Disciple of John

“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3 NIV)

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He had been sent with those from John,
to ask this Y’shua, once and for all,
to finally proclaim himself:
was he or was he not the promised one?

And they had gotten their answer, such as it was,
“the lame walk, the blind see, the sick are healed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the good news is preached to the poor.
Blessed is he who does not stumble over me.”

More, he had seen the man for himself,
sat at his feet with his disciples and listened,
followed him about for several days,
in and out of one town after another, seen, indeed,
a few miracles of healing with his own eyes,
and now, on the journey back to John,
he found himself weighing the evidence
in the balance of his mind.

On one side you had John,
a miracle child by all accounts,
born to a priestly family, born by the direct
intervention of God long after he had
closed his mother’s womb—
his father, by his own testimony,
struck dumb during the pregnancy
for his lack of faith,
his mother all but a martyr
to carry a baby at her age—
and John himself: the holy hermit,
living in the wilderness on locust and wild honey,
dressing animal skins,
standing for the righteousness of God,
speaking boldly against Herod and Rome alike,
demanding of all people, regardless,
repentance, and a cleansing from their sins.

And on the other side, this Y’shua.
If rumor was true, born in sin,
conceived while his mother was yet betrothed,
and the supposed father, this Joseph,
the carpenter, denying all responsibility,
yet caving in and taking the woman to his bed—
a difficult child;
there was that incident of his strange behavior
at the temple at his first sacrifice,
and now, a man who went about,
openly, with women in his train,
who discussed the things of God with them
(who lived off them, if stories were true).
A man who ate with sinners,
tax collectors and worse.
A man who broke the Sabbath at will,
healing, even, they said,
allowing his disciples to prepare food,
to eat with unwashed hands,
encouraging them to go about
the countryside stirring up trouble,
idle, expecting others to feed them.

It was a scandal.

And this was the same man who had come,
as lesser to the greater,
to John for baptism along with all the others.

A carpenter in the line of David,
not a Levite at all to claim
the duties of a priest or a prophet.

Feeding the crowds at one moment,
oh yes,
and then driving them away with impossible words
about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Attending weddings, drinking wine,
laughing with children wherever he went,
claiming, some said, to be God.

Where did it end?

Silent on the sins of Rome and Herod,
but vocal in his condemnation
of the Pharisees and Sadduces who held,
at least in their own eyes,
the hope of Israel in their hands.

Certainly God would not do something
so outrageous as to make this Y’shua his messiah?

And yet, John himself seemed unsure,
seemed all but ready to follow
if this Y’shua would only proclaim himself.

What was a man to believe? W
here was the balance of the mind?

More the point,
where was the balance of his heart?

What would he believe, how would he feel,
if he had been one of those blind men to receive his sight,
one of those cripples to walk,
one of those dead to rise?

More to the point, was he?

Did he dare to be?

 

Why

“…Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mark 1:45-2:2 NIV)

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Y’shua sank down next to the door post, just inside,
in the shade at last, hidden from the sun and the crowd,
dropped his head, and covered it with his prayer shawl.

Father, why can’t I be what they want?
Can’t you see: they don’t want me?
They want a messiah, maybe,
someone to break the grip of Rome,
to trumpet rebellion and raise the people,
(what people they don’t ask, but some people, some other people)
to chase the soldiers and the tax men out
so they can get on with business as usual,
buying and selling, accumulating goods,
marrying and getting children,
scurrying off to the temple twice a year
to make it all right with a hasty sacrifice
bought in the outer court for a day’s profit.

They don’t want me.

They want miracles on tap,
someone to heal their hurts, right now,
send them home well, so, again,
they can get on with it,
with the slow abuse of the flesh
that made them sick in the first place.

And they get angry.
They can’t understand that there are limits
to what one man can do, even with the hands of God.
They don’t see that I can only touch those you are touching,
that it is not me, that it is not even about sickness, but souls.

They treat me like one of their doctors,
a quack who sometimes, beyond hope,
gets lucky, and besides,
is just crazy enough to work for free.

