Miracles: light of one man’s world

The fading light of dusk casts the city in shadows as I cautiously make my way through the streets, staying close to the walls. Jerusalem swells with crowds, as it always does during holy festivals, and the travelers push and jostle along.

Every once in a while lamp light spills from a window, illuminating a small area of the street. Otherwise, the shadows thicken. I run my hand along the rough stone, to alert me when the building ends and a side street begins. My eyes burn from city dust competing with my exhaustion. The Rabbi spent most of the day teaching in the temple courts and, now, he and his followers retreat to the garden outside the city to spend the night. Many of the others have friends or family to visit.

I tug my shawl tighter about my shoulders, trying to ward of the wind’s chill, and search for a sheltered place to settle down for the night. The wall suddenly gives way and my foot connects with something. I stumble but keep from going headlong onto the street.

“Hey,” greets me from evening’s darkness.

I squint my eyes. “Who’s there? I’m so sorry. I can’t see a thing.”

“No worries. Just my legs you’ve tripped over. A bit challenging in the dark, I’m sure.” The deep voice of the owner sounds like he’s smiling. “Have you lost your way?”

“Your question implies I’m going somewhere. I have no place to go, so I suppose I’m not lost.”

“Then you’re welcome to join me. Not much cover, but it will do for the night. There’s a little space next to me.”

I look up and down the street. The crowds are starting to thin as travelers find refuge in warm, lamp lit homes and inns. I know no one and my pockets are empty. I grope the empty space until I make contact with stone again. His legs stick out from an alcove in the wall. Following the stones down, I find the space he’s talking about. I settle in next to him making myself as small as possible against the opposite side. Not wanting my bare legs exposed, I fold them in and hug them close.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

“No worries,” he says again. “You must be desperate, to take me up on my humble offer.”

Desperate? Am I? I haven’t felt it in such a long time. Desperate has slowly dissipated the more time I spend with the Rabbi. Yet, here I am. “In need, tonight. I think.”

“Then I’m happy to help someone in need,” he says.

We fall into comfortable silence, without obligation to tell our stories or want of unnecessary talk. The alcove blocks the wind and I’m soon warm enough that sleep slips over me, pulling me into her arms.

A curse jolts me awake. A shadow looms over us in the grey light of dawn. A shadow curses again and kicks my companion in the shin. “Stupid blind beggar.” He spits and stomps away.

Blind? I take a hard look at my companion and in the dim light I notice two things. One I see the milky white film covering his eyes. He stares straight ahead, I assume seeing nothing. And two, he looks young and vulnerable. He grimaces and wipes away the spittle that landed on his chest.

“People can be cruel.” With my reputation, I’ve had my fare share.

He shakes a small basket and coins clink together. “But they also have great capacity to care.”

I open my mouth to say the coins are guilt offerings, made by those who want to feel better about themselves. They drop a few coins and think they’ve done good. Rather than getting involved and really caring.

What stills my tongue? In the past, I would have spit back at the rude man, regardless of the consequences.

As daylight grows, I see that my companion is indeed young. Years younger than I feel. I attribute his optimism with his youth.

I hear the familiar voice before I see the familiar face and peek out from under the folds of my shawl. In the grey light of dawn, the Rabbi and his disciples pause on the street in front of our alcove. “Rabbi,” one of the disciples say, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins.” The rabbi crouches down and looks into the man’s unseeing eyes.

The blind man. We haven’t even exchanged names. But on the streets, we rarely use names.

“This happened so the power of God could be seen in him,” the rabbi continues. “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.a The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

The rabbi suddenly spits and shock washes over me. Not my rabbi. He wouldn’t. Would he? But then I notice he’s spit on the ground, not on my young friend. He makes mud with the saliva and scoops it up with his fingers. He takes the man’s hand and whispers “be still.” The rabbi spreads the mud over the his blind eyes. He then grasps the hand he holds and pulls him to his feet.

“Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam.”

I lean forward to watch as my friend uses the wall as his guide and makes his way down the street. I glance up at the rabbi, who also watches. A smile plays on his lips.

As the first rays of sun cascade over the city walls, I adjust my shawl about my head and shoulders and sit back to wait. I’m quite certain when my friend returns, he will no longer be the blind beggar, but the man who once was blind but now sees.

Grace & Peace

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Miracles: he walks over the waves

As the evening light fades, the Rabbi gathers his disciples and heads for the shore. Some of the people follow, until they realize that he’s not leaving but rather sending the disciples off in the boat. A couple of the disciples argue with the Rabbi, but in the end, they, too, climb into the boat.

