| A New View On Old Things
Ellie S. Thomas
2023 by Ellie S. Thomas
Icon - Jesus among the doctors from Wikimedia Commons..
The Holy Land was not a large place but to the wandering Jews who desired a settled home, it looked pretty good. Ancient Israel was composed of Galilee, Samaria, and - Judah, the land of the Jews, which had once been a province of Persia. The history was a confused recital of Greek, Roman, and various other conquests and the country had been held by the Romans for the last hundred years.
Galilee, a tiny enclave about fifty miles from north to south, thirty-five miles from the sea to the boundary line, seemingly unimportant and insignificant is remembered for events that would cause a world-wide change in humanity; in its beliefs and many of its customs.
Nazareth was one of the chief towns of Galilee, and on a busy trade route. And then there was Jerusalem , the capitol of Israel, an area of intense bickering and in-fighting. These divided Jews were allowed just so much leeway and then they were brought back to reality, the reality that they were still a hostage nation. It was very important that believers observe all the traditions of their culture while observing enough Roman law to remain alive.The daily grind was becoming more frantic all the time. After a lifetime of fervently serving his Maker, it seems that Zachary's efforts would be noticed; he had been selected to do the prayer service! Now this was considered a signal honor and one he had hoped for most of his adult life...but it just hadnt happened. Now he was scheduled for it and he almost seventy years old! Oh, well, it was God's time, not Zachary's.
Elizabth had recognized the honor to her husband and reacted accordingly. She had made a gorgeous array of garments with braids and tassels, almost fit for a king. When he wore them, husband and wife could both be proud, Zachary for his elevation to chief priest for the week and friends would know where those splendid robes had come from. It was almost time to go.
When Zachary and Elizabeth left their little home in Ein Karim and headed for the Temple in Jerusalem, the contrasts between the haves and the have-nots became more impressive as they went along. Small communities like their own were usually shaped by clusters of tiny dwellings of sun-dried bricks. There was usually one room with thick walls for coolness and often the rear displayed an interior balcony for family life. The family could sleep here, or on the roof, and the animals stayed safely below. Jerusalem seemed a world away in many aspects with its high walls and dignified temples; however there was no getting away from the lures and attachments of the city because so much of the local government and political decisions were conducted here.
In the past the desert folk, nomadic Aramians, descendants of Abraham, had escaped much of this and relied on their own ingenuity, depending on it so they could wander, live where they pleased, driving their own flocks along before them.
But there was always the dream of settling in one place; however it didnt take them long to discover how difficult that could be when you were tied to the small oasis, places where there were small streams, any source of water. They tried to settle- but when they tried to save water, tried to get by with little of it, it just didnt work. Nature was against them-they needed copious amounts of it for themselves and for their animals to drink and graze, for the animal's food to grow... all depended on water. They went through spells trying to conserve water; they spent weeks and weeks of pounding sand into hardened walls that they hoped would hold moisture but it was all for nothing. The first of the many quakes that engulfed the area put cracks and splits into the cisterns they had made, rendering all their work for nothing.
Now, the folk of smaller communities survived as best they could: on fishing, as shepherds, or carpenters mostly and they survived the heat and desert sand storms in tiny one room up and one room down huts that contained their meagre possessions. Not much more was needed for people who ate and slept, who LIVED, outdoors. A picnic table under a fig tree, perhaps, and stairs to climb to the roof and unroll one's sleeping mat for the night. A few shelves inside to place a loaf of bread, a jug of oil and wine, a place to contain the water jug, a tiny shelter whenever the sand storms came. As Omar Khayyam in his time quoted: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and Thou, singing beside me in the wilderness.".
Wandering people lived a hard life. They were wrapped in yards of clothing for protection against the intense desert heat as well as insect and/or reptile bites. They lived in tents of animal hides in any likely spot. But times were changing- many families had resigned themselves to surviving as best they could on the rocky hillsides of Galilee or the gritty wadis and ravines of the Judean deserts, or maybe best of all, in the thriving town of Nazareth, a hub of trading and commerce.
Today was a time to put all this daydreaming behind them. Zachary would be honored and in echoing fashion, some of it would come down to Elizabeth. Many would admire the gorgeous robes she had made him and it would be a signal day. They viewed the object of their journey.
The Temple was more a symbol of who the Jewish people were than anything more because it had been levelled so many times. Its colonades, its numerous courts, the variety of gates with courts and double galleries; there were marble pillars and a red roof of cedar brought from Lebanon. Too much, too much to absorb all at once and they must pay attention now.