They don’t want to hear about repentance.
They don’t want to hear about turning their hearts to God,
or the narrow way, or feeding the poor,
or humility, or the demands of love:
loving God, being loved by you,
loving each other

They don’t want forgiveness if it means they have to forgive.

And they want me to be holy,
holier than they are, they want me to be perfect,
perfect by some measure, I don’t know where they got it,
some nitpicking measure in their minds
focused on all the things that don’t matter:
what I eat, and where, and how I dress,
and who I talk to, and when I work,
and whether I wash my hands before eating,
and how many times, and how far I walk on the Sabbath…
the outside, always the outside.

They can’t see what’s inside me.
They can’t see you inside me.

It’s like if they can catch me in a wrong
then they don’t have to believe in the good;
the good then, is just a fluke, just an aberration,
just such good as any sinner might do, by accident,
and doesn’t mean they should change,
far from it, just a bit of random good luck
that confirms the general hardness of the heart of God,
that keeps you up there safe in your heaven
and not right down here among them.

I can’t pick a barley head on the Sabbath,
let alone heal someone,
before they are all over me.

If I eat in the home of a tax collector
or talk to a centurion in the market, well then…
what can they expect, already I am a Galilean.

Galilee, Father? Why, of all places,
God forsaken Galilee?

And look who you give me to work with!
Rowdy fishermen and wild eyed zealots,
dreamers, idle market place philosophers and poets,
men of no account, unwashed, unlettered,
of no particular learning, poor,
poor, an offense to those who matter.

How can anyone take me seriously?

And even they don’t get it.
Thick skulled fisherman.
Blind prophets of rebellion.
Heads in the clouds, they don’t see
what is right in front of them.
After all the signs,
after I have shared my heart with them,
these men out of all men you have given me,
my disciples, I look in their eyes
and I see they don’t know me.

I am a wonder to them. The miracle man.
The story teller. The master. The stranger.
Just a little dangerous.
They never know what I am going to do or say.
They don’t know what to make of me.

And I don’t either.
I talk to women in public,
I belittle those who proclaim themselves holy,
I take the part of the poor,
I touch the sick;

I can’t help myself, I am dangerous.

I draw crowds.

They are right; I make trouble wherever I go.
Apprentices leave their masters to listen to me,
the bread burns on the hearth,
the stall goes untended,
the women forget the washing
and the water is left at the well.

Can I help that the children follow me,
and the lame and the poxed and the palsied?

I am surrounded by cripples and lepers half the time.
How are respectable people supposed to get near me?

Oh Father, I don’t even know how to be respectable!
Sometimes it seems that I am just a broom
you made to sweep up the broken shards,
to clean the dust out of corners,
to poke at cobwebs.

Father, no one loves a broom.

They wear it out, break it up, use it to start fires.

Or is that the idea? Is that what I am in the end?
Kindling?

Then Father, oh Father, let the fire come!

But it was James who came.
“Master, there are hundreds gathering outside.
They have brought their sick with them.
They are beginning to climb the roof.
It can’t be safe.
Will you come speak to them?”

He was nothing but a shape
there next to the door but he stirred.
James saw him throw his head and his shawl back
to lean against the wall.
He saw the gleam of his eyes in the half light,
then the hint of teeth as he slowly smiled.

Yes Father. I know.
Your love is enough.
Their love is enough.
Really.
I don’t mean to complain.
Really.
Your love is enough for me.
Love is enough.
It has to be.

He stood.
It has to be.

He placed a hand on James’ shoulder.
“I am ready, brother.
Show me the way…”

Nazareth

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16 NIV)

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He couldn’t have said, really, why he had come:
perhaps to visit his mother;
he hadn’t seen her in most of a year,
and their parting had been hard—
perhaps just because Nazareth was next
in the circuit of the towns he had been making,
because he hadn’t been back yet, since his baptism,
since his encounter with himself
and with his God in the desert, and because,
in a way,
he might never really know himself fully
until he had been tested in his own home,
until he had tested himself
against those who knew him well.

