Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 16

"Well, you are my older brother," I said, "and you are the head of this family, and I owe you obedience, and I owe you patience. And obedience I have tendered and patience I have tried, and will try again, and, with it all, respect for you, whom I love and have always loved, knowing who you are and what you are, and what you've endured and what we all must endure."

He was speechless and shaken.

"But now," I said. "Now hear this." I reached down and opened the chest. I threw the lid back. I stared at the contents, the glistening alabaster jars, and the great collection of gold coins that it held, nestled in their tapestried box. I lifted the box. I emptied the coins onto the floor. I saw them glittering as they scattered.

"Now hear this," I said. "This is mine, and was given me at my birth, and I give it now for Avigail's bridal raiment, and for her rings, and for her bracelets and for all the wealth that's been taken from her; I give it for her canopy. I give it for her! And my brother, I tell you now I will not marry. And this - this is my ransom from it!" I pointed to the coins. "My ransom!"

Helplessly, he looked at me. He looked at the scattered coins. Persian coins. Pure gold. The purest gold of which a man can form a coin.

I didn't look down at them again. I'd seen them once long ago. I knew what they looked like; I knew how they felt, what they weighed. I didn't look now. But I saw them shining in the darkness.

My vision was blurred as I looked at James.

"I love you, my brother," I said. "Let me in peace now!"

His hands hovered, fingers opening uncertainly. He reached out for me.

We stood reaching for each other.

But a knock sounded on the door, an insistent knock, and after it another and another.

From without came the loud voice of Jason. "Yeshua, open to us. Yeshua, open now."

I hung my head and folded my arms. I looked at my mother and gave her the most weary smile and she clasped my neck with her hand.

Cleopas opened the door.

In, from the crashing downpour, came the Rabbi, under a tent of wool wrappings, and with him Jason, covered in the same way. The door banged in the wind, and the wind gusted through the room, like a beast let loose among us. Cleopas shut the door.

"Yeshua," said the Rabbi without a word to anyone else standing. "In the name of Heaven, stop it."

"Stop it?" asked James. "Stop what!"

"The rain, Yeshua!" said the Rabbi earnestly, imploring me, from beneath his shadow hood of wool. "Yeshua, it's an inundation!"

"Yeshua," said Jason, "the village is going to be washed away. Every cistern, mikvah, jug is full. We're in a lake! Will you look outside? Will you listen to it? Can't you hear it?"

"You want me to pray for it to stop?" I asked.

"Yes," said the Rabbi. "You prayed for it to start, didn't you?"

"I prayed for weeks as did everyone else," I said. That was true. Then my thoughts returned to the terrible moment on the open slope. Father, stop this . . . send the rain. "Rabbi," I said. "Whatever I prayed, it was the Lord Himself who sent the rain to us."

"Well, that is so, most certainly, my son," said the Rabbi soothingly, his hands out to clasp mine. "But will you please pray now for the Lord to make the rain stop! I beg you."

My aunt Esther began to laugh. Slowly Cleopas began to laugh too, but this was low whispering laughter, this, until my aunt Salome joined in, and then Little Mary.

"Silence!" said James. He was still shaking from all that had gone before, but he collected himself, and looked to me. "Yeshua, will you lead us in prayer that the Lord will close up the windows of Heaven now, if it's His will?"

"Get on with it!" declared Jason.

"Be still," said the Rabbi. "Yeshua, pray."

I bowed my head. I put them all far from my mind. I cleared my mind of anything that could stand between me and the words I spoke; I put my heart and my breath into them.

"Merciful Lord, Creator of all good things," I said, "who saved us this day from spilling innocent - ."

"Yeshua! Just pray for it to stop!" Jason cried. "Otherwise every member of this family might as well grab hammer and nails and wood and start building an ark outside because we will all need it!"

Cleopas dissolved into irresistible laughter. The women were muffling their smiles. The children stared aghast.

"May I continue?"

"Pray do before every house melts to ruin," said Jason.