They were inside the unfinished colonades where they could see a huge rectangle approximately 400 yards long by another 300 yards wide on the east to west side, a huge place for worship and merchandising. A place for the money lenders to ply their trade. Here the couple split; Elizabeth would stay with the others in the Court of Women while Zachary marched straight to the twelve steps, each representing one of the Twelve Tribes. into the inner Sactum where only the chosen might go.
He lifted his arms, signaling that the sevices were about to begin. The sweet fumes of his incense drifted around him as he climbed the twelve steps. Elizabeth could almost read his mind, he was obviously whispering his usual prayer: "Oh God, may it be Your will that Elizabeth and I will have a son."
While Elizabeth waited for Zachary , she scanned the ancient walls.
Jerusalem had been the capital under Ceasar Augustus and had been razed many times. The present temple, was a gift from the hated Arab, Herod who was the local king, (Roman prefect); Pilate was an installed Roman governor of the same area.
This was actually the first time Elizabeth had the opportunity to really notice the architecture, the ancient buildings. This was the third temple to stand on the same site. David had built the altar and Solomon had built the temple that had stood there for alost 400 years until Nebuchadnezzer destroyed it. This one was a gift from Herod, the detestible, paid for with Jewish funds.
Towards the north east corner the terrace was divided in three parts: a court for the women, another for men and boys, and then the one closest to the sanctuary was meant for the priests. There were the Twelve Steps leading up to the sanctuary where the gilded doorway showed the Veil of the Temple hanging on its gilt rod. There was a multi-colored curtain woven in Babylon during the Captivity, there were gold spikes on the roof and a glittering bunch of grapes hung over the doorway.
And, of course, the place swarmed with priests- they were a dazzling display in their ceremonial robes, the large pockets containing books of the law. Many robes displayed stripes or borders according to the status of the owner. It was stunning- there was so much to see and this was just the place for women..the rest of the Temple would be even more impressive.
She mused on thinking of the rich history and the rituals of today when her husband suddenly burst from the Sanctuary. His hair was standing askew and his beard was disarrayed; he pulled agitatedly at his clothes.
Elizabeth ran to help, to support him but there were already priests holding him up, asking what was the matter. He shook his head and could not answer.
Had he had a stroke? Best get him home and lying down as soon as possible. Anans would finish the service.
It was easier said than done because once home, Zachariah seemed frantic to talk and he garbled and shook his head, finally someone shoved writing implements before him and he was immediately calmer. He began to write.
"I have seen an angel," he told his stunned audience. "Yes, you don't believe me but I have seen an angel."
As they stared he went on to say, "I spoke with an angel. Yes," he shook his head emphatically. 'And further more," he said, "The angel told me that Elizabeth and I are going to be parents. We Will HAVE A BABY"
Even he ran out after saying that but by now both he and Elizabeth were in a state of awe, probably because they both realized that what they'd been praying for- all this time- was likely going to come true. Their prayers had been answered- or were about to be.
After many days of trying to absorb this revelation, then further weeks of praying about it, Elizabeth and Zachary finally were convinced that they were to become parents. They hugged their secret close to themselves until they had some evidence that they werent dreaming. Yes, yes, clearly they were going to have a child. And because he'd doubted the angel, Zachary would be unable to speak until that happened. Now to get the news to the family living in far off regions.
In Nazareth, the family of Mariam went about making plans for their own future. As soon as most young women reached their teens, the father would make an approach to a young man considered worthy of being her spouse. This person had to be industrious, decent, healthy and most of all, well-versed in his Hebrew religion. They had their eyes on an apprentice carpenter who usually worked with Joachim. Joseph was in and out of their shop and he soon showed that he was more than willing to be the best candidate. A meeting was arranged with Mariam's parents, his were dead, and while she hung back in the shadows, Joseph made his propoal. Now that was done! And most of the parties involved seemed happy with the choices made.It was understood now as the wonderful news regarding Elizabeth had made its way north that she would need help. By now she was regarded as an elderly woman and it was fraught with danger for one her age to produce a first child . So Mariam would go to Ein Karim to see if she could be of help and Joseph would utilize his time in finishing up several jobs he was committed to and at other times, he would craft some items they would need for their own home. Both Mariam and Joseph laid out their plans. Mariam would make the three day journey to Jerusalem with one of the caravans that used the trade route to move goods from one business to another. The kindly people would treat her well and she would travel under their protection. Mariam knelt before her small cot to ask for God's protection for herself on this new undertaking and for her aged parents whom she would leave behind. It was a wrenching decision but as she turned back and forth in her agony, a figure emerged from the shadows. As Mariam gasped, the 'figure" reassured her. "Fear not, Mariam "she was told. "I am the angel Gabiel and I stand before God. You have found grace with God and you will conceive and bear a son. You will call him Jesus and he will be called the son of the Most High and God will give him the throne of David and he wil rule over the house of Jacob forever.."