At any rate,
he found himself in the synagogue there,
on the Sabbath,
as was his habit wherever he was,
to read and to pray,
to say whatever his Father gave him to say,
to speak the word of life into
the lives of those gathered there…
who knew…perhaps even to heal,
and he opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
to that day’s passage, and, of course, it would be…

“The spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor, release to the captives,
new sight for the blind; to set the oppressed free
and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he was humbled all over again,
shocked back into himself,
stunned that his Father could reach
out and shape his life like that,
could ask this of him, even here, in his own home.

And he rolled the scroll and handed it back
to the attendant, sat slowly,
with all their eyes upon him,
took a deep breath and, with his heart in his mouth,
said,
“In your sight and in your hearing,
today,
these words are made true.”

He didn’t know exactly what he expected,
but it was not that they would sit there smiling
at him and nodding, as though he just made
a particularly insightful remark on the weather
or the future of the wool trade.
“The carpenter’s son you know,
old Joseph as was down the way…”
“such wisdom in one so young…”
“listen to how well he reads it…
he was always, even in school,
ahead of his years…”
(“and full of himself with it too,”
someone inserted in a low voice.)
“Is it any wonder they are talking
about him all through the ten towns…?

“A Nazareth boy you know, born and breed.”
“It is a wonder,” said someone more bold,
“considering no one knows who his father really is…”
The speaker spat. “Born in sin.”

“Yes, murmured another,
“and see where all this talk of his father God…
that’s his mother’s doing, mark my words,
she as was no better than she ought to be
and Joseph too good to her by far, if you ask me…
see where it will get him.
What’s become of John, that Baptist fellow,
I ask you…
no good comes of any of these jumped-up,
self-styled prophets.
There’s no profit in prophecy these days,
I say we don’t need any prophets in Israel today.”

And their little group tittered.
“Why I remember him as a boy,” said the first,
“so full of airy nonsense he couldn’t
be trusted to watch sheep,
and suddenly he’s the savior of our nation?
I ask you?”

“But listen to what he says,” said a neighbor,
“You can hear the truth in his words, can’t you…
you can hear God speaking if you listen,
and he has done wonders they say,
all up and down Galilee.”
and he hitched himself away from them,
closer to the immediate circle surrounding Y’shua,
eager to hear more.

And Y’shua, by now, was ready to give them an earful.
He wanted to shout at them all:
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?
I just put myself into Isaiah’s words,
claimed, right here in front of you,
the anointing of the Holy God.
Are you going to let me get away with that?
You sit and smile, or snicker and sneer,
but do any of you even hear what I am saying,
see what I am doing, see me at all?”

But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said,
“Undoubtedly you will quote the proverb to me:
‘Physician, heal yourself.’
You will say,
‘do here the miracles you did in Capernaum.’”

The sudden silence told him
he had their attention now. Dark looks passed.
They didn’t know where this was going
(and, to be honest, neither did he).

“I tell you,” he said, and he couldn’t help himself,
“a prophet is without honor nowhere but in his own home,
among his own relatives and those who claim to love him.”

Now they knew they were being insulted.
A few were up on their knees already.

“I tell you the truth,” he said,
“there were widows enough in Israel in Elijah’s day,
when the sky was shut for three and a half years
and there was hunger all through the land,
but Elijah was not sent to any of them,
but to a woman of Zarephath in Sidon.”

It was a slap in the face.
He could not have picked an example
more calculated to offend these good,
synagogue-attending, well-respected Jews of Nazareth,
and, with half his mind, he wondered at himself,
and, with half, he questioned his father:
“how will they ever hear me if I insult them?”

But he was compelled now,
compelled to make them face the truth,
to strip them of every pretense,
to make them look at him, at themselves,
to force their comprehension, or, failing that,
their anger, to get some honest response from them,
some movement, some change…

So he said, raising his voice over
the growing grumble of outrage…
“And there were many lepers in Israel
in the time of Elisha the prophet,
yet not one of them were healed;
only Naaman the Syrian.”