When the Rabbi returns to the crowd, he encourages them to return home and dismisses them with a blessing. Many of them leave. But a large enough crowd remains. I over hear their discussions.

“This has to be the prophet who is supposed to come into the world,” and “Let’s take him and make him king,” and “Surely he means to start a revolution and overthrow the Romans.”

The Rabbi looks troubled as he watches them. But before they can approach him with their ideas and plans, he heads back up the mountain by himself. They finally leave, grumbling as they go.

The others I travel with settle down in our camp for the night, but I return to the beach. I find a large rock and sit; the heat it absorbed from the sun now keeps me warm in the chill night air. In the light of the rising full moon I watch the disciples in their boat, heading out to sea. A glance toward the mountain reveals the Rabbi’s silhouetted posture of prayer.

He fed the multitudes from a few loaves and a couple of fish. The disciples had discussed what it meant, besides filling the people’s stomachs, but they came to no conclusion. Is it as the crowds said, that he could obviously feed an army? The Rabbi doesn’t seem interested in an uprising with the Romans. Instead, he consistently offends and criticizes the religious leaders. What does it all mean? What is he up to? Exhaustion overtakes me and I soon nod off to the gentle lapping of the waves.

A rush of wind jolts me awake, almost knocking me off the rock and blasting me with dust and sand. A storm has swept across the sea. I jump to my feet, rub grit from my eyes and peer out over the dark water. What of the disciples? Did they make it to the other side? Clouds rush past the moon, now past its highest point in the night sky, creating alternating patches of light and shadow on the turbulent waters. There, bobbing in the waves, only a few miles from shore, I see a boat, obviously fighting against the winds.

Up on the mountainside, I spot the Rabbi. He too stands and seems to be watching them. I’ve heard their stories of him calming the storm before. Skilled fisherman, I could sense a fear as they recalled that particular storm. But a simple “peace, be still,” from the Rabbi had ceased it immediately. Their amazement at what he had done was evident.

So why is he merely watching?

I sit back down on the rock and hug my knees to my chest. Is the Rabbi praying for their safety? Can he calm the storm again? Time drags by. The wind continues to howl. And the Rabbi and I continue to watch the disciples struggle against the tempest. He from his high point, me from the shore. I don’t know how long we watch, but the moon eventually starts her descent toward the western horizon. Soon, the first light of dawn will appear in the east.

A movement on the mountain draws my attention. The Rabbi makes his way down to the shore. He strides, sure and confident, in the howling wind, over the rugged terrain. His stride neither slows nor falters as he crosses the rocky shore to the water.

I jump to my feet again. He doesn’t walk into the waves. He walks over them.

I rub my eyes again, not believing what I’m seeing. Surely a trick of the moonlight. Yet there he goes. As if on land. In a hurry. Across the water.

He doesn’t slow down as he approaches the boat. Is he going to pass them? Do they see him? If they were terrified before, what must they be feeling now?

The Rabbi finally slows, and pauses. Is that someone climbing out of the boat? I squint, straining to see what’s going on. With the wind and waves, I can’t tell.

Then suddenly, the winds stop. The waves fall still. But as I look at where they were, they are no longer there. I sweep my gaze over the now calm sea. My breath catches. What happened? Did the boat sink? But there, near the distant shore, against the setting moon, I see a boat.

His authority has no bounds. Who could do this, if not one from heaven?

Grace & Peace

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Miracles: One from heaven

Following this traveling Rabbi means weeks on the road. We’ve traveled all over Galilee and regions around the sea. He preaches everywhere we go. Telling people about the kingdom of heaven being near. A true enough statement, it does seem so. For who can do the miracles he does, if not one from heaven?

As we sit around the fires at night, we talk about what he’s done, what he’s said, the new interpretations to old teachings he’s given. Everyone has different ideas.

There’s talk of the Messiah. About a revolution. An overthrow of the Romans. Those discussions are spoken in whispers and with wary eyes.

If it weren’t for the healings, many would consider him a gifted Rabbi with new, controversial,  and sometimes even dangerous ideas.

Others say he’s a prophet. Like the old stories. God has been silent for so long. It’s about time he’s sent another prophet.

And the miracles. Healing servants, sons, daughters, rich, poor, the blind, those with leprosy, a woman with bleeding issues. Casting out demons. Even raising a daughter from her deathbed and a son from a funeral pyre. For who can do these things, if not one from heaven?

