Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 23

Slowly, she did as I had asked.

"Oh, merciful Lord," Ravid said in a low voice. "Dear merciful Lord, this is our sister."

She lay as one awakened from a dream, faintly stunned and musing, eyes passing over those who stood around her.

I sank down on my knees and I put out my arms, and she received me. I drew her up close to me. She made no sound, but clung to me as I kissed her forehead.

"Lord," she said. "My Lord."

Ravid's hoarse broken crying was the only thing in the stillness that surrounded us.

. . .


I saw them, and felt their hands, but I didn't resist them.

The slaves washed me with great luscious streams of water. I felt the old robe taken away. I felt the water worked into my hair. I felt it run down my back and shoulders.

Now and then my eyes rolled up. I saw the golden linen of the tent snapping in the wind. On went the washing.

"Some soup, my lord," said the woman beside me. "Only a little for you have been starving."

I drank.

"No more. You sleep."

And beneath the tent I did.

The desert cooled, but I never lacked for robes or blankets. Soup again, take this, and then sleep. Soup, just a taste. And then their voices far off collected in gentle agitation.

Morning came.

I watched it with one eye from this silken pillow. I saw it rise and push the darkness up and up until the darkness was gone and the whole world was light, and the shade of the tent was cool and sheltering.

Ravid stood before me.

"My lord, my sister has asked to come to you. We ask that you come home with us, that you allow us to care for you until you're well, that you stay with us under our roof in Magdala."

I sat up. I was clothed in linen robes, robes trimmed in embroidered leaf and flower. I wore a soft bleached mantle with a thick border.

I smiled.

"My lord, what can we do for you? You have given back to us our beloved sister."

I put out my arms to Ravid.

He knelt down and held me fast. "My lord," he said. "She remembers now. She knows her sons are dead, that her husband is dead. She has wept for them and she'll weep again, but she's our sister."

He renewed his invitation. Micha had come and he too pressed me.

"You're weak, my lord, you're weak though the demons obey you," said the older brother. "You need meat and drink and rest. You've done this wondrous thing. Let us restore you."

This one, Micha, got down on his knees. He held a pair of new sandals in his hands, sandals studded with brilliant buckles. And he did now what I'm sure he'd never done in all his life as a man. He buckled these sandals to my feet.

The women stood apart. In their midst stood Mary.

She came forward step by step, as if ready at any moment for me to forbid it. She stopped a few feet from me. The rising sun was behind her. She was clean and wrapped in fresh linen robes, her hair bound beneath her veil, her face still for all its scratches and fading bruises.

"And the Lord has blessed me, and forgiven me, and brought me back from the powers of darkness," she said.

"Amen," I said.

"What shall I do to repay you?"

"Go on to the Temple," I said. "That was the direction of your journey. You'll see me again. You'll know when I need your assistance. But for now, I must be on my way. I must return to the river."

She didn't know what this meant, but the two brothers did. They helped me to my feet.

"Mary," I said to her again, and I reached for her hand. "Look. The world is new. You see?"

Faint smile.

"I see it, Rabbi," she said.

"Embrace your brothers," I said. "And when you see the beautiful gardens of Jericho, stand there and look at the gardens around you."

"Amen, Rabbi," she said.

The servants brought me the tightly wrapped bundle of my ruined clothes, my broken sandals. They broke me a walking stick.

"Where do you go?" asked Ravid.

"To see my kinsman John bar Zechariah at the river . . . northward. I have to find him."

"Be quick and be careful, my lord," said Ravid. "He's made the King very angry. They say his days won't be very many."

I nodded. I embraced one after the other of those present, the brothers, the women, the slaves who'd bathed me. I raised my hand in farewell to the wary bearers who stood in the shade of the palms.

There were offers of gold, offers of food, offers of wine for the road. I took nothing, except a final, delicious drink of water.

I looked down at my new tunic and my splendid robe. I looked at the finely crafted sandals. I smiled. "Such soft clothing," I whispered. "I've never seen myself dressed in this manner."

Dry hiss of the desert wind.

"It's nothing, my lord, it's the least, the very least," said Ravid, and the others joined their declarations with his and he repeated them.

"You've been too kind to me," I said. "You've dressed me as I should be dressed, because I'm on my way to a wedding."

"My lord, eat slowly and very little each time," said the woman who'd fed me. "You are gaunt and feverish."

I kissed her fingers and nodded.

I started northward.

Chapter Twenty-Four

AS BEFORE, the air of jubilation gripped those at the river, encompassing the pilgrims who came and went. The crowds were even larger than before, and the number of soldiers had greatly increased, with bands of Romans standing here and there, and many of the King's soldiers watching warily, though no one seemed to take notice of them.

The Jordan was flowing swiftly here and full. We were just south of the sea.

My cousin John sat on a rock beside the stream, and watched his disciples as they baptized the kneeling men and women.

Suddenly John looked up, as if pulled out of his thoughts by some sudden realization.

He looked across the river at me as I came walking along slowly, slipping through the porous crowd, my eyes fixed on him.

He stood and pointed his finger.

"The Lamb of God!" he cried. "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

It was a trumpet blast turning every head.

My younger cousin John bar Zebedee gave over the conch from his hands into John's hands.

I held the eyes of John bar Zechariah for a moment. I glanced slowly, deliberately, at the masses of soldiers to my left and then at those to my right. John lifted his chin. He gave a small nod. I returned the nod.

A shiver passed over me. A darkness rose as if the distant mountains had climbed Heavenward and blotted out the sun. The gleaming river was gone. The radiant face of John was gone. My heart was cold and small. But then it grew warmer and I felt it beating. The sun struck the water again and set it afire. John bar Zebedee and another disciple were coming towards me.