By now Mariam's head was swimming with all this awesome information. How was this to happen when she wasnt even fully married, only committed so far? But the Angel was far ahead of her. Reading her thoughts he regarded her as she queried, "how will this happen when I'm not even married yet?"
"The Holy Ghost will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the Holiest of Holy shall be born of you and be called the Son of God."
Mariam felt giddy, ready to fall on to her bed but the voice went on- "Your cosin, Elizabeth, has also conceived a son. This is the sixth month with her that was called barren but nothing is impossible with the Lord."
Mariam nodded her agreement and then added softly, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word." and he was gone. And by daylight, Mariam was also gone, well on her way south to help Elizabeth.
Weaving their way down out of the hilly countryside around Nazareth wasn't an easy thing for the small caravan but forging their way through the desert wouldn't be much better. As they descended into the parched gullies, the air grew warmer and drier and most of the gnarly vegetation drew back. Often there were tremors under their feet or rolls of thunder. It made the animals uneasy- they continued on to the blistering hills of Judea; finally, about four miles on the other side of Jerusalem, Ein Karim could be seen in the clear desert air- ..and soon they could even see Elizabeth seated beneath a small arbor. She sprang to her feet and she and Mariam embraced.
"Blessed are you among women," she cried to Mariam, "And blessed is the fruit of your womb."
Mariam stared at her in wonder. Again the unbeliievable. Elizabeth already knew! And that's when the world received the Magnificat.
My soul magnifies the Lord, my
spirit rejoices in God, my
Saviour for He has looked with
favor on His lowly servant. From
this day forward all generations
will call me Blessed. The Almighty
has done great things for me and
Holy be His name. In every genera-
tion He has shown the strength of
His arm. He has scattered the proud
in their conceit, He has cut down
the mighty from their thrones; He
has lifted up the lowly. He has
filled the hungry with good things
and the rich He has sent away
empty. He has come to the help of
His servant, Israel, for He
remembered His promise of mercy.
The promise He made to our fathers
Abraham and his children forever.Mariam stayed with Elizabeth for the next three months. By then, it was hard to deny her own pregnancy. She had to get home and make plans with her family and with Joseph. What would he say? What would he think? And why had she waited so long?
She was back on the northward trail in the morning. It was no easier than it had been coming south but the young are resilient and she managed to keep up with the others. Her mind buzzed with so many scenarios that she scarcely knew what her feet were doing..and so time passed fairly well and she scarcely noticed the changing of the seasons. There was a different look to things along the road: summer was waning and fall would be coming on, fall with changing temperatures and habits, animals to be brought closer from the high hillsides and scanty pasturage and, she looked down at her swelling stomach, plans to be made for the next phase of her life. Would Joseph still be willing to let their marriage proceed? And how would this be presented to their community, even their synagogue? She realized that she would not be the first bride to show signs of pregnancy; it was overlooked once the wedding had been announced to the parents, the family and friends. The couple were considered as good as married and these things happened- Mariam hurried forward.
Once back in Nazareth, she was welcomed by the family and the evening devoted to being with Joseph, trying to make him see exactly what had happened. It was natural that he would be confused- They separated, she to get some needed rest and he to try to sort out his thoughts. That he was perplexed was understandable but after going back and forth in his mind, he decided, he certainly was not going to cause her shame. They would go forward with their plans to have their own household and he would NOT divorce her, instead, they would live together quietly, have their own quarters and habits, and no one would know the difference. Once more, things were taken out of his hands. God's angel appeared to Joseph as he slept and advised him,
"Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mariam as your wife for That which she carries is Holy. This child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be named Jesus." As the spirit left him, Joseph remembered words from the past, ancient words from Matthew prophesying 'a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and He will be a leader, the sheperd of my people Israel'. Well, it was done and Joseph would be the caretaker, the patron of That Which Was Coming. He, Joseph!! If he could only have known!
There was another proclamation waiting and it must be obeyed IMMEDIATELY! He, and many others, must be on the way south, travelling to their places of origin. Ceasar had published a decree that a census would be taken, and all people would travel back to where they had been born and be registered. There would be no delay-
When Joseph presented this news to Mariam, to his dismay, she began talking of 'we' and how they must go and where and when- there was no reasoning with her. She would not be separated from her husband so close to the birth of their child! To tell the truth, he wasn't all that sure himself if she wasn't supposed to go, too but it would be chancy. Far too close to the birth of one he was supposed to protect and far too much of a journey especially at this time of year. Oh-oh-, he couldnt help but groan but again, Mariam gave him courage by her firm conviction that this was the will of God. Who could argue with that?
