Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Page 26

But the most important thing which the High Priest did was to enter the Holy of Holies of the Temple, the place where the Lord Himself was Present; the place where only the High Priest could go.

And all Israel prayed that the power of the Lord there would not break out upon the High Priest, but that his prayers of atonement would be heard for himself and for all of us, and that he would come out to the people having been in the Presence of the Lord.

In the late afternoon, we gathered in the synagogue where the Rabbi read the scroll that the High Priest was reading in the Court of the Women: "And on the tenth day of the seventh month there shall be a day of atonement ...and you shall afflict your souls."

The Rabbi told us what the High Priest was telling the crowd in the Temple Court: "More than what I've read out before you is written here."

At last darkness came. We stood on the rooftop barefoot waiting. Those on the highest places cried out. They could see the fire signals from the nearest villages south, and now they lighted the fires to spread the word north and east and west:

Everyone was shouting with joy. We were dancing. Our fast was ended. The wine was being poured. The food was put on lighted coals.

In a cleansed and renewed Temple, the High Priest had completed his task. He had come out of the Holy of Holies safely. His prayers for Israel had been complete. His sacrifices complete. His readings complete. And he was gone now as we were to a banquet among his kindred in his home.

The early rains had been good. The planting had started.

And hard on the Day of Atonement came the Feast of Booths where all Israel had to live for seven days in booths built of tree branches to remember the journey from Egypt into Canaan, and for the children this was special fun.

We gathered the finest branches we could from the forest, especially the willow branches from along the stream, and we lived in these booths, all of us, men, women, children as if they were our houses, and we sang the happy Psalms.

Finally, news came that Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas had arrived home, along with all those who had gone to Caesar Augustus. We gathered in the synagogue to hear the announcement from a young priest who had just returned from Jerusalem and was charged with giving the word. He spoke Greek very well.

Herod Antipas, a son of the dreaded Herod the Great, was to be the ruler of Galilee and Perea. And Herod Archelaus whom everyone still hated very much would be the Ethnarch of Judea, and other children of Herod ruled other places beyond. One princess of Herod was given the palace of the Greek city of Ascalon. I thought that was a pretty name.

When I asked Joseph about the pretty city of Ascalon later, he told me there were Greek cities all through Israel and Perea, and even in Galilee - cities with temples to idols of marble and gold. There were ten Greek cities around the Sea of Galilee and they were called the Decapolis.

I was surprised to hear it. I had become so used to Sepphoris with its Jewish ways. I knew that Samaria was Samaria, yes, and we had no doings with Samaritans though they were very close to our borders. But I hadn't thought there were pagan cities in the land. Ascalon. I thought it beautiful. I formed a picture in my mind of Princess Salome, the daughter of Herod, wandering around her palace in Ascalon. What was a palace to me? I knew what a palace was, as surely as I knew what a pagan temple was.

"It's the way of the Empire," said my uncle Cleopas. "Don't be distressed over it, that we have all these Gentiles among us. Herod, King of the Jews," he said in a mean tone of voice, "built plenty of temples to the Emperor and to those pagan gods. That's our King of the Jews for you."

Joseph put his hand up for Cleopas to be quiet. "In this house we are in the Land of Israel," he said.

Everybody laughed.

"Yes," said Alphaeus, "and outside that door, it's the Empire."

We didn't know whether or not we could laugh at that, but Cleopas nodded to it.

"But where does Israel stop and start?" asked James, who sat with us.

"Here!" said Joseph, "and there!" He pointed. "And anywhere that there are Jews gathered together who keep to the Law."

"Will we ever see those Greek cities?" I asked.

"You saw Alexandria, you saw the best of them, the greatest," said Cleopas. "You saw a city second only to Rome."

We had to nod to that.

"And remember her and remember all of this," said Cleopas. "Because in each of us, you must realize, is the full story of who we are. We were in Egypt, as were our people long ago, and as they did, we came home. We saw battle in the Temple, as our people did under Babylon, but the Temple is now restored. We suffered on our journey here, as our people suffered in the wilderness and under the scourge of the enemies, but we came home."

My mother looked up from her sewing.

"Ah, so that's why it happened this way," she said, like a child would say it. She shrugged her shoulder and shook her head, and went on picking at the embroidery. "Before I couldn't understand it - ."

"What?" asked Cleopas.

"Well, why an angel would come to Joseph and tell him to come home through all the bloodshed and the terrors, but you just made sense of it, didn't you?"

She looked to Joseph.

He was smiling, but I think he was smiling because he hadn't thought of this before. And she had the bright eyes of a child, the trust of a child, my mother.

"Yes," he said. "Now it does seem that way. It was our journey through the wilderness."

My uncle Simon had been asleep on his mat, his head on his elbow, but he rose up now and said in a sleepy voice, "I think Jews can make sense of anything."

Silas laughed hard at that.

"No," said my mother, "it's true. It's a matter of seeing it. I remember, in Bethlehem, when I was asking the Lord, 'How, how ...?' and then - ."

She looked at me, and ran her hand over my hair as she often did. I liked it as always, but I didn't cuddle close to her. I was too big for that.

"What happened in Bethlehem?" I asked. I blushed. I'd forgotten Joseph's order to me not to ask. I felt a sharp pain all through me. "I'm sorry that I said it," I whispered.

My mother looked at me, and I could see she knew that I was feeling bad. She looked at Joseph and then at me.

No one said a word.

My brother James had a hard look on his face as he stared at me.

"You were born there, you know that," said my mother, "in Bethlehem. The town was crowded." She spoke haltingly, looking at Joseph and then at me as she went on. "It was full of people that night, Bethlehem, and we couldn't find a place to stay - it was Cleopas and Joseph and James and I, and - the innkeeper put us in the stable. It was in the cave beside the place. It was good to be in there, because it was warm, and God had sent a snow."

