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.

One Thing Necessary

Johannes_Vermeer_-_Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_Mary_-_WGA24603

He used to come here often.
I think he liked to be here, relaxing, sharing, being fed.
There was one time I remember so clearly;
he was telling us a story,
though if truth be told it was my sister doing most of the listening –
I was busy with the food as usual.
It was a story of that secret time,
his time in the desert,
the time he doesn’t talk about much,
but which seems to have been more important than any of us knows.
If I caught him right,
he said that in that stark place,
in that place where there is nowhere to hide
from oneself, from the insistent chatter inside, from God,
he found that only one thing was necessary.
That one thing was a kind of silence so powerful,
a stillness so complete,
a simplicity so transforming,
a heart-listening so pure
that it seemed that one could almost hear God.
He said that my sister had found that one necessary thing,
and since then I have begun to find it too.
Of course, he doesn’t come here any more.
They took him away from us
so horribly.
And yet, when I find that necessary silence,
it is as if he is there.

Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, c1654/5, is in the collection of the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Image from Wikipedia Commons