Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 17

How many days passed?

I didn't count them. The rain visited us again in light and beautiful showers. A blessing for every blade of grass in the fields.

Shemayah was seen back at work, with the hands who'd gone ahead with the plowing when he himself had remained indoors refusing to give the simplest orders. I saw him one morning, barreling through the street and crashing into his own door as if to make war on his own household.

Days. Days of bracing cold, and gliding white clouds, and the earth vibrantly green all around us. Days of the ivy climbing the lattices once more, and days of happy designs and happy hopes. Little Cleopas and Little Mary would soon have a child, or so I was told, though of course I'd seen the evidence of it. And nothing new from Judea except that Pontius Pilate, the Governor, seemed to have settled in with only a few minor disputes with the Temple authorities.

One night after deliberately roaming until I could roam no more, my head teeming, I trudged in, well after supper, ate a piece of bread and pottage, and went to sleep. I felt my mother put a clean fresh-smelling blanket over me. With the water now so plentiful the house smelled of freshly washed wool. I kissed her hand before she withdrew. I went through the layers of dreams and softly into nothingness.

Suddenly I awoke. I'd been with someone who'd been weeping. Terrible weeping. The weeping of a man who can't weep. The suffocated and desperate weeping of someone who cannot bear to do it.

All was well in the room. The women sewed by the fire. My mother asked, "What is it?"

"Weeping," I said. "Someone crying."

"Not in this house," said James.

I pushed off the blanket. "Where is the marriage contract for Avigail?"

"What, safely in that chest, why do you ask?" said James. "What's the matter with you?"

This was not the golden chest of the Magi's gifts. This was the simple chest in which we kept our ink and our important papers.

I went to the chest, opened it, and took out the marriage contract. I rolled it up tight, slipped a loose scrap of soft leather around it, and went out.

A faint bit of rain had fallen earlier.

The streets were shimmering. Nazareth under the luminous Heavens looked like a town made of silver.

The door of Shemayah's house was open. The barest light escaped.

I went to the door. I pushed it back.

I heard him crying. I heard that awful choking sound, that bitter sound almost as if he were strangling in his pain.

He sat alone in a cheerless room. The coals had long ago died to ash. One lamp burnt there, on the floor, a little crockery lamp, and the oil was faintly scented - the only comfort at all here.

I shut the door, and came and sat beside him. He didn't look at me.

I knew how this had to begin, and so I told him how sorry I was for all I'd done that had made him so miserable. I confessed.

"I am so sorry, Shemayah," I said.

His cries grew loud. They grew huge in the little room. But he had no words. He slumped forward. He rocked back and forth.

"Shemayah, I have here the contract for her marriage," I said. "It's all done properly and right, and she'll be married to Reuben of Cana. It's here, Shemayah, it's written."

He groped with his left hand, gently batting at the paper, gently pushing the contract away, and then he turned blindly to me, and I felt his heavy arm go around my neck. He wept on my shoulder.

Chapter Eighteen

IT WAS AN HOUR perhaps before I left him. I brought back the marriage contract and put it in the chest. No one noticed.

Jason was there, and the Rabbi - they were on their feet and so were most of my brothers - and they were all talking excitedly.

"Where have you been!" cried my mother, and then it seemed I was surrounded by anxious faces. There was the rustling of parchment, Jason shaking my shoulder.

"Jason, let me be tonight, please," I said. "I'm sleepy, and I want nothing but to go to bed. Whatever it is, can't we talk about this tomorrow?"

"Oh, but you must hear this," said my mother. "Little Mary," she said. "Go, call Avigail."

I started to ask what I must hear, what was so important that Avigail should be woken up and brought in, but they told me all at once in broken phrases.

"Letters," said my mother. "Letters you must hear."

"Letters," said the Rabbi, "letters from Capernaum, from your cousin, John bar Zebedee, and from your sister, Little Salome."

"The rider just brought the mail," Jason declared. "I have a letter. My uncle has a letter. Letters have come to people up one side of the hill and down the other. Listen, you must hear all this. By tomorrow and the next day, all Galilee will know these things."

I sank down in my usual corner.

Joseph was awake, seated straight against the wall, watching the others keenly.

"This news is from Jerusalem," said Jason, "and the letter to my uncle, it's from Tiberias."

Avigail, sleepy and concerned, had come into the room and sat down with Little Mary.

James held up his letter for me to see. "From John bar Zebedee, our cousin," he said. "And this is for all of us . . . and for you."

The Rabbi turned, and took the letter from James.

"Please, James," he said, "may I read it because he is the one who's seen these things, your young cousin."

James at once gave the letter over to him. Joses handed James the lamp and he held it high so the Rabbi could read by the light of it.

The letter was in Greek. The Rabbi hurried through the salutation:

" 'This I must make known to you all and you must give this word especially to my cousin Yeshua bar Joseph and not rest until he has heard this.

" 'Our kinsman, John bar Zechariah, has come out of the wilderness and to the Jordan and makes his way northward towards the Sea of Galilee. He is baptizing all those who are coming out to him. He is wearing only a coat of camel skin and a leather girdle, and he's lived in the wilderness on nothing but the meat of locusts and wild honey. Now he is saying to all, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord." And "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And all are coming to him, coming from Jerusalem and Jericho and the towns northward and down from the sea. And these he baptizes as they confess their sins. And this is what John has said to those Pharisees who've come forward to question him. "No, I am not the Christ. Nor am I the prophet. I baptize with water; but after me comes One mightier than I, whose sandals I'm not worthy to carry for Him; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. He is among you, but you do not know who He is." ' " The Rabbi paused, then read on. " 'This I've seen with my own eyes, and I ask you, my kindred, again to convey these words to Yeshua bar Joseph, as I return now to the Jordan, John bar Zebedee.' "

The Rabbi lowered the stiff parchment and looked at me and at Joseph, and at Jason.