And they were on their way.
Mariam's parents had given them a little donkey for a wedding gift and it couldn't be more appropos. It was a stout, reliable little thing and Mariam was becoming quite adept at clinging to its back. Joseph walked along beside her and they encouraged each other; they also called the other's attention to the scenery; gritty and hilly, with little contrast and as they put each mile behind them, they managed to find something new to marvel at. It was perhaps a distraction on Joseph's part because she couldn't have been too comfortable astride the beast. In her present condition, probably riding any beast would have been the same but she was not a complainer and she rode gamely along.
Perhaps their conversation consisted of surmises about registering Joseph and what it meant for the future. Would there be yearly registrations?
Probably not but regularly, to be sure..and why did the very thought of this make them so uneasy?
To be sure, it was a way of keeping track of people, and how many there were and where they were at a given time. Would it also encorporate their worldly assets and what they did with them? And it would surely show their progeny and list those available for military duty! Not a pleasant thought...and so it passed the time.
When Joseph looked at Mariam again, he became very concerned. Her face was getting a pinched look and he could see the tiredness in her shoulders. It had been a long day and it was getting much colder. He must get her into shelter soon- very soon. He gave an encouraging tug on the little animal's halter and it obligingly quickened its pace. Fortunately,they were entering the boundaries of the small town, but when he queried at first one door and then another, he was told there was no room. He doggedly continued on, he could see Mariam was going to need help and fast, but the answer was the same until, finally, one burly innkeeper and his blowsy wife took one look and said, "there's fresh hay in the stable,and it will be private and warm. Best get her in there."
He got her into the welcoming warmth with the crunching, chewing animals that regarded them patiently and went about their business. He scooped her onto a huge pile of fragrant hay and loosened the robes he had fastened around her. She gave a weak smile of thanks and he went outside to care for his donkey and give him some water. When he returned a few minutes later, he heard the cry of his newborn. The babe was here! Joseph dropped to his knees and circled his arms around the two people who made up his whole world. They were a family!
Joseph had no idea how long he remained on his knees before the creche but apparently he'd fallen off to the side and his bone weary body rested on the sweet hay. Few would be surprised at the depth at which they all slept but now there was a disturbance outside the stable door. For a man who'd just been relentlessly pursued, this was intimidating indeed. Then the door opened and he saw several shepherds peer inside the chamber, then hesitantly make their way forward and he was greatly reassured. They came toward him and were about to speak but then they saw THE CHILD. They threw themselves down and prayed to Heaven. Then they revealed the wondrous happenings that had occurred to them. They must hurry; something was pulling them forward, quickly, hurrying them out of the hills and into the little stable in Bethlehem and what a sight to behold!
Their eyes blinded by the brilliance, the shepherds crawled forward to the tiny morsel cradled in his mother's arms. They stared at the magnificence!
There was a glorious halo surrounding the tiny babe and and his parents. They projected love and a reaching out to all who came. All were welcome; COME and see our Blessed Babe, He awaits you and wants your love and returns it sevenfold. The shepherds knew this was a moment they would never achieve again, a miracle never to be seen again either. They saw and then they left to make way for others; who were the robed and crowned individuals wanting in next?
The Magi had hurried away from their interview with Herod. He had elicited every bit of information he could and his cunning brain suggested this was danger. 'Yes, yes, he agreed. 'Hurry and find out all you can about these people- then come back and tell me so I can go and admire Him, too'. And admire Him, they did but then after leaving their gifts, they followed the advice of an angel and departed by a different way. And by morning Herod realized he had been duped again.
Fuming and frothing with rage he called his guard and ordered them out. "Go, go and kill every male child under two years of age," he demanded and so the slaughter began- but by then, Joseph had taken his Holy Family and they were well on their way into Egypt..
There'd been no rest since they left Nazareth on the 80 mile journey south. At the end of three days of hard going, there'd been the search for shelter and then the birth, and now the exhausted travelers were travelling again. When Joseph slept his faithful angel had appeared again. "Joseph," he was warned, "Joseph, awake, you are in mortal danger. There are those who seek to slay the child; get you hence into Egypt." So Joseph wasted no time. He woke the others and they forgot their tiredness. They gathered their few belongings and coaxed the donkeys to their feet. They'd had little sleep, little nourishment, and now where would they get the money for this new trip? Needless to say, Joseph felt desperate but obedient as always, he led the donkeys outside, his father-in-law following with the next beast. On his path, he scooped up the gifts from the Wise Men and his eyes met Joseph's when there was a resounding clink! Of course, the gift of the Magi- gold. God had provided, as always.
