Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 2

"What? What are you saying?" I demanded.

The crowd broke into shouts and roars. Fingers were pointed. Someone cried out: "Abomination."

Yitra, the older of the two accused, stood still glowering at those before him. He was a righteous boy whom everyone loved, one of the best in the school, and when he'd been taken to the Temple last year, he'd made the Rabbi proud in his answers to the teachers.

The Orphan, smaller than Yitra, was pale with fear, his black eyes huge, and his mouth trembling.

Jason, the Rabbi's nephew, Jason the Scribe, stepped forward on the roof and repeated his uncle's declarations.

"Stop this madness now!" he declared. "There will be a trial according to the law, and you witnesses, where are you? Are you afraid, those of you who started this?"

The crowd drowned out his voice.

Down the hill Nahom, Yitra's father, came running, along with his wife and his daughters. The crowd went into a new wave of insults and invectives, with raised fists and stamping. But Nahom pushed his way through it and looked at his son.

The Rabbi had never stopped calling for this to cease, but we could no longer hear him.

It seemed Nahom spoke to his son, but I couldn't hear it.

And then as the crowd went into a pitch of hatred, Yitra reached out, without thinking perhaps, who could know, and he drew the Orphan protectively to him.

I shouted, "No." But it was lost in the din. I ran forward.

Stones flew through the air. The crowd was a swarming mass beneath the whistling sounds of the stones arching towards the boys in the clearing.

I pushed into the thick of it to get to the boys, James behind me.

But it was finished.

The Rabbi roared like a beast on the roof of the synagogue.

The crowd had gone silent.

The Rabbi, with his hands clasped over his mouth, stared down at the heap of stones below him. Jason shook his head and turned his back.

A howl went up from Yitra's mother, and then came the sobs of his sisters. People turned away. They rushed up the hill, or out to the fields, or over the creek and up the far slope. They fled wherever they could.

And then the Rabbi threw up his arms:

"Run, yes, run from what you've done here! But the Lord on High sees you! The Lord on High sees this!" He balled his fists. "Satan rules in Nazareth!" he bellowed. "Run, run for shame for what you've done, you lawless miserable rabble!" He put his hands to the sides of his head and he began to sob more loudly than Yitra's women. He bent over in his sobbing. Jason held tight to him.

Yitra's women were all gathered and pulled away now by Nahom. Nahom looked back once and then he dragged his wife up the hill, the girls running after them.

Only the stragglers remained, a few farmhands and odd-job workers, and the children gazing on from their hiding places beneath the palms or in the nearby doors - and James and I staring at the mound of stones, and the two boys who lay there, tumbled together.

Yitra's arm was around the Orphan's shoulder, his head on the Orphan's chest. Blood ran from a cut on the Orphan's head. Yitra's eyes were half closed. No blood except in his hair.

All the life was gone out of them.

I heard the pounding of feet - the last of men rushing away.

Into the clearing next to us came Joseph, and with him Old Rabbi Berekhiah, barely able to walk, and the other white-haired men who made up the elders of the village. My uncles Cleopas and Alphaeus were there. They took their place beside Joseph.

All appeared sleepy, bewildered, and then astonished.

Joseph stared at the dead boys.

"How did this happen?" he whispered. He looked to James and to me.

James sighed. The tears slid down his face. "It was . . . like that," he whispered. "We should have - . I didn't think - ." He hung his head.

Above us, on the roof, the Rabbi sobbed onto the shoulder of his nephew who looked away to the open fields, his face the picture of sadness.

"Who accused them?" Uncle Cleopas asked. He looked to me. "Yeshua, who accused them?"

Joseph and Rabbi Berekhiah repeated the question.

"I don't know, Father," I said. "I don't think the witnesses ever came forward."

The Rabbi was choking with sobs.

I moved towards the stones.

Once again, James pulled me back, but this time more gently than before. "Please, Yeshua," he whispered.

I stayed where I was.

