Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 7

For one moment, it seemed the battle was won. Then a cry rose from the doorway. "But everyone's going; they're all going . . . to Caesarea."

Protests and fierce declarations rose on all sides.

Jason shook his head. The older men were rising to their feet, pushing and arguing, and men reached for their sons.

Menachim pulled back from James, defying him, and James blushed red with anger.

"Men are on their way now," cried another voice from the back. And yet another. "A crowd is halfway there from Jerusalem!"

Jason shouted above the melee. "These things are true," he said. "Men won't bear this insolence, this blasphemy, in silence. If Joseph Caiaphas thinks we will bear it to keep the peace, then he is wrong! I say we go to Caesarea, with our countrymen!" Shouts and screams rose louder and louder, but he was not finished. "I say we go not to riot, no! That would be folly. Cleopas is right. We go not to fight, but to stand before this man, this arrogant man, and tell him he has breached our laws and we will not stand down until he acknowledges us!"

Pandemonium. No young man was left on the floor; all stood, some jumping in their excitement, like the children who were pumping their fists furiously and leaping this way and that. Most of the women had risen. And others had to rise, as they couldn't see over the others. The benches from one end of the room rattled and thumped with the dancing feet.

Menachim and Isaac pushed their way to Jason's side and took their stand with him, glaring up at their uncle. Menachim took ahold of Jason's mantle. All the young men struggled towards Jason.

James grabbed for Menachim's arm, and before his son could get away, James gave him the back of his hand hard, but Menachim stood firm.

"Stop this now, all of you," James cried out, but in vain.

A gasp came from Joseph. I felt it, though I couldn't hear it.

"You go into Caesarea as a body," cried Cleopas, "and the Romans will draw their swords. You think they care whether you carry daggers or plowshares!"

The Rabbi echoed these words. The elders struggled to add their agreement, but it was all lost in the passionate cries of the young.

Menachim climbed up onto the bench beside Jason, and Cleopas, thrown off balance, fell. I caught him so that he stood on the ground on his feet.

"We go," cried Jason, "we go together to stand before Pontius Pilate in such numbers he cannot imagine. What is Nazareth to be, a byword for cowardice! Who is a Jew that won't go with us?"

A new wave of noise swept over us, shaking the very walls again, and for the first time, I heard the volume of cries outside the synagogue. People outside were beating on the walls. The night was filled with cries. I could hear them behind us.

Suddenly the crowd at the door was broken open by a band of men, clothed for the road, with their wineskins over their shoulders. Two I knew from Cana, one from Sepphoris.

"We go to Caesarea, tonight. We go to stand before the Governor's palace until he removes the ensigns!" cried one of the men.

Joseph gestured for me to help him. He reached for Cleopas. We managed to get him up on the bench. Menachim stepped down to make way for him, and even Jason stepped aside, as well he might.

Joseph stood for a moment staring at the maddened crowd. He threw up his hands. The noise rolled on like a flood that would drown him, but slowly it began to subside, and then at the sight of this white-haired man, saying nothing, merely gesturing with both arms raised as if he meant to part the Red Sea, they all fell quiet.

"Very well then, my children," he said. Even the smallest murmurs died away. "You must learn for yourselves what we know so well, we who saw Judas the Galilean and his men running rampant through these hills, we who have seen the legions more than once come into this land to restore order. Yes, yes. Very well, then. You learn for yourselves what you won't learn from us."

James went to protest. He held tight to Isaac who struggled against him.

"No, my son," said Joseph to James. "Don't put temptation before them. You forbid this, and they will do it anyway."

At that a soft respecting applause filled the room. Then murmurs and finally roars of approbation.

Joseph went on, arms still raised.

"Show the Governor your fervor, yes. Jason, show your eloquence, if you will, yes. Speak to this man in your perfect Latin, yes. But walk and talk in peace, do you hear me? I tell you once the glittering swords of the Romans are unsheathed, they will cut down all of us. A Roman army will make the way straight to this village."

Jason turned to face him and then clutched Joseph's right hand as if they were in agreement.

"As the Lord lives," Jason cried out. "They will take down those ensigns or drink our blood. It's their decision."

One voice of wild accord rose to answer him.

Jason jumped down from the bench and marched forward, pushing everyone out of his path, and soon the whole assembly was trying to get out of the door and into the street to follow him.

Benches rattled and clattered and babies sobbed.

The Rabbi sat down wearily and leant his head against my shoulder. My nephews Shabi and Isaac escaped from James' hands and squeezed past others to run after their brother Menachim.

I thought James would go mad.

Jason turned in the door, reemerging from the angry sea of those around him. He looked back as all streamed past him.

"And will you not come with us, you above all?" he demanded. He flung out his pointing finger.

"No," I said. I shook my head and looked away.

The sound of my answer hadn't carried in the din, but the shape of it did, and he was gone and all the younger men with him.

The street was so full of torches it might as well have been the night of the Exodus from Egypt. Men were now laughing and hollering as they dodged in and out of their houses to get their heavy woolen robes and wineskins for the trek.

James caught his young son, Isaac, and when Isaac, a boy of no more than ten, struggled, Avigail suddenly seized him and demanded fiercely, "What, would you leave me here alone? Do you think no one has to take care of this village?"

She held fast to him in a way that his father could never have done, because Isaac wouldn't fight her. And she rallied to herself the other young boys, all that she could see. "You come here, Yaqim, and you too, Little Levi. And you, Benjamin!" Silent Hannah took up the exhortations.

Of course other women, young and old, were doing the same, each dragging out of the march any whom they could handle.

And into the village came more men from the countryside, farmhands, men of the villages near and far that everyone knew, and I saw finally even the soldiers, Herod's soldiers from Sepphoris.

"Are you with us?" someone shouted.

I covered my ears.

