Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 9

"Why, what are you asking him!" James said. "He did nothing. He went to help her as a brother would help her!"

Aunt Esther broke in, "She was lying on the rough ground where the cutthroat had thrown her. She was bleeding. She was terrified. He went to her to help her to her feet. He gave her his mantle."

"Ah," said the Rabbi.

"Someone says different?" demanded James.

"Who is talking about this?" demanded Aunt Esther.

"You have some doubt on this matter!" asked Bruria. "Lord Jacimus, surely you don't think - ."

"None," said the Rabbi. "I have no doubt. So you helped her to her feet and you gave her your mantle."

"I did," I answered.

"Well, then!" said Bruria.

"Let us take things one at a time," said the Rabbi. "What good is it for a Pharisee to go talk to this man who has in his mind no use for Pharisees, no use for Essenes, no use for anyone or anything except old farmers like himself who bury their gold in the ground? What good is it for me to go to his door?"

"And so what, this poor child is now walled up alive in that house with this angry man who can't string three words together except when driven by rage?" demanded Bruria.

"Wait, that's what you have to do," said the Rabbi. "Wait."

"The girl should be seen now," said Bruria. "She should be attended, and she should come out of the house and visit with her kinsmen, and she should tell the tale in a soft voice to those nearest her, and she should go to the stream again, accompanied by her kindred, and she should go in and go out! What does it say that she is locked up as if she's not to be seen!"

"I know this, Bruria," said the Rabbi somberly. "And you are her kindred."

"How many witnesses does this require!" demanded Uncle Cleopas. "This girl's done nothing. Nothing's happened to her, except that someone tried to harm her, and that one was stopped."

"The witnesses were all women and children," said the Rabbi.

"No, they were not!" declared James. "My brother and I saw all of it. My brother - ." He stopped, staring at me.

I looked up at him. It wasn't necessary for me to say anything. He understood.

"No, say whatever it is," said Bruria, looking from me to James and to the Rabbi. "Say this aloud."

"Yeshua," said the Rabbi, "if only you hadn't gone to the girl and embraced her."

"Good Lord, Rabbi," said James. "He did what was natural. He did what was kind."

My mother shook her head. "We're the same family," she whispered.

"I know all this. But this man, Shemayah, is not one of your family; his wife was, yes, and Avigail is, yes. But this man is not. And this man does not have a subtle mind."

"I don't understand it, truly I don't," said James. "Have patience with me. Are you telling me this man thinks my brother hurt Avigail?"

"No, only that he took liberties with her. . . ."

"Took liberties!" cried James.

"These are not my thoughts," said the Rabbi. "I am only telling you why the man will not let you in, and as you are her kindred, and her only kindred in Nazareth, I say wait because waiting for him to change his mind is all that you can do."

"What of her kindred elsewhere?" asked Bruria.

"Ah, well," said the Rabbi, "what are we to do, to write to her kindred in Bethany? To the house of Joseph Caiaphas? It would take days for the letter to get there, and the High Priest and his family have more on their minds than the goings-on in this town, must I remind you of that? Besides, what is it you think your kindred in Bethany can do?"

They went on talking, softly, reasonably. Joseph sat with his eyes closed as if he slept. Bruria went about this as if it were a knot that she could loosen if she were patient enough.

I heard their voices but their words didn't penetrate. I sat alone, staring at the sunlight as it cut into the dust, and thinking only this: I had hurt Avigail. I had added to her woes. At a time of violence and disgrace, I'd added to her burdens. I'd done this. And this could not stand.

Finally I made a motion for silence. I stood up.

"Yes, what is it, Yeshua," said the Rabbi.

"You know I will lay my apologies before the man," I said, "but he would never allow me to say such things."

"This is true."

"I would go with my father and my father would beg him," I said, "but the man would never allow us to come in the door."

"This is true."

"Well, then, you spoke of kindred. You spoke of kindred elsewhere."

