Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 6

This pain seemed more than I could bear. I stared at the coals. I wouldn't look at my mother. I would hide this from my mother.

"My son, I know you as no one else does," said my mother. "When Avigail's with you, you're faint with love."

I couldn't answer. I couldn't command my voice. I couldn't command my heart. I remained still. Then very slowly I made my voice regular and quiet and I did speak.

"Mother," I said, "that love will go with me wherever I must go, but Avigail will not go with me. No wife will go with me - no wife, no child. Mother, you and I have never needed to talk of this. But if we must talk of it now, well then, you must know: I will not change my mind."

She nodded as I knew she would. She kissed my cheek. I held my hands out to the fire again, and she took my right hand and rubbed it with her own small warm hand.

I thought my heart would stop.

She let me go.

Avigail. This is worse than the dreams. No images to banish. Simply all I knew of her and had ever known, Avigail. This is almost more than a man can endure.

Again, I made my voice regular and small. I made it soft and without concern.

"Mother," I asked. "Was Jason really intolerable to her?"


"When he asked for Avigail, Mother, was he intolerable to her? Our Jason? Do you know?"

She thought for a long moment. "My son, I don't even think Avigail ever knew that Jason asked for her," she said. "Everyone else knew. But I think Avigail was here that day playing with the children. I'm not sure Avigail ever said a word about it. Now Shemayah came in that night, and sat here and said the most dreadful scornful things about Jason. But Avigail wasn't here then. Avigail was home, asleep. I don't know whether Avigail found Jason intolerable. No. I don't think she ever knew."

The pain had crested sometime while she was speaking. It was sharp and deep. My thoughts drifted. What a great thing it would have been to be able to cry - to be alone, and to cry, unwatched and unheard.

Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. I kept my face placid and my hands still. Male and female He created them. I had to hide this from my mother and I had to hide it from myself.

"Mother," I said, "you might mention to her - that Jason asked for her. Perhaps you can, somehow, let her know."

The pain was suddenly so bad I did not want to speak another word. I couldn't trust myself to say another word.

I felt her lips against my cheek. Her hand was on my shoulder.

After a long time, she asked, "Are you sure that's what you want me to do?"

I nodded.

"Yeshua, are you certain that it's God's will?"

I waited until the pain had backed away, and my voice would be my own again. Then I looked at her. At once her calm expression created a new calm in me.

"Mother," I said. "There are things I know, and things I don't know. Sometimes knowledge comes to me unexpectedly - in moments of surprise. Sometimes it comes when I'm pressed, and in my sudden answers to those who press me. Sometimes, this knowledge comes in pain. Always, there's the certainty that the knowledge is more than I will let myself know. It's just beyond where I choose to reach, just beyond what I choose to ask. I know it will come when I have need of it. I know it may come, as I said, on its own. But some things I know certainly and have always known. There's no surprise. There's no doubt."

She was quiet again for a while, and then she said, "This has made you miserable. I've seen this before, but never as bad as it is now."

"Is it so bad?" I whispered. I looked away, as men do when they only want to see their thoughts. "I don't know that it's been bad for me, Mother. What is bad for me? To love as I love Avigail - it has a luster, a great and beautiful luster."

She waited.

"There come these moments," I said. "These heartbreaking moments - the moments when we first feel joy and sadness intertwined. Such a discovery that is, when grief becomes sweet. I remember feeling this perhaps for the very first time when we came to this place, all of us together, and I walked up the hill above Nazareth and saw the green grass alive with flowers, the tiniest flowers - so many flowers, and all of it, grass and flowers and trees, moving as if in a great dance. It hurt."

She said nothing.

Finally I looked at her. I touched my chest with my fist lightly. "It hurt," I said. "But it was to be cherished . . . forever."

Reluctantly, she nodded.

We were both quiet.

At last I broke the silence.

"Now, tell Avigail," I said. "Let her know that Jason asked for her. Jason is devoted to her, and I must confess, life with Jason would never be dull."

