walls that bounded the pavement before the judgment seat."

The crowd gave a loud roar before he could go on, but he gestured for quiet, and continued.

"At last, sitting there before the great mass of us he declared that the images would not be removed. And giving the signal brought his soldiers to full arms against us! Swords were drawn. Daggers lifted. We saw ourselves on every side surrounded by his men, and we saw our deaths right in front of us - ."

He stopped. And as the crowd murmured and shouted and finally roared, he gestured for quiet again and came to the finish.

"Did we not remember the advice our elders had given us?" Jason asked. "Did we need to be told that we are a people of peace? Did we need to be cautioned that Roman soldiers would soon hold our breath in their hands, no matter how many of us had banded together?"

The shouts came from all around.

"On the ground, we threw ourselves," Jason cried. "On the very ground, and we bowed our heads, and we bared our necks to those swords - all of us. Hundreds of us did this, I tell you. Thousands of us. We bared our necks, all of us, to a man, fearlessly and silently, and those who were left to speak told the Governor what he already knew, that we should surely die - all of us, to a man, as we knelt there! - before we would see our laws overturned, our customs abolished."

Jason folded his arms and looked from right to left as the cries rang out and slowly rolled into one great song of jubilation. Nodding and smiling, he waved to the little boys who clamored at the foot of the bench. And Reuben stood beside him, as filled with pure happiness as he was.

My uncle Cleopas was crying; so was James. So were all the men.

"And what did the great Roman Governor do in the face of this spectacle?" cried Jason. "At the undeniable sight of so many ready to give their lives for the protection of our most sacred laws, the man rose to his feet and ordered his soldiers to put away the weapons they held at our throats, the blades flashing in the sun everywhere before him. 'They shall not die!' he declared. 'Not for piety! I will not shed their blood, not one drop! Give the signal. The soldiers are to remove our ensigns from within the walls of their sacred city!' "

Cries of thanksgiving filled the air. Prayers and acclamation. People went down on their knees in the grass. The noise was so great that nothing further could have possibly been heard from Jason or Reuben or anyone for that matter.

Fists were in the air, people were dancing again, and the women were sobbing now, as if only now could they sink down onto the grass and let their full fear flow from their hearts and into the arms of one another.

The Rabbi who stood near the summit beside Jason bowed his head and began the prayers, but we couldn't hear him. People began to sing psalms of thanksgiving. Bits of melody and prayer floated and mingled all around us.

Little Mary sobbed against the breast of my uncle Cleopas, her father-in-law, and James held his wife, kissing her forehead silently as the tears came down his face. I hugged Little Isaac to me and Yaqim and all of Avigail's children, who were with us now, even as I knew it meant that Silent Hannah and Avigail had not come to this crowd, no, not even for this.

We were all kissing one another. Wineskins were passed. People had broken into long discourses on how this had seemed or that had been, and Jason and Reuben struggled through the press, besieged for the greater details, though both men now appeared completely spent and ready to collapse if given the opportunity.

Joseph clasped my hand and James' hand. Our brothers and their wives made a circle, and the little children stood in our midst. My mother had her arms around my shoulders and her head against my back.

" 'Sacrifice and offerings You do not desire, O Lord,' " said Joseph, " 'but ears open to obedience You've given us. Burnt offerings You did not demand. So I said, "Here I am; Your commands for me are written in the scroll. To do Your will is my life; my Lord, Your law is in my heart. I announced Your deeds to a great assembly. . . ." ' "

It took us a long time to make our way home.

The street was choked with revelers, and it was plain as well that other men were arriving, others who'd hired mounts for the hard ride, and we could hear the sharp unmistakable cries of those who were being reunited.

Suddenly Jason, bright faced and smelling of wine, caught up with us, his hand over James' shoulder.

"Your boys are well, they're well indeed and stood straight and strong with us, both of them, Menachim and Shabi, and I tell you all of the men of your house stood firm. Silas, and Levi, of course, I expected it, who didn't, but little Shabi I tell you, and Young Cleopas, and every man - ." And on he went, kissing James and then my uncles, and kissing the hands that Joseph lifted in blessing.

We'd reached the gate to the courtyard when Reuben of Cana caught up with us, and he tried to take his leave of Jason now, but Jason protested. They passed the wineskin between them and offered it to us. I waved it away.

"Why are you not happy!" Jason demanded of me.

"We are happy, all of us are happy," I said. "Reuben, it's been many years. Come inside, refresh yourself."