"I did."

"On her mother's side, our side, we have cousins in Sepphoris. But more to the point, we have cousins in Cana, whom you know very well. Hananel of Cana is your old friend. He's the first who comes to mind, but there are others. However, Hananel is a well-spoken and persuasive man."

Everyone nodded to this. We all knew Hananel.

I went on to the Rabbi,

"We laid the marble floors of his house years ago," I said. "On many a pilgrimage, I've spoken with Hananel, all the way to the festival, as have you."

"Yes, yes, and the very last time," said the Rabbi, "as we all went together, Hananel called my nephew Jason a nuisance and a curse, am I not correct?"

"I don't speak in connection with Jason, Rabbi," I said. "I speak in connection with Avigail. The old man is surely at home. We would have heard if he had left Cana to go to Caesarea, and we have not. He knows all of the family of Avigail's mother, and he's closer in kinship to her than he is to us."

"That's true," said James, "but he's an old man living alone with no sons living and his grandson is roaming the world, only Heaven knows where. What can he do?"

"He can come and talk to Shemayah and reason this matter out with him," I said. "And he can write to the kindred we don't know far and wide and he can find a place for Avigail to lodge. She need not starve to death in this village. This is not to be borne. She can go to her people in Sepphoris or in Capernaum or in Jerusalem. Hananel will know them. Hananel is a scholar and a Scribe and a judge. Hananel can speak where we can't be heard."

"This is possible. . . ." murmured the Rabbi.

"I'll go to him," I said. "I'll explain what happened. I'll lay before him the whole story as I saw it, and my own clumsiness. And he will understand."

"Yeshua, you are as brave as Daniel, to put your head in the lion's mouth," said the Rabbi, "however . . ."

"I'll go to him. It won't take an hour for me to get to Cana. What can he do? Turn me down."

"He has a mean tongue, Yeshua. He makes Shemayah look like a flower of the field for cheerfulness and sweetness. He does nothing but bemoan his wandering grandson, and he blames Jason for it. Jason. He blames Jason that his grandson is under a porch in Athens disputing with the heathens."

"It's no matter to me, Rabbi," I said. "He can heap me with insults. He has a clever tongue and a relentless tongue, and no patience for men like Shemayah. And I think he will remember his cousin Avigail, above all."

Joseph lifted his hand.

"I know he will remember his cousin Avigail," Joseph said softly. "We old ones," he said. He paused as if he'd lost his thought and then went on with vague eyes. "We watch the young ones on the pilgrimage, as if they were flocks of birds we must keep to the road. I've seen him many a time smiling at Avigail. When the girls broke into singing, he listened to Avigail. I saw him. And one time, over a cup of wine in the Temple Court as we sat together on the last day of the festival, he told me he heard her voice in his sleep. That wasn't so long ago. Perhaps two years ago. Who knows?"

This was exactly what I'd seen as well.

"I'll go then," I said. "I'll ask him to find a household for Avigail, away from Nazareth, where she can be properly cared for, and where she can rest."

Joseph looked up at me.

"Be careful, my son," he said. "He will be kind to Avigail, but not to you."

"He will bait you," said the Rabbi, "try to rattle you with his arguments and draw you in with his questions. He has nothing else to do in his library. And he is sick over the loss of his grandson, though he himself drove the boy away."

"So give me some armor for this journey, my lord?" I suggested.

"You'll know what to say," said the Rabbi. "Explain it as you have here. And don't let him drive you out of the house. If I were to go with you, we'd be in a battle, he and I, at once."

"Ask that he write to the family which is best for her," said Joseph. "And when such arrangements are made, that there is a place for her, let him come. Let him come and the Rabbi and I will go with him to see Shemayah."

"Yes," said the Rabbi. "The man can't turn away Hananel."

"Hananel! He's the son of insults," said James under his breath. "He once told me while I was working on his very walls that he would move Cana stone by stone so that it was farther away from Nazareth if only he could do so."