She smiled. Again she kissed me, and she leaned on my shoulder as she rose to go.

James had come in. He made his pillow from his folded mantle and lay down to sleep near the wall.

I stared at the reddened coals.

"How long, O Lord?" I whispered. How long?

Chapter Eight

THE FACT WAS, all the maidens of Nazareth sighed for Jason, in their modest ways. And nowhere was it more obvious than the following evening, when the town went mad, packing into the synagogue, men and women and children alike, overflowing the benches, huddling in the doorway, and crowded together on the floor right up to the feet of the Rabbi and the elders.

At the first darkening, the signal fires had flashed the news into Galilee, which had already spread throughout Judea. Pontius Pilate's men had indeed installed their ensigns within the Holy City, and refused over the protests of the angry populace to remove them.

Blast after blast came from the ram's horn.

Pushed and shoved, we took our places as close to Joseph as we could, James struggling to control his sons, Menachim, Isaac, and Shabi. All my nephews were there, my cousins - in fact, every able-bodied man in Nazareth, it seemed, and those who couldn't walk on their own were being carried in on the shoulders of their sons or grandsons. Old Sherebiah who could no longer hear was being carried in.

Avigail, Silent Hannah, and my aunts were already seated among the agitated but largely silent women.

As Jason moved forward to declare the news in full, I saw Avigail's eyes fixed on him with the same absorption as the others.

Jason climbed up and stood on the bench beside the seated elders.

How dazzling he was in his daily white linen and blue tassels, with a bleached mantle over his shoulders. No teacher under Solomon's Porch ever looked more commanding, or ever so elegant.

"How many years ago was it," cried Jason, "that Tiberius Caesar expelled the entire Jewish community from Rome?"

A roar went up from the assembly, even the women crying out, but all fell silent as Jason went on: "And now as we all know, this equestrian, Sejanus, rules the world for this heartless Emperor, whose own son, Drusus, Sejanus murdered!"

The Rabbi rose at once, demanding silence. We were all shaking our heads. This was a dangerous thing to say even in the farthest corner of the Empire. Never mind that everyone believed it. The ancient elders clamored as well for Jason to be still. Joseph motioned sternly for him to be silent.

"Reports of these ensigns in the Holy City have already gone to Tiberius Caesar," cried the Rabbi. "Surely they have. You think the Lord High Priest Joseph Caiaphas stands by and watches this blasphemy in silence? You think Herod Antipas is doing nothing? And you know full well, every one of you, that this Emperor wants no riots in these parts, or anywhere in the Empire. The Emperor will send an order as he has done in the past. The ensigns will be removed. Pontius Pilate will have no choice in it!"

Joseph and the elders vigorously gave their agreement. The eyes of the younger men and women were fixed on Jason. And Jason only watched, unsatisfied. Then Jason shook his head No.

Again came the murmuring and suddenly shouts as well.

"Patience is what is required of us now," Joseph said, and some attempted to hush others so that he could be heard. He was the only one of the elders even attempting to speak. But it was useless.

Then Jason's voice rang out sharp and mocking, above the noise.

"What if the Emperor himself never sees such a report?" demanded Jason. "What assurance do we have that this Sejanus, who despises our race, and always has, won't intercept the report? And the Emperor will never lay eyes on it?"

Louder came the cries of agreement.

Menachim, James' eldest, rose to his feet. "I say we march on Caesarea, all of us, that we go in a body, demanding that the Governor take the ensigns out of the city."

Jason's eyes blazed and he drew Menachim towards him.

"I forbid you to go!" James shouted, and other men his age cried out with equal force, attempting to stop the young men who seemed on the verge of running out of the assembly.

My uncle Cleopas stood up. He bellowed: "Silence, you mad rabble."

He took a stand beside the elders.

"What do any of you know?" he said, pointing his finger at Menachim and Shabi and Jason and a host of others as he turned this way and that. "Tell me, what do you know of the Roman legions marching down into this land from Syria? What in your miserable little lifetimes have you seen of this? You hotheaded children!" He glared at Jason.