The crowd thundered with its usual eager and happy voices.

"Where are you lodging, Rabbi?" asked John bar Zebedee. "I'm your kinsman."

"I know who you are," I said. "Come and see. I go to Capernaum. I go to lodge with the toll collector."

I kept walking. My young cousin deluged me with questions. "My lord, what is it you want us to do? My lord, we are your servants. Tell us, Lord, what do you want of us."

I answered all this with a soft laugh. We had hours before we would reach Capernaum.

Now my sister Little Salome lived in Capernaum. She was a widow with a little son, and lived with her husband's family, who were kin to us and to Zebedee. And I wanted to go to her.

But when we reached Capernaum, Andrew bar Jonah who had come along with John and me from the Jordan now went to tell his brother Simon that they had indeed found the Messiah. He went off to the edge of the sea, and I followed him. I saw his brother Simon bringing in his boat, and with him was Zebedee, John's father, who had John's brother James in the boat with him.

These men were startled by Andrew's excited words.

In the silence, they stared at me.

I waited.

Then I told James and Simon to follow me.

They came at once, and now Simon begged me, please, to come to his house because his mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Word had already reached the sea that I'd driven demons out of the famous demoniac of Magdala. Might I surely cure this woman?

I went into the house and saw her lying there, just sick enough not to care whether or not her children were making noise around her - talking to her of a holy man, and words spoken with great weight at the Jordan River.

I took her hand. She turned and looked at me, annoyed at first that someone would disturb her in this way. Then she sat up.

"Who said that I was sick? Who said that I should be in this bed?" she asked.

And immediately she rose and scurried around the little house, heaping pottage into bowls for us, and clapping her hands for her maidservant to bring us fresh water. "Look at you, how thin you are," she said to me. "Why, I thought I recognized you when you walked in, thought I'd seen you somewhere, but I've never seen anyone like you." She put the bowl of pottage in my hands. "Eat a small bit of that or you'll be ill. It will catch in your throat." She glared at her son-in-law. "Did you tell me I was sick?"

He threw up his hands and shook his head in wonder.

"Simon," I said as we sat down. "I have a new name for you. Peter is your name from this day forward."

He was amazed. He was still speechless. He could only nod.

John immediately sat at my side. "And will you give us new names, Rabbi?" he asked.

I smiled. "You're too eager, and you know it. Have patience. For the moment, let me call you and your brother the Sons of Thunder."

I took the old woman's advice. I ate only a little of the pottage. Hungry as my body was, it did not seem to want more than that.

We all sat on the floor here, cross-legged as usual. I forgot completely from time to time about the fine clothes I wore, which were already dusty, and I looked at Simon who said he must get back now to his fishing.

I shook my head. "No, you're to be a fisher of men now," I said. "You come with me. Why do you think I gave you a new name? Nothing in your life will be the same now. Don't expect it to be."

He looked astonished, but his brother nodded vigorously to him. I lay back and dozed as they discussed all these things amongst themselves. Now and then I watched them as if they couldn't see me. Indeed, they couldn't guess what I was seeing. It was like opening a book, and reading the contents, to know as much as I wanted to know about each and every one of them.

There was a crowd gathering outside the door.

My sister Little Salome had come, the dearest and closest to me of all my kindred. It was a nagging pain to me that she had gone to live in Capernaum.

I was still half asleep when her kiss woke me. Her eyes were deep set and lively and spoke of an intimacy that I shared perhaps with no one in this world, except my mother. Even the shape of her arm in my fingers, the touch of her shoulder against me, these things brought back cascades of memories and unutterable tenderness.

For a long moment I merely held tight to her. She drew back and eyed me in a wholly different way than she ever had before. She, too, seemed lost for a moment in a string of recollections. Then I realized she was committing to memory what she saw of me now, the changes in my expression, in my demeanor.

Her son came in, bushy headed and curious - the image of my uncle Cleopas, her father - though he was only a boy of six.

"Little Tobiah!" I kissed him. I'd seen him on the last pilgrimage but only briefly in Jerusalem, and that seemed an age ago.

"Uncle," he said to me. "The whole world is talking about you!" There was something playful in his eyes so like his grandfather's.

"Hush now," said my beloved sister. "Yeshua, look at you! You're thin to the bone. Your face is shining, but you must be in a fever. You come now home to us, and let me care for you, until you can go on."

"What, and not be there for Avigail's wedding on the third day?" I laughed. "Do you think I won't be there for that? Surely you know all about it - ."

"I know that I've never seen you as you are now," she said. "If it isn't fever, what is it, Brother? Come, stay with me."

"I'm hungry, Salome. But listen. I go on an errand. And I take these men with me, these men who've come here with me. . . ." I hesitated, then, "I have one night to spend here only before we leave for the wedding and I go to find the toll collector. I'll dine with him tonight under his roof. This cannot wait."

"The toll collector!" John bar Zebedee was immediately agitated. "You can't mean Matthew, the toll collector at the customs post here. Rabbi, he's a thief if there ever was one. You can't dine with him."

"A thief, even now?" I asked. "Didn't he confess his sins and go into the river?"

"He's at the customs post, hammering away as he always did," said Simon. "Lord, dine with me under my roof. Dine with your sister. We'll dine with you wherever you like, we'll camp by the sea; we'll dine on my catch. But not with Matthew, the toll collector. Everyone will see and know this thing."

"You don't owe this to him, Yeshua," said Salome. "You do this because our beloved Joseph died in the toll collector's tent. But you don't have to do it. It's not required."

"I require it," I said gently. I kissed her again.

She laid her head against my chest. "Yeshua, there've been so many letters from Nazareth. There's been word from Jerusalem. You're being watched with expectation, and with reason."

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