I looked at them, the two, lying there as if they were children asleep, amid the heap of stones, and not enough blood between them, really, not enough blood for the Angel of Death even to stop and turn and take notice of them.

Chapter Three

WE CAME TO THE RABBI'S HOUSE. The doors were open. Jason stood in the far corner against the racks of books, his arms folded. Old Rabbi Jacimus sat hunched over his desk, his elbows on the parchment, his head covered.

He rocked back and forth and he prayed or read, it was impossible to know. Perhaps he didn't know.

" 'Don't be angry with men because we are nothing,' " he whispered. " 'And don't take account of what we do; for what are we?' "

I stood quietly beside Joseph and James, waiting and listening. Cleopas stood behind us.

" 'For behold, by Your will we enter this world, and we don't go out of it by our will; who has ever said to his father and mother, "Beget us." And who goes into the realm of Death saying, "Receive us"? What strength do we have, Lord, to bear Your anger? What are we that we can bear Your justice?' "

He turned; he realized we were there, and then he sat back and sighed and turned a little towards us but went on with his praying. " 'Shelter us in Your grace, and in Your mercy give help to us.' "

Joseph repeated these words softly.

Jason looked for a moment as if all this was beyond his endurance, but there was a wistful softness to his eyes that I'd seldom seen in him. He was a beautiful man with dark hair, always finely dressed, and on the Sabbath his linen robes often gave off the faint scent of frankincense.

The Rabbi, who had been a man in his prime when I'd first come home to Nazareth, was now slightly crippled by his age, and his hair was as white as that of Joseph or my uncles. He looked at us as if we couldn't see him, as if we didn't stand waiting on him, as if he were merely looking from some safe place at us and wondering, and then he said sleepily,

"Are they taken away?" He meant the bodies of the boys.

"They are," Joseph said. "And the bloodied stones with them. All taken."

The Rabbi looked to Heaven and sighed. "They belong now to Azazel," he said.

"No, but they're gone," said Joseph. "And we come to see you. We know you're miserable. What do you want us to do? Shall we go to Nahom and the boy's mother?"

The Rabbi nodded. "Joseph, I want you to stay here and comfort me," he said, shaking his head, "but that's where you belong. Nahom has brothers in Judea. He should take his family and go. He'll never rest easy in this village again. Joseph, tell me, why did this happen?"

Jason roused himself with his usual fire. "One doesn't have to go to Athens and Rome to learn the things those boys did," he said. "Why can't they happen in Nazareth?"

"That's not my question," said the Rabbi, looking sharply at him. "I don't ask about what the boys did. We don't know what the boys did! There was no trial, no witnesses, no justice! I ask how could they stone those boys, that's what I ask. Where is the law, where is justice?"

One might have thought he despised his nephew from the manner in which he'd answered him, but in fact, the Rabbi loved Jason. The Rabbi's sons were dead. Jason kept the Rabbi young, and whenever Jason wasn't in Nazareth the Rabbi was distant and forgetful. As soon as Jason came through the door from some far-off place, with a sack of books over his shoulder, the Rabbi sprang to life, and sometimes in their fiery back-and-forth, the Rabbi seemed a boy in his passion.

"Ah, and what will they do," Jason asked, "when Yitra's father gets hold of the children who started this. And they were children, you know, those little boys who hang around the tavern, and they're gone, they were gone before the first stone flew through the air. Nahom can spend his life looking for those boys."

"Children," said my uncle Cleopas, "children who might not have even known what they saw. What, two young ones under the same blanket on a winter night?"

"It's over," said James. "What, are we to have the trial now that we didn't have before? It's finished."

"You're right," said the Rabbi. "But will you go to the mother and the father, will you do this for me? If I go, I'll weep too much and too long and I'll become angry. If Jason goes, he'll say strange things."

Jason laughed darkly. "Strange things. That this village is a miserable heap of dust? Yes, I would say such strange things."