And that’s not the all of it. The disciples even talk about him calming a storm on the sea. I wasn’t there for that one, but oh how I wish I could have been. Only his closest followers were on the boat when it happened. Imagine. He even commands the gods of the winds and waves to obey him. For who can do so, if not one from heaven?

Some don’t like his methods. Breaking the Sabbath. Questioning the practice of the law. Wining and dining with disreputable people. Of that, I’m grateful. Any other Rabbi would have chased me away long ago. But he’s not any other Rabbi.

And now he’s retreated to the mountains. There’s been news, that the Baptizer was beheaded. Somehow they were related. The Rabbi and the Baptizer. So he mourns. His disciples are with him. The rest of us give them space and make a small camp on the grassy area nearby. But as we rest in the shade, we hear a distant commotion. I stand and look out over the rolling hills. Surely it can’t be. But it is. They come. Thousands of them. A string of humanity across the countryside. Like the Israelites in the desert. Heading our way.

Have they no respect? No consideration for the Rabbi’s need for rest. And the disciples. They’ve only recently returned from their own preaching trips. Can’t they be left alone for one afternoon?

I look to the hillside. He’s noticed them as well. He and his disciples make their way down and sit down on rock outcroppings near our camp. The people point and run and gather around him. Of course he welcomes them. Then teaches them throughout the afternoon. When he calls those who need healing to come forward, I turn and look out over the crowds and gasp. So many. They must have emptied every city and town in the area. And still they come.

The Rabbi is undeterred. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, makes the lame to walk, restores the flesh of those with leprosy. They draw near. He touches them. And he heals them.

As the sun begins her decent to the west, my stomach rumbles. Those in our small camp have set up a fire and are baking bread and roasting some fish. The warm yeasty smell drifts across the grassy area. We receive jealous looks from people nearby. I realize then, many of them have failed to bring any sort of food for dinner. So desperate, so excited, so eager, they left their homes and workshops without plan or provision.

Andrew, one of the disciples, eyes our dinner then steps up next to the Rabbi. “The place is isolated and the hour is already late; send the crowds away, so that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”

The Rabbi studies him for a long moment, then turns and surveys the crowd. “They do not have to leave; you give them something to eat.”

His disciples stare at him with open mouths.

Philip starts to say something then stops when the Rabbi looks at him. “Yes, Philip? Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Philip chokes. Then says “Two hundred denarʹii worth of bread is not enough for each of them to get even a little.”

The Rabbi’s smile eases away the tired lines from his eyes. “How many loaves do you have? Go see!”

Andrew comes over to our camp and assesses our dinner preparations. My stomach rumbles again. We only have enough for ourselves. And the Rabbi and his disciples. One of the children in our group picks up the small basket his mother has been filling with bread and roasted fish. Before we can stop him he runs it over to Andrew.

Andrews looks in the basket and shakes his head but takes the boy by the hand. He walks the beaming child back to the Rabbi. “Here is a little boy who has five barley loaves and two small fish.”

Those in our camp grumble protests, but not loud enough for the Rabbi to hear. The other disciples chuckle.

Andrew glances at the crowds and shrugs. “But what are these among so many?”

The little boy’s shoulders slump.

But the Rabbi’s eyes twinkle and he squats down and gestures to the boy. “Bring them here to me.”

Excitement spreads across the boy’s face and he approaches the Rabbi, holding out the basket. The Rabbi nods. “Have everyone sit down,” he tells his disciples.

It takes a little while for everyone to figure out what is going on, but soon everyone settles into camps of people like ours, but with out fire or food. Anticipation and expectation grow.

The Rabbi watches, the boy standing next to him. Then the Rabbi takes one of the loaves and lifts his eyes to heaven and says “Praised be you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” He breaks the bread and drops the two pieces into a couple of nearby baskets. He does the same with the other four loaves, then tosses the two fish into the remaining baskets. He looks as excited as the little boy when he tells his disciples, “feed the people.”

They do. Like the servants filling the water jars at the wedding, they get to work, dumping baskets of fish and bread at every camp. Over and over and over again. Like the widow’s oil flowing from the jar, the bread and fish continue to flow from the baskets.

Ecstatic chaos follows. The excitement blossoms with every delivery. Like manna from heaven. A happy confusion of baskets and hands, and people and laughter, and bread, fish and feasting. The people recline, and eat, and talk and rejoice.