As Joseph and Mariam bade the parents goodbye and quietly eased their way out into the night they realized that the perils and difficulties of traversing the Sinai Desert in an effort to reach Egypt, a trip all too familiar to their ancestors, people who had wandered the awful wastelands for forty years, this journey might not last forty years but it would not be easy, either. In many instances it would be downright dangerous for travelers who did not know their way, who were unfamiliar with the difficulties, how to find water, food, even a place to rest in safety but nothing mattered except getting Jesus to
Egypt. There would be times when their spirit faltered and they were assailed by worries and weakening spirits but hadn't the angel counseled them to 'fear not?' Harking back to those messengers from God, they realized that while they could not look for shelters and sustenance there were still signs of human occupation here and there. There were old roads used by traders and sometimes they met others like themselves, some fleeing despots, others living perennially on the edge, partly relying on the desert, partly relying on the settlements bordering it. They would also meet with the leaders of caravans from time to time and with the little Holy One in their arms, who could refuse them assistance?
Egypt was not an easy traverse; it lay at the northeast corner of Africa, and the south east corner of Asia and the Sinai Peninsula formed a land bridge. This had long been an escape route for desert people who wandered back and forth trying to evade enemies and find a place to refresh themselves and their thirsty, hungry animals. Now the Holy Family were re-tracing those steps.
They wandered along the gritty, unfriendly wastelands and occasionally found caves when they could stop for the night. The desert could be astonishingly chilly during the night hours but it made up for that by the brillance of the stars, the clearness of the air, and the melodious cries of the night creatures. It was a land like no other and they treasured it for the safety it offered them now.
They wandered on for days, many of them seemingly endless, many when there was no sight of anything human and only their resources of prayer and faith in God were the only salvation but finally there were signs tha their journey was coming to an end. Signs of civilization began to appear and they knew they had finally reached the outposts of Egypt.
This was a good place for them to be due to the fact that they were at the hub of many trade routes and news from home flowed in like lava and they could see that Herod was still ruling in his fanatical way, and there were spies still searching for the Holy Family, asking if anyone had noticed new inhabitants, JEWS trying to settle in the area...and then came the news of Herod's death. Sadly his replacements would not be any better because his two maniacal sons, Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus would split the region between themselves to the sorrow of all.
Jesus grew in the warm sunlight and his parents delighted in his readiness to learn. While he imbibed much of the Egyptian culture he was learning about his Jewish heritage at the same time, or perhaps it should be said, first and foremost. He was an agreeable child and had plenty of friends of varied cultures- and then Joseph got the word: Herod the Great was dead and they should return home. They were more than willing.
Back into the desert and crossing the Sinai for a second time- there was some relief in the fact that this time they weren't travelling with a newborn child and that the young Jesus was an interested and helpful wayfarer. He was good with the animals who loved him and nuzzled him with grateful noses, he checked for saddle galls or tender places worn painfully thin by harnasses or he brought an extra drink or a little bite of hay. He surely made the time go faster-
As they went along, they gave thanks to God for the lovely days, the cool and restful nights; they also expressed their gratitude for each mile covered in safety, for their own safety even for minor things- and it was good to sit for a bite to eat, given by the hands of God. Life could be good, even in the desert.
But there were other days: days when the wind turned hostile and brought waves of blowing sand. Sand that choked off the breath in both man and beast, sand that was abrasive to any exposed skin and which turned the eyes gritty and made the skin itch. There were times when the skies rumbled and crashed overhead and people and/or their belongings might be seized by the violent winds and taken into the sky never to be found again. It reminded one of the time when Samuel called the Lord and the Lord sent thunder and lightning on to the wheat harvest This is the way the fields must have looked with all the harvest gone.
It was not a placid area- and it could be very tiresome, especially for the aging Joseph.
At times, his son, Jesus, offered to take the reins and guide their little beast but that wasn't a great choice, either. Both man and beast were willing but Jesus was apt to be a dreamer, his mind on other, ethereal things. Sometimes he was looking off into the distance, a wondering look on his face, at other times, his gaze seemed directed into the heavens and he seemed to hear music, but again, nothing lasts forever and the day came when they reached their objective only to find there was little peace in that area, either.
Like travellers had brought word that the hated Herod had died, some time back, in fact, and that his sons were in control, not a good thing. Herod Archelaus now ruled Judea and Herod Antipater was in control of Galilee so Joseph decided to return to Nazareth.
Sad to say that rebellion and riots had permeated all the area and uprisings were the usual occurrance.