Then he climbed up on the bench, not even reaching for a hand to help him, and he forced Jason to the side, and nearly toppled him.

Cleopas was no elder. He was not as old as the youngest of the elders, who was, in fact, his brother-in-law Joseph. But Cleopas had a full head of gray hair framing his vigorous face, and he had a powerful voice with the timbre of youth and the authority of a teacher.

"Answer me," Cleopas demanded. "How many times, Menachim bar James, have you seen Roman soldiers in Galilee? Well, who has seen them, you, you . . . you?"

"Tell them," declared the Rabbi to Cleopas, "because they don't know. And those who do know apparently cannot remember."

The younger men went into a rage, shouting that they knew full well what they meant to do, or what they had to do, and began trying to outdo one another in volume.

Cleopas raised his voice louder than I'd ever heard it. He gave them all a taste of the oratory we were used to under our own roof.

"You don't think this Sejanus, whom you so detest," he declared, "will not move to stop riots in Judea? The man doesn't want riots. He wants power, and he wants it in Rome, and he wants no noise from the eastern Empire. I say let him have his power. The Jews have long been back in Rome. The Jews are at peace in every city of the world from Rome to Babylon. And what do you know of how this peace was forged, you who would run headlong into the Roman guard at Caesarea?"

"We know we are Jews, that's what we know," declared Menachim. James wanted to strike him, but held back.

Across the way, my mother shut her eyes and bowed her head. Avigail stared wide eyed at Jason, who stood with his arms folded as if he were the judge of the matter, eyeing the small gathering of the elders coldly.

"What history are you going to tell us?" Jason demanded, looking at Cleopas as the two stood side by side. "Are you going to tell us that we had decades of peace under Augustus? We know that. Are you going to tell us we've had peace under Tiberius? We know that. Are you going to tell us the Romans tolerate our laws? We know that. But we know the ensigns, the ensigns with the figure of Tiberius, are in the Holy City now and that they've been there since morning. And we know that the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas has not had them removed. Nor has Herod Antipas. Why? Why have they not been removed? I'll tell you why. Force is the only voice this new Governor, Pontius Pilate, will understand. He was sent here by a brutal man, and he is in league with a brutal man, and who among us did not know that this could happen!"

The cry that went up was deafening. The building was beating with it like a great drum. Even the women were inflamed. Avigail huddled close to my mother, staring at Jason with amazement. Even Silent Hannah, her eyes still dull with pain, regarded him with vague wonder.

"Silence!" cried Cleopas. He roared the word again and stamped on the bench until the noise died down. "That is not so, what you say, and what is it to us, what the man is? We are not brutal men." He beat on his breast with both hands. "Force is not our language! It may be the language of this foolish Governor and his cronies, but we speak with a different tongue and we always have. If you don't think the legions can come down out of Syria and fill this land with crosses in a month then you know nothing. Look at your fathers. Look at your grandfathers! Are you more zealous for the law than they are?" He pointed here and here and there. He pointed to James. He pointed to me. He pointed to Joseph.

"We remember the year when Herod Archaelaus was deposed," Cleopas said. "Ten years the man ruled, and then he was made to step down. And what happened in the land when the Emperor, on our behalf, took this action? I'll tell you what happened. Judas the Galilean and his Pharisee conspirator rose up, out of those mountains, and filled the countryside in Judea and Galilee and Samaria with murder and fire and pillage and riot! And we who'd seen it before, this very carnage at the death of Old Herod, we saw it again, in wave after wave, like a blaze in a dead field licking the grass out of the very air with tongues of flame. And down the Romans came as they always do, and the crosses went up and to walk those roads out there was to walk amid the cries and the groans of the dying."

Silence. Even Jason gazed at Cleopas in silence.

"Now will you bring that here again?" asked Cleopas.

"You will not. You will stay where you are, in this village, here, in Nazareth, and you will let the High Priest and his advisors write to Caesar and lay before him this blasphemy! You will let those men set sail, as surely they will. And you will await their decision."

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