From my place by the fire, I pop a piece of warm fish in my mouth. I don’t know that I would believe it if I weren’t seeing it. Imagine. He even commands bread and fish to multiply. Who can do so, if not one from heaven?

The little boy sits next to the Rabbi and eats his own chunk of bread. Their heads are close together and I can’t hear what they’re saying. But from the look on the boy’s face, he’s enjoying his meal companion.

When the sun dips over the horizon, the Rabbi stands and stretches. “Gather the leftovers,” he tells his disciples, who, like the rest of the people, have eaten their fill. “Let nothing be wasted.” And the twelve baskets are filled again.

Of course, the one from heaven would let nothing be wasted.
Not his time of rest and mourning.
Not the crowds looking for him.
Not a little boy’s dinner.
Not the overflowing leftovers.
And maybe, just maybe, not a hopeful follower like me.

Grace & Peace

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Miracles: and walk

Jerusalem. A cacophony of sounds. A myriad of colors. Bursting with life. Everyone from everywhere comes to her. Romans. Greeks. Egyptians. Jews. All claiming her grand walls. All seeking her fortunes. Bringing goods to sell or trade. For the Jews, another festival; they come to worship God, to offer sacrifice.

We, the small crowd of followers, dash and dodge through the people, as we hurry to keep up with the Rabbi.

“Where’s he going today?” the woman keeping pace next to me asks. They’ve accepted me now. Somewhat. At least, they acknowledge my presence without chasing me off. And even offer me bits of food now and then. I’m grateful.

We pass through the sheep gate but the crowds do not thin. If anything, they grow thicker. People, rich, poor, nobles, common. We approach the covered porches surrounding the pools and beyond the porches lies the shrine to Asclepius.

“It’s shabbat. Why are we here? Why are we not going to the temple?” another asks.

“He seems to have a purpose.”

I agree. The Rabbi’s stride does not change. He makes for one of the arches leading into the pool area. His disciples, and the rest of us, follow. The cool shade offered by the covered porches battles against the press of human body heat. Everywhere, seekers of healing swarm. They camp along the outer walls, they mill about the wide porticos, they sit on the stone steps leading down to the pools, they wade in the shallows of the ruddy waters, they even dip themselves in the depths.

As we survey the crowds, the Rabbi seems to ignore them all. He makes his way toward whatever destination he has in mind. In this place, unlike the towns in Galilee, no one recognizes him, no one gives him a second glance.

Around us, voices cry out to the heavens, to the waters, to whatever they believe will heal them. Prayers to Asclepius. To angels. To Jehovah.

Next to the steps, near one of the thick columns, the Rabbi stops. At his feet lies a grey haired, grey bearded, man on a dingy, tattered mat. An equally dingy, thin blanket covers the man’s legs. With so many people about, the man doesn’t notice the Rabbi. His eyes are fixed on the waters. His face is lined with sadness, resignation, hopelessness.

Shouts and cries burst from the crowds and the man’s eyes widen. I turn and look. At the far end of the  pool, bubbles erupt the murky surface. People surge forward. pushing and shoving each other as they scurry to the water. Several actually swim toward to the stirred up area. At the feet of the Rabbi, the man frantically claws at the stone floor as he tries to drag useless legs toward the water’s edge.

The frenzied activity stretches for long minutes and suddenly ceases with the last bubble. In the relative hush that follows, several shouts of joy echo off the walls and columns.

Throughout the entirety of the commotion, the Rabbi’s gaze never moves from the man. The man, having crawled barely a few inches, sinks back onto his mat. He quickly pulls the thin blanket back over his thin, twisted legs. He finally notices the Rabbi and his tortured eyes looks from the Rabbi to the waters and back again.

The Rabbi had offered the man no assistance. He squats down next to him.  They stare at each other.

“Do you want to be healed?” the Rabbi asks.

The man’s mouth drops open. His eyes dart again to the now still waters, save for the areas where people wade. “I have none to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed.” A simple statement. An unspoken accusation.

Another cry of joy nearby. A woman’s voice. She’s well dressed. A nobleman’s wife, I’d guess. She holds up her hands for others to see. Comments of awe and praise to Asclepius.

The Rabbi shakes his head, but his eyes remain on the man.

“When I try to get there,” the man pauses and looks at his dirty, raw, fingers, “someone goes in ahead of me.”

The Rabbi stands. He holds out his hand toward the man. “Get up.”