Joseph and Mary setled in to their old quarters much as before but it wasn't quite the same. The city that had once provided a cetain calm and pleasantness among its citizens had changed and not for the better. It was now a hotbed of suspicion and the harmonious air had gone seemingly forever. Spies roamed everywhere, ferreting out names and seeking those who were disobedient to the will of Rome. Jews were still required to make the monthly journey to the Temple in Jerusalem and it required the old coins in hand to pay the fee for marrying, burying, the birth of a child; Roman coinage didnt work here and if you didn't have the correct money, there were money changers to assist you- for a price, of coarse. People were just sick of it all, being dominated in every aspect of life- it was just too much and there were talks of rebellion, spoken in whispers, of course, but then the rebels became more daring and the Zealots tried to combat General Varus at Sepphoris, northeast of Nazareth and once the capital of Galilee and only 6 miles away. Zepporhis had been captured by Herod the Great almost forty years earlier during a violent snow storm. And again the Romans would put down another rebellion- and another-
In the recent uprising Judas had led the Zealots. They were defeated, of course, and Judas was beheaded, survivors were sold into slavery and 2000 people were crucified that day while the city was destroyed-
This defeat was one uprising out of many more; it was a sad, sad time.
The constant struggle, the awful dread of what might be next, worrying about family and friends and the fear that someone else might try to take things into his, or her own hands were not only bad for one's mental health but but it had an effect on the ecomony, the physical health, and the general content of the city. And the growing Jesus, like other boys, listened attentively to this- many of them would figure out that protesting was a way of life.
Jesus realized early on that while most Jews were peace loving, they could defend themselves when pressed too far and it was becoming 'too far' with a fearful rapidity. In secret gatherings the past history was brought back to life, discussions of The Great Revolt of Judea when Florus stole from the Temple and murdered many Jews. Unfortunately the rebellion ended in the destruction of the Temple and diaspora of many, many Jews and then there was the revolt when Bar Kochba used guerilla tactics to defeat and drive out the Roman legion. This lasted for two glorious years and then the Romans returned to wipe them out and set up the state called Syria Palestine; however, could they let this be the end? Was it not time for another protest? There were rumors and reports that it had aleady started.It was amazing how news travelled. There were no communication systems and about the only link between areas were the caravans of traders who traversed the regions from north to south, from east to west. They were left pretty much alone because they were the only link if one needed to get somewhere else, or get any news, and hence they were a vital connection. And now the hills rang with the echoes af a burly, super sized man who was spreading the Good News, almost threatening people with it and he offered it to whomever would listen. But who was he? He was called a prophet by some, the Baptist by others, and Jesus and Mariam had an idea that they knew exactly who he might be.
They had learned that when Zachary and Elizabeth died, their one and only son, John, had left their home and gone into the desert where he had joined a sect that were called the Essenes, active from Nablus to Jerico. John was clad only in a loin cloth made from camel hair and he, possibly they, lived on locusts and wild honey. And he rigidly called for fasting, praying for deliverance from sin, and love of one's fellowman, and belief in the world to come. They would hear more and more of him as days went by until finally Jesus, gave the care of his aging widowed mother over to kinfolk and caring neighbors and left to see for himself. It was the beginning of the end.
When Jesus reached the Jordan the sounds of John's stentorian roars could be heard long before he appeared in view. He berated his audience to repent, "for the Kingdom of God is at hand" he told them over and over and he went about baptizing those who listened, mesmerized. And then he turned and there was his cousin. Jesus looked at John and asked to be baptized, a thing that shocked John. John agreed when Jesus told him they must follow tradition which stated that this would happen and so they did. Many thought they saw a white dove descend and light on Jesus' shoulder, while others heard voices and one in particular saying, "This is My Son in whom I am well pleased."
The two cousins had much to share with each other and undoubtedly made plans for bringing God's Word up and down the valley. John had concentrated on the lower Jordan River Valley and the two would expand the area for bringing God's Word to everybody! But when John got near the cities and his booming voice rang out against the ruler, Herod and his vice-laden reign, trouble was brewing. John was now denouncing Herod and Herodias, the divorced wife of his half-brother as adulterers; this daughter of the King of the Naboteans would have her revenge. And John would pay-
Jesus didn't see John again but to His sorrow, He learned of John's imprisonment. He began to express His views on such a system where the good were in prison while the defiled enjoyed the best of life. This was the way to profit in a Roman dominated world. And under these circumstances, Jesus began His path towards life everlasting both its end and a new beginning.