"Lord in Heaven, if it is Your will, bring this rain to an end."

The rain stopped.

The pummeling of the roof stopped. The gusting clatter against the shutters stopped. The high whistling sound of the rain hitting the flags outside was gone.

The room was wrapped in uneasy silence. And there came the gurgling of the water running still in the gutters, finding its way down the many pipes, dripping and splashing from the overhangs.

A coolness came over me, a prickling sensation, as if my skin were doubly alive. I felt an emptiness, and then a gradual replenishing of whatever had gone out of me. I sighed, and once again my vision was moist and blurred.

I heard the Rabbi intoning the psalm of thanks. I said the words along with him.

When he had reached the last word, I took up another in the sacred tongue:

" 'Let the sea and what fills it resound,' " I said, " 'and the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, the mountains cry out with them in joy, before the Lord who comes, who comes to govern the earth, to govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.' "

They said it along with me.

I was dizzy now and so tired that I could have dropped where I was. I turned and reached for the wall, and slowly sat down to the left of the brazier. Joseph sat watching as before.

Finally I looked up. All stood quiet, including the littlest children in the room. The Rabbi was peering down at me gently and wistfully and Jason was marveling.

Then Jason snapped to wakefulness and said with a bow,

"Thank you, Yeshua."

The Rabbi added his thanks, and so did the others present, one by one.

Then Jason pointed.

"Ah, what is that!" He stared at the gold chest. His eyes moved over the scattered coins that glinted in the dimness.

He gasped with amazement. "So that's the treasure," he said. "Why, I never really believed it."

"Come, let's go," said the Rabbi, pushing him towards the door. "A good night to you, blessed children, and blessings on all under this roof, and again, we thank you."

Back and forth came the polite whispers, offers of wine, the inevitable demurring, the door opening and closing. The silence. I fell over on my side, my arm for a pillow, and I closed my eyes.

Someone picked up the coins, and put them back in their case. That much I heard. Soft shuffling steps. And then I was drifting downwards, into a safe place, a place where I could be for a little while alone, no matter how many were gathered around me.

Chapter Seventeen

THE LAND WAS WASHED CLEAN. The creek was brimming and the fields had soaked up the rain and were soon fit for plowing, with time still for a bountiful harvest. The dust no longer choked the living grass and the ancient trees, and the roads though soft and spongy on the first day were by the second quite fine, and all over the unplanted hills there sprang up the inevitable, faithful wildflowers.

Every cistern, mikvah, jug, pitcher, bucket, and barrel in Nazareth and the surrounding towns had been filled with water. And the town bustled with those washing clothing in luxury and gladness. The women went to work with renewed passion in the kitchen gardens.

Of course legend told of many a holy man who could make rain come, and make rain stop, if only he appealed to the Lord, the most famous of which was probably Honi, the Circle Drawer, a Galilean of generations past, but there had been many another.

And so people rushed up to me as I went in and out, not to say, Ah, what a miracle, Yeshua, but rather "Why didn't you pray for the rain to come sooner?" or "Yeshua, we knew if only you would pray, but the question is why did you wait so long," and so forth and so on.

Some of this was said in jesting, most in very bold goodwill. But some made these remarks with a sneer, and in my hearing there was plenty of murmuring, at work and in Nazareth, of "Had it been any other man in that grove!" and "Well, you know it was Yeshua, of course, nothing happened."

The family was all astir with the work that needed to be done, and even Silent Hannah was pressed to leave the village for the first time since her arrival years before, and go with my aunts and my mother into Sepphoris, there to get the finest sheer linen for Avigail's tunic, and robes and veils, and to find those who sell or sew the most intricate of gold-threaded needlework.

As we worked on our various jobs in Sepphoris, I found every reason I could to assist James, and he took the little kindnesses from me graciously. I put my arm around him whenever I could, and he turned and did this with me; and our brothers saw these embraces, and heard the easy words, and so did the women at home. Indeed his wife, Mara, said that he seemed something of a new man and she wished I'd dressed him down a long time ago. But that she didn't say to me. I heard it from my aunt Esther in a whisper.