Confusion covers the man’s face. He opens his mouth, then gasps, staring at the blanket covering his legs. He looks back up at the Rabbi’s extended hand. He reaches out his own and takes it. The blanket falls away as the man jumps to his feet, his legs straight and muscled. He lets go of the Rabbi’s hand and laughs, a ringing sound of delight. Weary lines slip from his face, replaced by awe. He wiggles his toes and his eyes twinkle with delight. “Praise Jehovah,” he whispers.

The Rabbi smiles. “Pick up your mat. And walk.”

The man scoops up his mat and blanket and rolls them up, tucking them under his arm. He takes a tentative step. Then another. And another. His own cry of joy echoes off the walls. I watch as he stops every person in his path, points to his legs, holds up his mat. Then on to the next who will listen. Someone must have asked how, who. Because the man turns back to where he left us.

He scratches his head, a puzzled look on his face. It’s then I realize, the Rabbi has slipped away in the crowd.

Grace & Peace

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Miracles: A Man’s Son

Spring flowers cover the fields and fill the air with sweet fragrance as we travel north through Samaria. I’ve now become a part of the small band of travelers who follow after the Rabbi. When he visited Jerusalem for the Passover with his disciples, some of us stayed outside the city. We waited, and then went with him when he returned to the countryside along the Jordan River, where his disciples baptized many people. When the Rabbi sets out for the north again, we follow.

We travel through Samaria and stop at a small village along the way. The disciples leave the Rabbi at the well to rest and head into the village. I watch from a distance and see him start a conversation with a woman of obviously questionable reputation.

He shows her incredible respect, despite who she is. I have not approached the Rabbi during our travels. I always keep my distance. But as I watch him talk to this woman, I  wonder would he also talk to me? What would he say? The woman’s surprise at his words and her animated responses makes me think the Rabbi understands more than she tells him. My face flushes at the thought of my past and I quickly dismiss any idea of talking to him. The disciples return and surprise and shock cover their faces when they see their Rabbi chatting with the woman. The woman rushes away but in no time she comes back with a crowd from the village. I’m surprised they even listened to her. But something in her excitement draws and engages the people. And something in the Rabbi’s message keeps them.

We finally continue north and stop in Cana again. Many of the townspeople point to the Rabbi and talk about the wine marvel at the wedding. Some stop and  talk to him. Others greet him like a brother. I see the man approaching from a distance, hurrying towards the Rabbi and his disciples. He’s dressed in the robes of an officer in the royal service, and several junior officers and numerous servants accompany him. But something in his chiseled features and resolute stride speak of desperation.

The servants retreat to the edges of the crowd, close to where I stand. As the man speaks to the Rabbi, asking him to come heal his dying son, the servants whisper among themselves about the many healers and priests of various gods the man summoned to Capernaum, paid to cure his son. Asclepius, Febris, Panacea, and even the Egyptian goddess, Isis. None had succeeded.

The Rabbi’s voice carries over the crowd. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not trust!”

Such an odd response to the man’s wretched situation. Did the Rabbi know of the man’s previous attempts for his son’s healing? Or was he speaking to the crowds gathering out of curiosity?

“But of course,” a servant grumbles. “Healing requires spells, chants, sometimes even magic. Naturally, we expect these things.”

I’d seen healers at work before. With their herbs, their songs, their cutting on the patients and even demanding sacrifices. They reminded me of the Egyptian priests mimicking Moses. Or the priests of Ba’al in their frenzy to gain the attention of their god.

“Sir, please,” the officer implores. He falls to his knees and holds up open hands, an odd position for someone in expensive, royal robes. “Come with me, before my child dies.”

Another servant snorts and receives a knuckle in the head for his troubles.

Compassion fills the Rabbi’s face as he looks down at the man. I adjust the straps of the small pack I carry, holding my precious few belongings. I assume we would begin the trek to Capernaum with the officer.

“You may go,” the Rabbi says. “Your son is alive.”

The man looks up at him and blinks several times. So do I. The crowd falls quiet.

I hear a servant whisper, “Surely he goes with our master. A healer must see the one sick. How can he determine from afar what ails the child?”

Another servant shakes his head. “Who can heal without attending to the patient?”

The officer stands and brushes the dust from his robes. His mouth works as if he wants to say something. He pauses, and looks into the Rabbi’s eyes, then, he nods to himself, summons his junior officers, and turns. The servants scurry after him as he strides towards the town gates.

I clutch my pack to my chest. Such a long way home. What will the man find when he returns? What had he seen in the Rabbi’s eyes to make him have such trust, to leave, and take him at his word?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace & Peace

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