"They're going to him by the hundreds," said Jason. "From all the towns up and down the river, from the Holy City and back. The Priests and the Pharisees have gone out to him."

"But what does it mean," my uncle Cleopas asked, "that he baptizes for the forgiveness of sins? When has anyone done such a thing? Does he do this as a Priest, as was his father?"

"No," said the Rabbi. "I do not think that he does do it as a Priest." He gave the letter back to James.

"Listen to this," said Jason. "This is what he's said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees who went out from Jerusalem to question him." He read from his letter, " ' "You are a generation of vipers, and who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth fruits of repentance before you come to me. And don't think to say to yourselves or each other, We have Abraham for our father. For I say to you that God is able to take these stones here and raise up from them sons of Abraham." ' "

Jason stopped and looked at me. He looked at Joseph and then back to the Rabbi.

My brother Joses spoke up. "But what can it mean? Is he declaring with the Essenes that the Temple is impure, that the sin offerings there don't matter?"

"He's moving now north into Perea," said Jason. "I'm going there. I want to see this new thing for myself."

"And will you be baptized? Will you do this rite for the forgiveness of sins?" asked the Rabbi softly. "Will you do this?"

"I will do it if it seems right to do it," Jason declared.

"But what can it mean, one man baptizing another, or a woman for that matter?" asked my aunt Esther. "What does it mean? Are we not all Jews? Are we not purified when we come out of the baths and enter the Temple Courts? Not even the proselytes are bathed for the forgiveness of sins, are they? Is he saying to us all that we must be proselytes?"

I stood up.

"I'm going," I said.

"We're all going with you," said Joseph. Immediately my mother said the same. All my brothers nodded.

My mother handed me the letter she had from my sister, Little Salome. My eyes fell on the words "from Bethsaida, from Capernaum."

Old Bruria spoke up. "I want to make this journey. We'll take this child with us," she said, putting her arm around Avigail.

"We will all make this journey," said James. "All of you, immediately as soon as it's light, we pack up and we go, and we take provisions as we would for the festival. We all go."

"Yes," said the Rabbi, "it's as if we were going to the Temple, going for a festival, and we will all go. Yes. I'll go with you. Now, come with me, Jason, I must talk to the elders."

"I can hear voices out there," said Menachim. "Listen. Everybody's talking about it."

He rushed out into the darkness, letting the door flap behind him.

My mother had bowed her head and placed her hand on her ear as though listening to a distant and dim voice. I drew close to her.

Jason had rushed out. The Rabbi was going. Old Bruria came up beside us.

My mother was remembering, reciting, " 'And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous - to prepare a people fit for the Lord.' "

"But who said this?" asked Little Joseph. Shabi and Isaac clamored with the same question.

"Whose words are those?" Silas asked.

"They were spoken to another," said my mother, "but by one who also came to me." She looked up at me. Her eyes were sad.

All around us the others accosted each other with comments, questions, talk of making preparations.

"Don't be afraid," I said to my mother. I drew her near me and kissed her. I could scarcely contain my happiness.

She closed her eyes and leaned against my chest.

Suddenly amid all the haste and talk, amid the general consent that we would all go, that nothing could be done now really in the dark, that we must wait for first light, amid all this - holding tight to her, I understood the expression I'd seen in her eyes. I understood what I'd thought was fear or sadness.

And will I look back on these days, these long exhausting days, will I look back on them ever from someplace else, very far away from here, and think, Ah, these were blessed days? Will they be so tenderly remembered?

No one heard her except me as she spoke. "There was a man in the Temple when we took you there," she said, "right after you were born, before the Magi had come with their gifts."

I listened.

"And he said to me, 'And a sword shall cut through your own heart also.' "

"Ah, those words you've never told me before," I answered her, secretively, as if I were only kissing her.

"No, but I wonder if it isn't now," she said.

"This is a happy time now," I said. "This is a sweet and good time, and we are all one household as we go out. Isn't that so?"

"Yes," she whispered. "Now, let me go. I have many things to do."

"One minute longer," I said. I clung to her.

I only let her go when I had to do it. Someone was shouting that Reuben had ridden in from Cana, that he too had the news. And that Shemayah stood in the street opposite staring into our courtyard.

I knew I had to go to him, to take him by the hand, and to bring him in to see Avigail.

Chapter Nineteen

IT WAS A LONG JOURNEY EAST and south, step by step and song by song.

By evening of the first day, we were a great shapeless mass of pilgrims, as great as we'd ever been on the road to Jerusalem, and indeed as many came now out of the villages and towns for this as they would have for that.

Shemayah and all his field hands had come along with us. But Avigail rode in the cart with my mother and my elderly aunts, and Little Mary, all of whom seldom crowded into it at the very same time. Joseph and Uncle Cleopas rode with Uncle Alphaeus in the bigger cart, against the numerous bundles and baskets, the Rabbi rode his own white donkey, and Reuben and Jason their powerful restless horses, which often carried them prancing ahead to wait for us at the next town marketplace, or well, or simply to come slowly inevitably riding back.

Old Hananel of Cana and his slaves caught up with us on the third day, and thereafter remained with us, though we were committed to a fairly plodding pace. And at evening it was just like the pilgrimages with the spreading out of our blankets, our tents, our fires, our prayers and hymns.

Everywhere we stopped we encountered those who'd been to the river, those who'd been baptized by John and his disciples, those who'd heard "the prophet John" for themselves. An air of gaiety surrounded those returning home, a fresh sense of expectation, though it attached itself to no particular prophecy, and no particular complaint or unrest.

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