He found a way leading into the desert and a uninhabited cave. He went inside and began fasting and praying; for forty days He continued His isolation and making Himself ready for the painful days to come. Here He was tempted by evil, evil as most never know it, and as He grew weaker the temptations became more intense. The agony of being alone, of thinking of John and wondering what he'd endured , thinking of his dear Mother, now also alone in her old age and failing health, and hearing the constant tauntings: "If you are so precious to God, why isn't He here with you? Why has He left you to go through this puurification by yourself?" Over and over, the sly, cunning voices, hinting that perhaps He just wasn't good enough, that all His plans for the world, for silly mankind were just not good enough...and He was told that if He weren't so selfish, so turned inward on Himself, His mother could be enjoying all the best the world had to offer. She could be living the good life rather than being alone in a tiny, forgotten village. On and on it went until finally the evil was shifted away from Him. Evil realized it had met its Master- and so He returned to the little village and His loved ones, only to find out that
John was certainly dead.
Sorrowfully He listened to the usual tale: John was speaking to a large assembly, ranting and orating about the need for repentence RIGHT NOW and he called them a nation of vipers. He didn't exclude anyone, he pointedly referred to the adulterous Herod and his women. People listened attentively but looked over their shoulders uneasily, they were aware this would not go unpunished and were not surprised when the helmeted and armed centurions pushed their way into the crowd and caught John up in a rough manner and took him away. People vanished before they could be included and accused of something, anything. Jesus walked back and forth over the site and prayed-
John remained in prison but he didnt remain quiet. He continued his denouncing the officials and Herod and Herodias until, one night the drunken Herod offered the exotic dancer Salome anything she wanted if she'd just dance for him. After a quiet whisper from her mother Herodias, Salome asked for John's head. This was accomplished and his head appeared on a platter.
The report about John's death sickened and hurt Jesus but he resolved not to let this stop or hinder His ministry in any way. He re-visited the synagogue of his youth and it was so good, so heartwarming to remember the things of his boyhood, see familiar faces; it was even better when he was invited to do the readings from the Torah. He chose a reading from Isaiah which says "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised-"
He closed the book and handed it back saying, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears."
There was a great buzzing as the elders looked into each others face and asked, "what did he say? What did he say?" They couldn't believe what they had heard, refused to credit someone, anyone would have the effrontry to say such a thing. In their eyes, it was right and good to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, but who would dare authorize himelf to be the one to deliver all these promises? It was too much and they drove Him out- from now on He was definitely an outcsst among His own people.
Jesus continued his forays into the countryside talking and preaching to all who would listen and He began selecting His desciples as He went. They became a close knit group and depended on each other, sharing the love and wisdom of the past and displaying their helpfulness to the poor and needy. Everywhere people were turning out to listen to them and Jesus pointed out how the many were suffering and what must be done to make their lives easier and alleviate their pain. But He had to make a little side trip with Mariam, his mother.
There would be a wedding at Cana which she wanted to attend, wanted both to be part of, and Jesus obliged. They joined the feast and the revelers enjoyed the abundant food and wine until the wine ran low and it appeared the host might run out- what an embarrasment! When Mariam pointed this out to her son, He inquired "What does this have to do with me? My time hasn't come yet!" Mariam presevered and the host found himself with a lavish supply of the best wine anyone had tasted! The beginning of the miracles!
Jesus is said to have performed some thirty-five to forty miracles in His brief life but others say there were many more. These weren't meant to demonstrate Jesus' power but each served to demonstrate God's will and provide a path for human behaviour. They showed God's love for mankind and how we were to treat each other. If people followed these paths, life would be very pleasant for mankind, therefore it is puzzling why they should have infuriated the Sanhedrin- apparently it was the age old power struggle.
As Jesus went His way over the countryside curing the sick and lame, feeding the thousands, the reports of these things was carried back to the Jewish elders as well as the Roman authorities. He even flew in the face of the Romans by curing a centurion's daughter and again, healing the servant of another. This was too much and His offences were multiplying fast. He went into the region of Samaria, a long despised territory which every dedicated Jew avoided at all costs. This was where He met the woman at the well and established a vibrant relationship with the Samaritans. Two days later He returned to Galilee and the meeting with the rich Roman whose son was seriously ill. When Jesus healed the son, at a distance and unseen, there was no onger much doubt who the people were dealing with. From now on His time would be spent preaching, healing, cajoling people to repent, to love one another, to leave off their sins and begin a new life rooted in one destination- Heaven!