Now they were really angry,
angry with the righteous anger of the true sons of Jacob,
the descendents of Abraham, God’s chosen…
insulted in their very idea of who they were…
and they rushed forward, tripping over themselves,
and Y’shua was, just as quickly, on his feet and retreating,
driven out of the synagogue door and down
the street in front of what was now a mob,
driven up the hill out of town to the edge of the cliff there,
until, with his back to the fall, on the brink of the drop,
he stopped, faced them, faced them down,
catching each eye as he had once or twice before as a boy,
simply looked at them, now with compassion and love—
such sorrow—
until they looked away in shame,
and he walked back through them,
wondering, not for the first time, and not for the last,
why he had to be so hard on them,
why he asked so much, why he couldn’t just be,
even here in his home, who they wanted him to be?

Not wanting, no, not for a moment, even now,
to hear the truth in his own words.

Woman by the Well

“Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:4-7 NIV)

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She stumbled over the door-sill in her haste,
caught herself with a quick step and stopped
to twitch her shawls and skirts back into place
before she spoke. “There is a man by Jacob’s well…”

“Yes,” said Miriam from deep in the shadows under the porch,
her voice well practiced, as dry and colorless as sand,
“you would know one.”

They sniggered at that. Giggled.
Some laughed aloud. No secrets here.

She drew herself up,
breathing deep like a hen inflating for combat,
but then let it sigh away. “Not that kind of man.”

“Oh, then there is something new under heaven today!”
the wit crowed to another round of titters.

This was a game they knew.
These two were often at it, the old wit and the new,
trading barbs to enliven the hours
as they picked and carded wool and spun.

“Yes,” she said, suddenly stubborn,
“you have it right though you would never know it,
right being so rare beneath your roof.
There is maybe some one new under heaven.”

She paused, walked deeper under the roof of woven wattle,
and put her hand up to steady herself on a post.
Her voice was surprisingly tentative,
as though the blushing girl of twelve she had buried
in years of hard living and harder loving
had climbed back out of her grave
to stand behind her face for a moment…

“I think I might have seen the Jew’s Messiah…”

She might as well have said “a twelve headed camel,”
or “the emperor of Rome,” or “the ghost of father Jacob.”

Their eyes peered out of the half light at her,
their fingers suddenly still, waiting for the punch line,
for the other sandal to drop, to hear the joke.

Surely she was joking.

Finally, in the silence, the old wit gathered hers.
“What? By our well? He’s lost then.
He wants Jerusalem and that’s a good day’s walk south.
Not much of a messiah if he can’t even
find the folks he came to save, I’d say.”

Titters, but a bit uncertain now.
They didn’t know where this was going.

She circled the pole slowly, talking as much to herself as to them.
“He asked me for a drink and then he offered me water
from the well of life, living water, he said,
such water I would never thirst again.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, of course,
I thought he was joking, but then he told me my sin,
tweaked me proper over, well, you know,”
she put a hand, unconsciously, to her hair, and struck a pose,
“my men, though I’d never seen him before in my life.
He is a Jew I tell you, no one from around here,
and I thought he was being clever,
that someone had been at the well before me telling tales.
I thought he was playing the prophet, just being,
you know, a Jew, or maybe even coming on a bit,
(he wasn’t half bad looking) so I threw it back in his face.

‘You Jews,’ I said, ‘say we have to worship in Jerusalem,
but our fathers worshiped just fine
right here on this mountain.’

“And then it was as though he was looking right through me.

‘The time is coming when you won’t need
this mountain to worship or Jerusalem either,’ he says,
‘the father is spirit and those who worship him
must worship where they are, in spirit and in truth.’

“And I got this shiver up my spine, and I said
(I don’t know why I said it)
‘When the Messiah comes he will explain it all to us.’
and he said, ‘I am speaking to you right now.’
And then he looked me full in the face and I thought,
‘my God, he is. He sees me, he sees my life,
he knows my men, he knows everything I’ve ever done.’
I wasn’t laughing then I tell you,
and then he smiled, he just, 
smiled at me.”

Silence.