The Rabbi laughed.

"Perhaps he'll be proud to rescue the beloved child from this miserable place," Bruria offered.

Joseph smiled and winked and pointed agreeably at Bruria. He looked at me and whispered,

"Such is the path, perhaps, to the man's heart."

I took my leave, letting them come behind me. For this I needed a pair of better sandals, and fresh clothes. It wasn't a long walk, but the wind was fierce.

After I was dressed and ready to go, my mother drew me aside, though my brothers, as they prepared for work, were all watching her.

"Listen, what you did by the creek," she said. "It was kind, don't you ever think that it wasn't."

I nodded.

"It's just, well, you see, Avigail had asked her father . . . as well as us. She'd asked Shemayah if he would look kindly on you. It was before she spoke to us and before we told her that such a thing wouldn't happen."

"I see," I said.

"Have I wounded you?"

"No. I understand. He's been doubly shamed."

"Yes, and not a wise man, and not a patient one."

And what of her, my Avigail? What of her at this very moment when the sun beat down on the noisy town. In what dark room was she locked away, staring into the shadows?

I took a walking stick for good company and headed out for Cana.

Chapter Eleven

THERE WERE SCRIBES and scribes in Israel. A village scribe might be the man who wrote up marriage contracts, bills of sale, and petitions for hearing to the King's court or to the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Such a man might write letters for anyone and everyone who paid him to do so, and he could read what came in, and see that the contents were understood by those who lacked a facility for language. Amongst our people far and wide, reading was common; but writing took experience and skills. And so we had those kinds of scribes. There were three or four of them in Nazareth.

Then there was the other kind of scribe, the great Scribe who had studied the Law, who had spent years in the libraries of the Temple, the Scribe who knew the traditions of the Pharisees, the Scribe who could dispute with the Essenes when they criticized the Temple or the priesthood, a Scribe who could instruct the boys who came to the Temple to learn all that was contained in the Law and the Prophets and in the Psalms and in the writings, hundreds and hundreds of books of writing apart from these.

Hananel of Cana had been such a great Scribe. He'd spent his early years in the Temple; and he had been a judge for many years in different courts that convened to try cases from Capernaum to Sepphoris.

But he was too old now for such things, and he had long ago prepared for this day by building the largest and most beautiful house in Cana. It was large because it contained all his books, which numbered in the thousands. And it had once contained the rooms of his sons and daughters. But they'd gone to the grave long ago, leaving him alone in this world with occasional letters from a granddaughter who lived in Jerusalem and letters perhaps, no one knew, from a grandson who had stormed out of the house in a rage against its rules two years ago.

James and Little Joseph, Little Simon, Little Judas, and my cousins and nephews and I - we had built Hananel's house. And it had been one of the joys of those years, laying floors of gorgeous marble, and painting walls in rich colors of red or deep blue, and decorating them with borders of florets and twining ivy.

The house was sprawling, Greek in design, with an inner court surrounded by open rooms meant to provide the very finest setting for the company who came to see Hananel - the highborn of Galilee, the scholars from Alexandria, the Pharisees and Scribes from Babylon. And indeed the house had been filled with such people for many years, and it was a common thing to see these travelers on the road to visit Hananel, to bring him books, to sit in the gardens of the house or beneath its painted ceilings and talk to him about the goings-on of the world and about matters of the Law which men so loved to discuss when gathered together.

But as death had emptied the house, as the granddaughter in Jerusalem retired a widow and childless to live with her husband's people, the house grew quiet around the old man.

And so it stood, a monument to the way in which life might be lived, but was not lived, a shining fortress on the hill above the small gathering of houses that made up the town of Cana.

As I stood at the iron gate, a gate my brothers and I had put on its hinges, I looked out on the land that belonged to Hananel - for as far as I could see. And beyond that, I knew, surrounding the distant peak of Nazareth, were the lands of Shemayah.

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