"You do not have to live here, Jason," said James. "No one ever said Nazareth needed its own Greek philosopher. Go back to Alexandria, or Athens, or Rome, or wherever it is you're always running off to. Do we need your ruminations? We never did."

"James, be patient," said Joseph.

The Rabbi appealed to Joseph as if he hadn't even heard the argument.

"Go to them, Joseph, you and Yeshua, you always know the right words. Yeshua can calm anyone. Explain to Nahom that his son was a child himself and the Orphan, ah the poor Orphan."

We were about to take our leave when Jason came sidling forward and glared at me. I looked up.

"Be careful men don't say the same things of you, Yeshua," he said.

"What are you saying?" the Rabbi declared. He rose out of the chair.

"Never mind," said Joseph quietly. "It's nothing, only Jason in his grief for more things than one can know."

"What, you mean they don't say strange things about Yeshua?" said Jason, staring at Joseph, and then at me. "You know what they call you, my mute and immutable friend," he said to me. "They call you Yeshua, the Sinless."

I laughed, but I turned away so that it didn't seem that I laughed in his face. But I was actually laughing in his face. He went on talking, but I didn't hear him. I fell to watching his hands. He had beautiful smooth hands. And often when he went into a tirade or a long poem, I merely watched his hands. They made me think of birds.

The Rabbi suddenly grabbed at Jason's robe, and swung at him with his right hand as if to slap him. But then he fell back in his chair, and Jason flushed red. Now he was sorry, dreadfully sorry.

"Well, they talk, don't they?" Jason said, looking at me. "Where is your wife, Yeshua, where are your children?"

"I will not stand here and endure this a moment longer," said James. He pulled me toward the street by my arm. "You will not speak this way to my brother," he said to Jason. "Everyone knows what eats at you. You think we're fools? You can't bear it, can you? Avigail's refused you. Her father laughed you to scorn."

Joseph pushed James out of the room and past me. "Enough, my son. You take the bait every time with him."

Cleopas nodded to this.

The Rabbi slumped in his chair and put his head down on his parchments.

Joseph bent down and whispered to the Rabbi. I heard the consoling tone but not the words. Jason meantime was glaring at James as though James was now his personal enemy, and James was sneering at Jason.

"Is there not enough woe in this village for you?" Cleopas asked him calmly. "Why do you always play the Satan? You have to put my nephew Yeshua on trial because there was no trial for Yitra and the Orphan?"

"Sometimes I think," said Jason, "that I was born to say what others think yet no one will utter. I warn Yeshua, that's all." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "Doesn't his own kinswoman wait on his decision?"

"That's not true!" James declared. "That's the feverish idiocy of an envious mind! She refused you because you're mad, and why would a woman marry the wind, if she doesn't have to?"

Suddenly they were all talking at once, Jason, James, Cleopas, and even Joseph, and the Rabbi.

I went on down the street. The sky was blue and the town was empty. Nobody wanted to come out on account of what had happened. I walked on farther, but I could still hear them.

"Go write a letter to your epicurean friends in Rome," said James in a hard voice. "Tell them of the scandalous goings-on in the miserable hamlet where you're condemned to live. Write a satire, why not?"

He came after me.

Jason came after him, brushing past the older men who followed.

"I'll tell you this much if I do," said Jason furiously. "If I write anything of any value, there's only one man in this place who'll understand what I write and that's your brother, Yeshua."

"Jason, Jason . . ." I said. "Come now, why all this?"

"Well, if it wasn't this, it would be something else," said James. "Don't talk to him. Don't look at him. On a day such as this, he starts a quarrel. It's a bitter winter without rain, and Pontius Pilate threatens to put his ensigns in the Holy City. Yet he wants to fight about this."

"You think that's a joke," Jason railed. "Those ensigns? I tell you those soldiers are marching on Jerusalem right now and they will put those ensigns in the Temple itself if they want to. It's come to that."

"Stop, we do not know any such thing," said Joseph. "We wait on news of Pontius Pilate as we wait on the rain. An end to this, both of you."

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