A tear ran down her face as they stared.
“Oh,” she said, suddenly impatient,
with them, with herself, knowing how she must look,
how she must sound, “come see for yourself.
He’s still there.”

She prodded the nearest girl with a none too gentle toe.
“They were eating when I left, him and his followers.
Come see!
This is something new under heaven.
I swear it is! Come see him.”

And she plucked and pulled and prodded—
beckoned and bullied to no real effect.

“Huh” Miriam said,
rising ponderously from behind her pile of wool,
“Why not? Let’s all go see this wonder.
I want to see the man who can
make this woman cry, don’t you?”

And they went, talking, laughing—
taking, before they were done,
half the town with them.

If they were laughing when they came back,
a good many of them, it was with joy…
drunk on living water,
on the new certainty that they would never thirst again.

 

The Storm

“Late in the day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” Mark 4:38 (The Message)

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Oh sure. “Lets just go over to the other side,”
he’d said, and none of them, not even the four fisherman
who made their living on these treacherous waters,
and should have known better, saw any reason not to,
so they’d bundled him into the back of the boat,
he was no boatman, making a joke of it,
packing him with pillows,
throwing a bit of old sail over him against the spray,
like Pharaoh on his barge they told him,
and they laughed and chattered,
the sun and the wind and cut of the little boat through the water,
and they were all caught up in the simple joy,
while Simon, James, John, and Andrew played sailor around them.
Twenty boats or more set out with them,
a pretty show, all the sails, the swoop of the little flotilla,
calling back and forth, playing tag in the wind and the waves,
and then settling in to a along slow reach across,
so smooth, so gentle with the lap of the water under the hull,
the lift and fall, that the Master had
put his head back and drifted off to sleep.

They hushed their chatter then, and all glided along,
half awake, out in the middle of the lake,
so far the shores had dropped away,
the boat carrying them as the Master’s words had,
toward a horizon without landmarks,
toward a land that was, in a world of water,
only hope and trust.

“Simon,” said John, putting his hand
on his shoulder where he sat at the tiller,
“I don’t like the look of that cloud.”
and Simon, whose boat it was, turned to look.
He quickly scanned the horizon for the other boats.
Three in sight already had their masts down
and were breaking out oars.

“This is bad,” said Simon.
“Andrew! Strike the mast.”
The fishermen stood in the boat as one
and looked off to the north and east, then turned,
with a knowing look among them,
to ready the boat for a storm.
Their hustle roused the others.

“What is it?” Thomas wanted to know.

“Weather coming.” said John, and nodded to the north.

“Where? I don’t see anything.” said Judas.

“A storm comes,” said Simon.
“This is Galilee, and I should have known better.
Get down in the bottom and stay down.
And try not to get stepped on,
we’re going to be working hard in a moment,
or I miss my guess.”

“Should we wake him?”
John put his hand again on Simon’s shoulder
and nodded past him to the Master on his pillows.

“No, time enough for that.
This is a Galilee storm coming,
and we’ve seen it’s like often enough.
We’ll ride it out.”

Suddenly the wind dropped, just stopped,
as James and Andrew laid the mast,
wrapped in sail, across the thwarts and tied it down.
All four fishermen hunched as though
to avoid a blow and then again looked north.
“I don’t like the looks of this,” said Andrew,
and they lifted oars out from under, fitted them to locks,
and sat, bracing their feet
and flexing fingers on the leather wraps.

The light, the very color of day, changed…

And then wind hit them, struck them like a fist,
and the boat healed over.

“Turn her!” Simon yelled,
and the oars flashed and dug into the sea,
and the boat spun under the hands of fishermen and into the wind.
The waves didn’t rise, they were just there,
of a sudden, the level surface of the sea
thrown on edge and coming at them from the north.