He went on to heal Peter's mother-in-law and show this new evidence of His power to the crowds. He travelled up and down the fifteen mile long coast of Capernaum, so called QUEEN OF THE LAKE. It was a beautiful fruited place and most would hate to leave it but He knew He had to finish His tour of the other cities around it and He had a feeling time was running out. If the authorities didn't tolerate John, they surely would not tolerate HIM, either. And this area was where they really began to confront Him-
They came from the Temple in Jerusalem and they watched...and they listened- over and over they questioned some of the things He had said, often small, picayune things that should easily have shown His errors but there were none! The things they had known from the Bible, had THOUGHT they had known, now seemed to have new meanings, meanings that were inarguable, they spoke for themselves. If these sychophants had scorned Him earlier on, their feelings now turned to hatred and they were out to get Him. It would be only a matter of time-
It should have been unnerving to Jesus, and most likely would have been to anyone else, to one of us mortals to think of John now gone and to realize how short one's own future ws likely to be. But He continued on-
Jesus chose the rest of His disciples; it was important to have faithful follwers ready to spring into action and carry on His teachings, to spread the message to the world and He chose carefully. These robust, stalwart men would go on to face tortured, martyr's deaths. In the meantime, they were taught all they needed to know: they were given the confidence and surety to show their fellowmen the paths to Heaven and the secrets to happiness in the Beatitudes. They learned the laws that went directly to the heart and would be known as the Sermon On The Mount. And the watchers continued watching them-
They were determined to trap Him- and these, His own people! He was flying in the face of their own importance, their self-proscribed ways of doing things, theirs years of preaching a rigid obedience to man-made laws and it was impossible to change the minds of old men! They would guard their reputations to the end- in the meantime they had finally realized how John had fit into the plan and by working towards his death, they had only made Jesus that much more prominent, much more important. Life was very difficult for these fence sitters: they wanted to acknowledge the truth and honesty of everything Jesus proclaimed but the pull of society was very hard and they didnt dare offend any of the authorities. It was exceedingly dificult to serve two masters-
It would have been almost imposible for Jesus to hide had He wanted to- His heart was naturally drawn to the sick, the lame, the haunted and the pull to continue curing and helping them was impossible to avoid. After just so many of these miraculous deeds. there was always someone who could identify Him. After that, the crowds came- True to fashion, Jesus healed and cured and drove out demons but He was tired and His time was coming to an end...and most importand, He was trying to impress this fact on his followers. However, His all- too human followers spent much of the time trying to decide which of them was the most important, the most vital to His work and deciding who would be the greatest in Heaven? Would even witnessing the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor alleviate this jockeying for position?
The fighting and arguing about the authenticity of Jesus and his doctrine had split the small communities into political factions. Those who couldn't obtain obedience or loyalty of followers in any other way began to use familial ties; love of mother, father, brother. They tried to shame Jesus for leaving Mariam alone for long stretches, His followers for not urging Him to stay with her, take better care of her, all the old tactics. Now He was in such demand, did He think He was better than those of His old neighborhoods, His own family? They taunted Him and when He tried to worship with them in the synagogue, He was thrown out and they dragged Him to the edge of a huge ravine, prepared to throw Him down but He was no longer there. He had vanished from view!
The authorities got word of all these things happening almost as soon as they happened, they also heard of the aftermath, as well and began to realize that their power was nothing compared to those of the man they chose to eliminate. How could they counteract someone who could heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, feed thousands with five loaves of bread and a couple fish? They were losing ground fast and Rome would not listen to such excuses! Now is the time they must make their move before things got worse. Their spies informed them where the disciples planned their latest gathering to hear from their Master. They made plans to join them- and while Jesus prayed and anguished and wrestled with his knowledge of what was coming, the disciples slept, and the world came crashing down on them.
The community went about its business, as it does even when gigantic events occur. What would have happened if the crowds who had been clamouring on the heels of Jesus and his folowers had decided to see what was going on now? Why wasn't even Nature disturbed? Biblical legends describe atmospheric disturbances occurring with Elijah, with the meeting on Mt. Tabor, so many other notable events? We are told when Jesus died on the cross there were huge winds, the skies went dark, and the ground shook. The Bible reports some instances of huge winds some 45-50 times and these were accompanied with deaths, people and objects disappearing; many take exception to the Bible because of the recording of such miracles, but some of them are actually repeated today...the world continues to be racked with huge eruptions, notably in Turkey or Syria, regions well known to the Holy Family, and there have been tornadoes and/or violent winds that take away many innocent victims, huge winds that take many away and out of sight..they are still happening right now.
writers tell us that after the crucifixion of Jesus, Mariam was
taken to a small religious community in Turkey where she lived with
loving friends and kinfolk. This is an area well known for violent
weather and earthquakes, and when she was gathered into a huge wind
and disappeared, few would argue that God had taken her,,, we still
believe what we want to believe.
Ellie's Story List and Biography