Tears of the Anointed

Yochanan

We had stopped for the night on the banks of the Jordan. Yaqov was building a fire, assisted by a few of the throng who now travelled with us. Shimon had made a small net and was teaching Yudah to fish with it.

I had a bad feeling about Yudah bar-Shimon from the moment I met him. He was pleasant tempered, and he could charm the very birds of the air when he wanted to, but there was something subtly wrong about him. The others didn’t notice, as far as I could see. I think Yeshua knew from the start exactly what he was, and he accepted him anyway. That was the way Yeshua was.

Yudah hated the Romans. None of us were particularly happy about their presence, but we put up with them and by and large they didn’t bother us too much. Yudah wanted an armed uprising, and thought that Yeshua was the way to achieve it; he wouldn’t let it go, however many times Yeshua patiently explained to him that that wasn’t what his teaching was about.

Shimon and Yudah produced a few fish, and Yeshua soon had them cooking over the fire. As we were about to eat, a man approached, out of breath. I recognized Maryam’s neighbour, a man called Tzedeqiah. He took Yeshua aside and whispered urgently to him. Yeshua spoke calmly back and gestured towards the fire. Tzedeqiah looked reluctant to rest, even though he had clearly just come from Bethany as fast as he could. I feared the worst: Maryam had already returned home to care for her brother, who was ill.

Next morning, Tzedeqiah was even more agitated, and I was beginning to feel the same when night came and Yeshua had made no move to strike the camp.

“Eleazar has taken a turn for the worse, hasn’t he?” I said. “Shouldn’t we go to him? You have the ability to heal him.”

“Eleazar will not die of this illness,” said Yeshua. I wondered how he could be so sure. “Rather, it is for the glory of God, so that God’s Son may be glorified by it.”

Yeshua had been talking like this a lot. The last time we were in Judæa he had almost been stoned outside one of the synagogues, and we had fled east of the Jordan. We were beginning to get a true idea of what being Yeshua’s disciple really meant.

We spent another night by the Jordan, and in the morning Yeshua announced that we were going back to Bethany.

“But Teacher,” said Shimon, “last time we were in Judæa we were almost killed, and you want us to go back there?”

“Eleazar whom we all love has fallen asleep,” said Yeshua. Shimon looked puzzled.

“If he has fallen asleep, he will be all right,” he said.

Yeshua sighed. “Shimon, Eleazar is dead,” he said.

None of us thought to question him.

A crowd had begun to gather in Bethany when word spread that Yeshua was coming. I was uneasy: crowds didn’t seem like such a good thing any more. Martha met us as we were coming into the town.

“Lord, my brother is dead. Why did you not come sooner? You could have saved him.”

“Eleazar will rise again,” said Yeshua.

“On the last day,” said Martha. “Small comfort for us now. Who will provide for us, with him gone?”

“I am the resurrection,” said Yeshua. I tensed. Mutters of ‘blasphemy’ came from the crowd. “Whoever believes in me will have eternal life.”

Martha went and got Maryam, whose face was transformed by grief.

“Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, Eleazar would have lived.” She began to cry.

“Where is he laid?” asked Yeshua.

In all the time I had known him, I had never seen Yeshua bar-Yoseph weep. For all the hardship of the life he had chosen, his thoughts were always on those more needy than he was. Yet when he saw the tomb of Eleazar, his eyes welled up. Seeing the depth of his love, the crowd warmed to us, but I still heard someone whisper that he wasn’t the Anointed, or he could have kept Eleazar from dying.

“Take away the stone,” he said through the sobs.

The smell was awful. Eleazar had been dead for four days by then, and even if I hadn’t been weeping for Eleazar my eyes would have watered. Yeshua gave thanks to God, and called out, “Eleazar! Come out!”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to see Eleazar, alive and well but still in his grave clothes, come stumbling out of the tomb. My sobs very nearly gave way to laughter. I still had half an eye on the crowd, but the dangerous element had mostly slunk off, or been convinced by what they had just seen.

We stayed at Bethany that night, and we were filled with joy to have Eleazar back. Next morning, Maryam joined us again, and we turned at last towards Jerusalem.

Lessons at Bethany

Maryam

Yeshua’s disciples welcomed me easily. I had assumed—naturally—that they were all men, but the group also included women, including Yeshua’s mother, Maryam bat-Yoaqim, and his sister Hannah. I was also introduced to a tall, proud man with reddish hair, whose name was Shimon but everyone called the Rock, and to two men, brothers, both slender with striking blue eyes. They looked alike, and yet one of them, Yochanan, had the strangest, far-away expression. His elder brother Yaqov had a sharp gaze, and as I soon realized just as sharp a temper.

There were others, too. Never quite the same group from one day to the next, as people joined us, or suddenly remembered fields that needed tending, or families who missed them. The road was hard, after all. We couldn’t afford mounts for everyone, and so we walked from town to town, listening to Yeshua, and helping him to calm the crowds that always gathered. It was nearly six months before we returned to Bethany.

The group was small, then. Besides the seven of us there was only one other. Yudah bar-Shimon was a charming young man from Kerioth. Yudah was political, with an intense dislike of the Romans. I wondered sometimes if he really understood Yeshua and his message of love. But I wasn’t sure how well I understood it myself, and he was friendly and full of enthusiasm.

When they saw us approaching, Martha and Eleazar both ran out to meet us, falling over each other in the rush to embrace me.
“Maryam! You’ve come home!” cried Martha.

My eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t realized how much I missed my brother and sister until I met them again. They told me all the local gossip I had missed, and Eleazar complained about a cough he had that wouldn’t go away. That worried me, but I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to spoil my one night at home, and it was probably nothing.