And then, between one breath and the next,
they were in the middle of it, fighting for their lives.
The bow came up, up, up,
and seemed ready to come on over on them,
and then with a mighty heave of the oars and a collective grunt,
the bow crested and dropped and the boat raced
down, down, buried its prow in the sea,
drenched everyone aboard,
rose again on the next wave,
up, up, and the wind shrieked, and the rain came,
and there was no up or down, no sea or air,
but all water and wind and violent struggle,
and everyone but the oarsmen huddled in the bottom,
and they, drowning where they sat,
and every wave a breath away from swamping them
and sending them all to a watery grave,
and the Master,
sound asleep in the back.

“Master, we are drowning, don’t you care?”
It was Peter, at the tiller, his hand on Y’shua’s shoulder,
shaking, waking, desperate, afraid.
“Master, we are going down.
Save us!”

He woke to spray in his face,
a hand on his shoulder, shaking,
the voice of fear in his ears, from dreams of glory,
where all was light and life
and the noise and commotion of the floundering boat
was the jubilation of the angels and the faithful,
the waves the surge of true life creating
a new world where love reigned,
and the wind was pure spirit,
sweeping the tongues into a flame of praise…

He stood.
A burst of power from his heart for God
directed at these waves and this wind,
surely not waves of joy and winds of praise,

“Quiet. Be still.”

His voice cut through the storm and it was so.
The wind dropped, the waves sank,
the boat bobbed in the gentle swell,
and the men began to untangle themselves

And he looked at them, the wonder beginning to dawn,
the awe rising in them, and that power took him again,
a touch of anger, a touch of frustration, a great gush of love.
“Where is your faith? How could you doubt that I care?”

“How could you doubt God,” he thought,
“How did you get in this mess anyway?
Did you think the storm was something
you could handle on your own?
Why didn’t you wake me when it started?
And why didn’t you set sail before it
and let it run you to that far shore?
Why didn’t you ride the waves and wind to where we go,
knowing I am with you, and that I care.”

Oh, now they were as afraid of him
as they had been of the storm.
“What kind of man is this?”
they mumbled in their fear,
turning to the safety of their fellows,
“That even the winds and waves obey?”

But then they hadn’t been with him very long that day,
and hardly glimpsed the storm in store,
nor imagined the price he would pay
before they reached the shore,
or the faith that it would take to keep them there.

 

Nicodemus

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus…” John 3:1 (NIV)

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Out of the darkness and into the light of the fire he came.
Prosperous, hung about with all the Pharisaical regalia,
but with a sincerity of eye, a clarity, a way of carrying himself
that spoke of something essentially humble,
of something inherently reverent, in him,
and he bowed before Y’shua, after his  
“Honored Master,
we all know that you are a teacher
after God’s own heart, straight from God.
No one could do all the wonderful things you are doing
without the hand of God being with him.

And Y’shua had smiled in the flickering light,
seeing the wind whipped fire mold the man’s features,
carve them from the substance of the dark,

“You are right! Clearly you, among all these,
are born from above, for unless you are born again
it is not possible that you could see God in what I am doing.”

And he had seen the instant withdrawal, the hesitation,
the calculation enter the eyes, rising up
from somewhere in the man he couldn’t reach,
something in the man he could barely understand,
and yet understood all too well.

“What do you mean, born from above?
How could I, an old man, be born again?
Can I enter my mother’s womb once more?”

And Y’shua tried to see what it was.
Was it humility: an unwillingness to believe
that God would choose such
as this man knew himself to be?
Was it offense? Did he hear “born again”
as the name of something he lacked,
something more Y’shua was saying
he must have to see God?
Was it just the thinking habit of mind,
the need to analyze and control.
Was it just word play?
Another habit of turning aside the truth,
turning it to self-depreciating humor
so it did not cut too deeply?
What?

“You are not hearing me. Let me say it again.
Unless a person is born of water and of spirit
he can not enter God’s kingdom.
What is born of flesh is flesh.
What is born of spirit is spirit.”

Now from caution the face moved to confusion.
The wind stirred the flames and the light danced.

Y’shua could see that he was loosing him.
“Don’t be surprised. What is so strange?
The wind blows where it will, you hear it,
but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.
That is the way it is with those born of the spirit.”