I walked on into the house.

Avigail all but dragged Isaac in with her. James was too angry to look at him. Menachim and Shabi were already on their way out as we entered, and Menachim looked once at James as if he would cry, but then he said, "Father, I have to go!" and off he went as James turned his back, and let his head sink on his chest.

Little Isaac began to cry. "My brothers, I have to go with them, Avigail."

"You will not," Avigail said. She reached for her ducklings. "I tell you, you will stay here with me." She held six or seven of them in thrall.

My mother helped Joseph to be seated near the fire.

"How can this all begin again?" asked Cleopas. "And where is Silas!" he suddenly demanded. "Where is Little Joseph?" He looked around in panic. "Where are my sons!" he roared.

"They're gone," said Avigail. "They came to the assembly ready to go." She shook her head at the pity of it. She held Isaac by his wrist, though he struggled.

Avigail's father, Shemayah, came into the room, hulking, breathless, out of sorts - he saw Avigail with her children, and making a disgusted gesture walked out and home before anyone could offer him a cup of wine or water.

Avigail sat amongst the boys, most of them ten or eleven years old, and one, Yaqim, who was twelve. She held fast to Yaqim's hand just as she held Isaac's hand. Yaqim had no mother, and in all likelihood his father was drunk in the tavern.

"I need you all here, we need you," Avigail maintained, "and I won't hear another word on it. None of you go. You stay here tonight under this roof, where Yeshua and James can watch you. And you girls, you come with me, tonight, and you." She tugged at Silent Hannah.

Suddenly she paused, and she came to me.

"Yeshua," she said. "What do you think will happen?"

I looked up at her. How tender and curious she seemed, how far from any real dread.

"Will Jason speak for them?" she asked. "Will he put the case before the Governor for them?"

"My dearest child," I said, "there are a thousand Jasons now making their way to Caesarea. There are priests and scribes and scholars on their way."

"And brigands," said Cleopas, disgusted. "Brigands who'll mix with the crowd, who'll bring the whole thing to riot at a moment's notice if they think they'll have the fight they've always wanted, the fight they never wanted to give up, the fight they still maintain in every backcountry cave and tavern."

Avigail was suddenly afraid, as were all the women, until James urged Cleopas to please leave off, and Joseph said the same.

Old Bruria came into the room, the eldest of our household, a woman not related to us by blood but one who'd lived with us from long ago when the land had run with blood after the death of Old Herod.

"Enough," said Bruria in a dark, strong voice. "Pray, Avigail, pray as we all pray. The teachers of the Temple are on the road. They were on the road before the signal fires even glittered on the evening mountains." She stood beside Joseph. She waited.

She wanted Joseph to lead us in prayer, but he seemed to have forgotten. His brother Alphaeus came into the room, and only then did any of us think that he had not even come to the assembly. He sat down beside his brother.

"Very well, then," said Bruria. "O Lord, Maker of the Universe, have mercy on Your people Israel."

All night long the village was alive with the sounds of men passing through on their way south.

Sometimes when I could no longer sleep, I went out in the courtyard and as I stood there, hugging my arms in the dark, I could hear the raucous voices from the tavern.

At dawn, riders came to the village, reading aloud their brief letters, declaring that this or that town had sent all its occupants south to appeal to the Governor.

Some of the older men put on their robes and got their walking sticks and set out to join those marching through.

Even some of the old men, on their donkeys, wrapped in blankets to their noses, made their way.

James worked without a word, banging the hammer with more strength than needed for the slightest nail.

Mary, the wife of Little Cleopas, broke into sobs. Not only had he gone on, but so had her father, Levi, and her brothers. And word had come that every man worth his salt was joining the movement to Caesarea.

"Well, not this man worth his salt," said James. He threw the lumber into the cart. "There's no point to going to work," he said. "This can wait. Everything can wait, as we wait on the windows of Heaven."

The sky was a pale soiled blue. And the wind was filled with the smells of the unwashed stables and courtyards, of the dying fields, of the urine drawing flies to the stained plaster.

The next night was quiet. They were all gone. What could the signal fires say except that more and more people were taking to the roads, except that they came from the north and the south and the east and the west? And that the ensigns remained in the Holy City.

James said to me at dawn:

"I used to think you would change things."

"Remember yourself," said my mother. She set down the bread and olives for us. She poured the water.

"I did," said James, glaring at me. "I used to think you would change it all. I used to believe in what I'd seen with my two eyes - the gifts of the Magi laid down in the straw, the faces of shepherds who'd heard angels fill up the sky. I used to believe that."

"James, I beg you," said my mother.

"Let him alone," said Joseph softly. "James has said these words many a time. So we bear with him again."

"And you, Father," James asked. "Have you never thought, what was the meaning of all of it?"

"The Lord made Time," said Joseph. "And the Lord will reveal all in Time when He wants to reveal it."

"And my sons will die," said James. His face was twisted with anguish. "My sons will die the way men died before, and for what?"

Avigail came in with Silent Hannah, and the usual following of little ones.

"Please no more talk of this," said my aunt Esther.

"My father says the world has gone to Caesarea," said Avigail. "We had a letter from our cousins in Bethany. Your cousins, our cousins, all of them from Bethany. They've gone as well." She burst into tears.

All the children crowded around her to comfort her. "They'll all come home," said Isaac, her little protector. He snuggled up to her immediately. "I promise you, Avigail. I give you my word. They'll be back. My brothers will be back. Stop. You'll make Silent Hannah cry. . . ."

"And who is left in Nazareth, do you think?" asked James bitterly. He turned to me. "Ah!" he said with mock surprise. "Yeshua, the Sinless."

Avigail looked up, startled. Her eyes moved over the faces of everyone there. She looked at me.

"And James, the Just! Is left here too," declared my aunt Esther.

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