"A snow!" I said. "I want to see snow."

"Well, maybe someday you will, " she said.

No one said a word. I looked at her. She wanted to go on. I knew she did. And she knew how much I wanted her to go on.

She started to talk again.

"You were born there in the stable," she said calmly. "And I wrapped you up and put you in the manger."

Everyone laughed the usual gentle family laugh.

"In the manger? The hay for the donkeys?" This was the secret of Bethlehem?

"Yes," said my mother, "and there you lay, probably in a softer bed than any newborn in Bethlehem that night. And the beasts kept us very warm, while the tenants froze in the rooms above."

Again, the family laughter.

The memory made them all happy, except for James. James looked almost dark. His thoughts were far away. He'd been by my reckoning maybe seven years old when this took place, the age I was now. How could I know what he thought?

He looked at me. Our eyes met, and something passed between us. He looked away.

I wanted my mother to tell me more.

But they had begun to talk of other things - of the good early rains, of the reports of peace coming from Judea, of the hope that we might go up to Jerusalem for the coming Passover if things continued to go well.

I got up and went out.

It was dark and chilly but it felt good after the close warmth of the house.

That couldn't be the whole story of Bethlehem! That couldn't be all that happened. My mind could not put all the pieces together, the questions, the moments and words spoken, and doubts.

I remembered my terrible dream. I remembered the winged man, and the mean things that he said. In the dream, they hadn't hurt me. But now they stung me.

Oh, if only I could talk to someone, but there was no one, no one to whom I could tell what was in my heart, and there never would be!

I heard steps behind me, soft, dragging steps, and then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I heard a breathing that I knew was from Old Sarah.

"You come inside, Jesus bar Joseph," she said, "it's too cold out here for you to be standing and looking at the stars."

I turned around and did what she said because she told me to, but I didn't want to. I went with her inside the house. And back to the warm gathering of the family and this time I lay down like my uncles with my head on my arm and looked at the low brazier with its burning coals.

The little ones started fussing. My mother got up to tend to them, and then called for Joseph to help.

My uncles went off to bed in their rooms. Aunt Esther was in the other part of the house, with Baby Esther, who was howling as always.

Only Old Sarah sat on her bench because she was too old to sit on the floor, and James was there, and James was looking at me, and the fire was in both his eyes.

"What is it?" I asked him. "What's this thing you want to say?" I asked. But I said it low.

"What was that?" asked Old Sarah. She stood up. "Was that Old Justus?" she asked. She went off into the other room. It wasn't anything really bad. It was only Old Justus coughing because his throat was so weak that he couldn't swallow.

James and I were alone.

"Say it to me," I said.

"Men said they saw things," James said. "When you were born, they saw things."


He looked away. He was angry, and hard.

At age twelve, a boy can take on the yoke of the Law. He was past that now.

"Men claimed to see things," he said. "But I can tell you what I saw, myself, with my eyes."

I waited.

His eyes came back to me, and his look was sharp.

"These men came. To the house in Bethlehem. We'd been in Bethlehem for a while. We'd found good lodgings. My father was tending to his affairs, finding our kindred, all of that. And then in the night, these men came. They were wise men, from the East, maybe from Persia. They were the men who read the stars and believe in magic, and advise the Kings of Persia as to what they should do and not do on account of the signs. They had servants with them. They were rich men, beautifully robed. They came asking to see you. They knelt in front of you. They brought gifts. They called you a King."

I was too surprised to speak.

"They said they had seen this great star in the Heavens," he said, "and they had followed that star to the house where we were. You were in a crib. And they laid their gifts before you."

I didn't dare to ask him anything.

"Everyone in Bethlehem saw those magi come, and their servants with them. They rode camels, those men. They spoke with authority. They bowed before you. And then they went away. It was the end of their journey, and they were satisfied."

I knew he was telling me the truth. No lie would ever pass the lips of my brother James.

And I knew that he knew I had caused that boy in Egypt to die, and that I'd brought him back to life. And he'd seen me bring clay sparrows to life, a thing I hardly remembered.

A King. Son of David, Son of David, Son of David.

The women were coming in now. And my older cousins had wandered in from where I didn't know.

My aunt Salome picked up the last of the bread and scraps from supper.

Old Sarah had taken her place on the bench.

"Pray that child sleeps till morning," said Old Sarah.

"Don't fret," said Aunt Salome. "Riba sleeps with one eye open for all of them."

"A blessing," said my mother, "that sweet girl."

"Poor Bruria would not be alive if it were not for that girl. That girl tends to her as if she were a child. Poor Bruria..."

"Poor Bruria..."

And so on it went.

My mother told me to go to bed.

The next day James wouldn't look at me. It was not a surprise. He hardly ever looked at me. And as the days passed, he never did.

The winter months grew colder and colder.

When it came time for the Feast of Lights, we had many lamps burning in our house, and from the rooftops one could see big fires from all the villages, and in our streets, the men danced with torches just as they would have if they had gone to Jerusalem.

On the morning at the end of the eighth day, as the Feast was ending, and I was sleeping, I heard shouts from outside. Soon everyone in the room was up and running.

Before I could ask what it was, I went with them.

The early morning light was perfectly gray. And the Lord had sent a snow!

All of Nazareth was beautifully covered with it, and it came down in big flakes, and the children ran out to gather the flakes as if they were leaves, but the flakes melted away.

Joseph looked at me with a secret smile, as everyone else went out into the silent snowfall.

"You prayed for a snow?" he asked. "Well, you have a snow."

"No!" I said. "I didn't do it. Did I?"

"Be careful what you pray for!" he whispered. "You understand?" His smile grew bigger, and he led me out to feel the snowflakes for myself. His laughter and happiness made me feel all right.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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