Of course James asked at some point, because he thought it best, should someone send for the midwife again to put the mind of Reuben of Cana at rest? I thought my aunts would destroy him with their bare hands.

"And how many midwives can wander in that virgin territory," demanded my aunt Esther, "before they break down the very door they're seeking to find intact, do you think?"

And that was the end of that subject.

Avigail I never saw. She was deeply secluded with Old Bruria in rooms to which only the women went, but three letters had come for her from Reuben bar Daniel bar Hananel of Cana, and she'd read them out to all assembled and written her replies in her own hand, gentle and sweet sentiments, and these letters I myself took for her to Cana.

As for Reuben, he was in the village every chance he got with Jason disputing this or that point of the law, but mostly hanging about in the vain hopes of catching a glimpse of his bride which was not to happen.

As for Shemayah, his shame was erased. A rich man, far richer than any in Nazareth, had done what a poor man might dream of doing, and those in between might never attempt. And this had been done swiftly and completely.

The first anyone heard of Shemayah was a week later when he heaved into our courtyard every single item or article of clothing that had ever belonged to his daughter, Avigail.

Oh, well, these precious things were in leather chests, and no worse for having come crashing through the lattice like so many missiles hurled at a besieged city.

As for myself, I was in torment.

I was as weary as a man who'd trudged for seven days without cease up a sheer mountain. I couldn't go to the grove to sleep. No, the grove was now tainted by my own blunders and I would never have that peace again, not without bringing forth fresh recriminations and scowls and scorn. The grove was forfeit.

And never had I so needed it. Never had I so needed to be alone, pleasing as it was to be amid such frank and innocent happiness.

I walked.

I walked at evening through the hills; I walked to Cana and back and walked as far as I could and sometimes made my way home under heavy darkness, my mantle wrapped tight around me, my fingers freezing. I didn't care how cold I was. I didn't care how tired I was. I had one purpose and that was to wear myself out so that I could sleep without dreams, and thereby somehow endure the pain I felt.

I could put no real finger on this pain. It wasn't that men whispered as to my having been alone with the girl; it wasn't that I would soon see her happily married. It wasn't even that I had wounded my brother, because in the healing of that wound, I felt his warm love for me and mine for him all the more keenly.

It was a terrible restlessness, a sense again that all that happened around me was somehow a sign to me.

At last one afternoon after the work of the day was done - the laying of a floor, in fact, which had hurt my knees about as badly as it ever did - I went to the House of the Essenes in Sepphoris, and let their gentle linen-clad men wash my feet as they did for any weary man who wandered in, and I let them give me a cold drink of water.

I sat in a small foyer near the courtyard watching them for a long time. I wasn't sure of the names of those who worked at this house. The Essenes had many such houses, though not of course for men such as myself, who lived only a few miles away, but for travelers in need of lodgings.

Did they know me, these young men, who had come from other communities of the Essenes? I didn't know. I searched the shifting groups of those who swept and cleaned and, even beyond, those reading in the small library. There were old ones here, old ones who no doubt knew everyone.

I didn't dare to shape a question in my mind. I only sat there, waiting. Waiting.

Finally one of the very old men, swaying as he made his way to me with one leg dragging and his right hand knotted on a stick, came and sat on the bench beside me.

"Yeshua bar Joseph," he said, "have you heard any word at all of late from your cousin?"

That was the answer to my question.

They didn't know where John bar Zechariah was, any more than we did.

I admitted that we'd had no word, and we talked then in quiet, the old man and I, about those who go off into the wilderness to pray, to be alone with the Lord, and what it must be like, those lonely nights under the stars with the howling desert wind. The old man himself did not know. I did not know. John's name was not spoken again, by either one of us.

At last, I went home, taking the longest routes, up this little hillock and down through that olive glade and up past the creek and through it and on until I was bone weary and glad to fall down by the fire, and could without effort look truly too forlorn for anyone to question me.

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