"No, he's coming home with me," said Jason. "My uncle wouldn't hear of it if he didn't lodge with us. Reuben, what's the matter with you, you can't ride out for Cana now."

"But I must do that, Jason, and you know I must," Reuben said. He looked to us as he took his leave, nodding to us. "My grandfather hasn't seen me in two years," he said. Joseph answered Reuben's nod with his own. All the older men nodded.

Jason shrugged. "Don't come to me tomorrow," said Jason, "and tell me the sad story of how you woke up and found yourself - in the great city of Cana!"

All the young men around them broke into laughter.

Reuben seemed to melt away in the shadows, amid the happy voices, and the crush of those who wanted to clap Jason and clasp his hand, and all those struggling to come and go.

Finally, having taken our leave fifty times over, we did go into the house.

Old Bruria had gone before us and lighted the coals, and the aroma of the hot pottage was strong and inviting.

As I helped Joseph to take his place against the wall, I saw Silent Hannah.

Amid all the comings and goings, she stood stock-still, staring only at me, as if no one else brushed past her.

She looked weary and old, positively old - like an ancient one, so thin and so stooped and making fists of her hands that held on to her veil as if it were a rope in the sea. She shook her head No. It was a slow, despairing negation.

"Did you give her the writing?" I asked. "Did she read it?"

Her face was blank. She made a gesture with her right hand, over and over, almost as if she were scratching at the air.

My mother said, "She gave the letter to Avigail. She doesn't know if Avigail read it."

"Go now to his house," said Old Bruria. "You, Cleopas, go! Go and take your daughter-in-law with you. Go now and bang on his door. Tell him you've come to give him this news."

"Everyone who has passed has knocked," said James. "Jason was pounding on his door just now, as we came in. It's enough for tonight. Maybe the old fool will wander out on his own. The noise will keep him awake all night, one way or the other."

"We could somehow knock in his door, you know," said Cleopas. "All of us, dancing and drinking, we could, just sort of knock in his door, and then what, of course, we'd tell him we were so sorry, but with this . . ."

He broke off. No one had the heart for such a thing.

"This is no night to tell Jason," said James. "But we can count on him tomorrow to knock in that door if we must."

We all agreed to that. And we knew that his uncle, the Rabbi, would undoubtedly tell him everything.

Chapter Thirteen

THERE WAS TO BE NO WORK the next day. It was a festival, a celebration, and a thanksgiving unto the Lord for the Governor's decision, and those who were wont to drink did so, but mainly people went from house to house, to talk over the grand event, which was to some the triumph of the people, and to the others the humiliation of the Governor, and to the older men simply the will of God.

James, because he could not keep still, swept the stables and the courtyard twice, and I, because I could not keep still if James did not keep still, watered and fed the donkeys, went out to see how bad things were with the vegetable garden, came back thinking it best to say nothing about the tender crops dying there, looked at the cold sky, and decided to go to Cana.

Of course this was no day to prevail on Hananel to do anything on behalf of anyone. His beloved grandson was home, and surely he should be left to savor this and give thanks as he chose to do.

But I couldn't wait. No matter what I did, no matter where I went, I saw Avigail in my mind's eye, Avigail, alone in her dark room. I saw Avigail lying on the floor, and sometimes I saw Avigail's dull eyes.

The little town of Cana, much smaller than Nazareth, seemed just as noisy with festivities, and I passed along unnoticed as everywhere men gathered to drink and talk, and people even took their noon meal on the dried grass under the trees. The wind was not so bad for this. And it seemed people had forgotten about the drought altogether; they had won a great victory over something they feared even more.

Hananel's house was full of commotion. Preparations for a feast were taking place. Men were busy bringing in baskets of fruit. I could smell the roasting lamb.

I went to the door, and found the old slave who'd greeted me when I'd last come.

"Listen, I can't disturb the master on this day," I said. "But you must get a message to him for me, please."

"Of course I will, Yeshua, but you must come in. The master's brimming with happiness. Reuben has come home, safe and sound, this very morning."

"Tell the master only that I came, and that I wish him joy at this time," I said. "And tell him I wait for word on the matter as before. Will you do this for me? Whisper to him, that's all I ask. Put it in his mind when you can."

I went off before the slave could protest, and hadn't gotten halfway home to Nazareth when Jason met me on the road. He was on a horse, an unusual sight, and perhaps it was the mount he'd hired for the ride from Caesarea. At once he jumped down and came to me.

Without any preliminaries he launched into a tirade.

"The man's a fool to do this to his own daughter, to lock her up and starve her, to wish that for this, this, she should die."

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