The eight of us were ushered inside. Hannah went to help Martha to prepare the meal while the rest of us sat in a corner listening to Yeshua. I was rather relieved that Hannah didn’t join us: she and Shimon had been making eyes at each other for weeks, and it was starting to annoy me. It was partly jealousy: Shimon was widowed as I was, and he was finding someone else, while I was still filled with pain and emptiness.

Yudah was speaking. “—why we aren’t rallying the people together to overthrow the Romans. People listen to you, Yeshua. With your ability to draw a crowd—and to speak to them—we could raise an army!”

Normally Yeshua was softly spoken, mild and friendly, but every now and again he could be scary. Anger and alarm filled his face.

“No!” he said. “No, that I must never do.”

“Master, why? Do you not care for the plight of our people?” said Yudah.

“I do care,” said Yeshua, calm again. “It is because I care that I say this. I did not come to overthrow the Romans by force. Death cannot overcome death. I came not to bring death, but life, and the good news of the love and forgiveness of God.”

Yudah did not look happy, but he knew to let the matter drop. Yeshua began to speak again, about the poor and oppressed and our duty to them. That was a great concern of his. Though I found it difficult to think about, he reminded me a lot of Yitzhaq sometimes.

Yeshua was interrupted by a grumpy Martha, who had crossed from the kitchen area on the other side of the room.

“Maryam!” she said. “Hannah and I have been working for an hour to feed everyone, and here you are sitting about listening to the men talk.”

I thought that this was fair enough. I was just as much one of Yeshua’s disciples as any of the others, but I decided that wasn’t a wise thing to say, so I said nothing. Martha appealed to Yeshua.

“Lord, your sister and I are doing all the work, and this sister of mine does nothing. Tell her to help us!”

Yeshua gave her an appraising look. “Martha,” he said, “you are distracted by the things of this world. Be still. Your sister has chosen the better part, learning of the world that is to come. For this world will pass away, but the world that is to come will never be taken from her.”

That was the sort of cryptic thing Yeshua said a lot. From most people I would have dismissed it, but on his lips the words made sense. It was as though the new world he spoke of was just beyond my reach, or behind a veil of fine cloth, its form just visible but hidden.

Next day, I bid Eleazar and Martha farewell, and we set off, directly away from Jerusalem.

Fishers of men

Yochanan

I didn’t really know where he came from, at first. I mean, I know he was born in Bethlehem, and he occasionally let slip little bits about his childhood in Nazareth, but he didn’t talk about himself much. No, that’s not the right way to begin. I don’t suppose it really matters, because this is my personal account, not the one that everyone will read, but it’s worth doing this right anyway. I am Yochanan bar-Zebadiah, fisherman and accidental saint, and this is my story.

It was just before sunset, and Shimon bar-Yonah, my brother Yaqov and I were hauling the nets in for the last time, ready to row back to the shore.

“Make sure you don’t let any fall back in,” said Shimon.

Father hired Shimon after his brother Andreas ran off to follow Yochanan bar-Zechariah, the Baptizer. He was older than Yaqov and me, and he acted as though he was in charge, which made Yaqov furious. I didn’t mind so much, since it meant I could just watch the birds in the sky while I worked.

With the catch safely stowed, we set off for home. When we were half way there, Shimon gave a shout.

“It’s Andreas!”

I shipped my oars and looked over my shoulder. Sure enough, there was a tall figure standing on the shore, waving to us. When we reached land, Shimon ran to his brother and embraced him.

“I was worried sick!” he said. “How could you run off and leave me like that?”

“Yochanan was only in town for one day—the Baptizer I mean,” said Andreas. “It was important, Shimon. I’m sorry.”

Shimon didn’t seem entirely convinced, but he said nothing.

“Shimon,” said Andreas, “it really is an important thing that we’re doing. The Baptizer always said he was only preparing the way for another, greater than he. Well he thinks we’ve found him. Come and see.”

We followed Andreas through Bethsaida to the house where bar-Zechariah was staying. It was summer, and everything was dry and dusty. The houses were mostly single storeys, the same yellow colour as the ground. As we walked, Andreas told us how the stranger had come to be baptized the previous day. What was strange was that he hadn’t come from the town like all the others. He had walked straight out of the wilderness, obviously fatigued, hungry and thirsty, and wouldn’t tell anyone what he had been doing there, or much else apart from his name, Yeshua bar-Yoseph. Andreas’ story seemed unbelievable, but I was curious to meet this man.

We reached the house, Andreas knocked, and we were ushered into the single room, which was packed with men and women. I could spot the man Yeshua without being told. He was of average height, and obviously used to manual labour, even with the starvation. He wasn’t the centre of attention—bar-Zechariah was, surrounded by his disciples asking him questions—but the room, indeed the world, seemed to revolve around him all the same. I pointed to him discreetly.

“Yes, that’s him,” said Andreas.

The stranger had noticed us come in, and came over to greet us. Before Andreas could make any introductions, he looked straight at Shimon and said, “You are to be the Rock.”

I looked at Yaqov, who was as mystified as I was, but it seemed to mean something to Shimon. I realized later that Yeshua’s message wasn’t the same to everyone, but I didn’t know that then.

“You are fishermen?” said Yeshua.

“Yes,” I said. I couldn’t get more than that out of my mouth.

“If you come with me,” he said, “I will make you fishers of men.”

At that moment, food was brought out, and the gathering broke into small groups. The four of us and Yeshua ended up eating together, and talking long into the night. Yeshua didn’t say much, but his contributions were always the most profound. Somehow, by the end of the night, I had decided that I would go with this strange dreamer, if he would have me. I was surprised that Yaqov and Shimon—most of all Shimon—said the same.

Nothing was ever the same after that.