It was intended as reassurance.
It was intended to tell this man that
indeed Y’shua saw before him,
even if he himself did not know it,
one born from above, a living spirit, invaded,
perhaps unknowing by the breath of God.

But now there was fear in the face.
“How can this be?

And now Y’shua saw only reluctance to believe,
a fear of trusting himself to the unknown
and unpredictable God at work here.

How was it that such unbelief could
cripple even those born from above?

“And you are teacher in Israel?”
Was it any wonder the people had so little faith?

“You don’t understand these simple things?
Listen. I am telling you the truth.
I speak only what I know for a fact,
what I see and have seen with my own eyes.
If I tell you these earthly things…
what is happening right here and now…
and you refuse to believe,
then how will you know when I am telling you
the truth about the things of heaven?”

And now it was shock, verging over into anger.

“I tell you the truth, no one knows what goes on in heaven
better than the one who has come from above,
the Son of Man, but I suppose you are going
to have to see the son of man lifted up
like Moses lifted the snake in the desert
before you are cured of this snake bite of unbelief
and know that the son of man is born from above
and that you have eternal life in him.”

“For I tell you, God loves you.
He sent his born-from-above son into this world
so that all who believe in him can have,
can know, eternal life.
He didn’t come to condemn you.
You do that to yourselves when you refuse to believe.
But I tell you, anyone who does believe,
who trusts the Son of Man,
will live forever.”

He looked around at his followers and this new one
clustered in the light of the campfire,
as it flared and flickered and pushed back
this little space in the great dark.

“This is the verdict: those who are bent
on doing wrong hide from the light,
loving the darkness that covers their sin…”

He put his hand on the newcomer’s shoulder
and looked deep into his eyes.
“but those who are doing right,
those who come to the Son and
see him with born again eyes,
love the light and come right out into plain sight,
as you have, and they are the ones born from above,
the ones who will live forever.”

And he, and all his followers, turned to the business
of preparing bed rolls and settling down for sleep.

Nicodemus sat a long time by the remnants of the fire,
watching Y’shua sleep, testing his eyes,
listening for the wind.

The Deputation

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”” (John 3:1-2 NIV)

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Y’shua, squatting by the fire,
half turned at the sound of the feet approaching,
the stumbling distracted, almost run,
that brought James bursting into the light,
visibly shedding his night fear like an extra cloak,
dropping the burden of his worry at the master’s feet.

“Y’shua.” He fell to his knees in the dust between Peter and John.
“They are coming, a whole crowd of them, out from Jerusalem,
a Priest, a gaggle of Pharisees holding up their hems,
some solid Sadducees with their beards tucked
into their robes thumping along on their staffs.”

He looked back the way he had come.
“They will be here in a moment.
I was just ahead of them at the gate.”

Peter, almost eager, stood and tried to see
into the dark beyond the light of the fire,
shielding his eyes with a hand.
“What do they want?”

John leaned across James to put a hand on Y’shua’s shoulder,
urgent and accusing, already concerned as only love can make a man.
“You knew. That’s why we are here waiting within reach
of the walls instead of being half way to Emmaus.”

They could all hear them now, like geese indeed,
clacking at each other as they came.
Uncomfortable, a mixed, antagonistic flock,
chickens and ducks among them from the sound of it,
stepping on each other’s feet in the dark,
and the sparks of their torches burned through the wall of night
around the camp fire as they flared
picking out sudden trees and toe bruising boulders
for the deputation to stumble into and around.

Y’shua nodded. “I knew they had to come.
They have questions only I can answer.”

He met John’s eyes. “Their fear drives them.”

John stood now, took a protective step forward beside Peter,
while Y’shua moved to the far side of the fire.
He settled back cross-legged,
a blanket draped over shoulders and across his knees.

The priest had the lead, or rather his boy,
straining under the ungainly weight of the torch
and he went big-eyed at the sight of Jesus,
wiped his nose quickly on the back of his free hand
and shuffled to the side so that the Priest stumbled
unexpectedly into the circle of fire light,
stopped short and flinched back as the fire leapt up
around a resin knot in the wood to throw the shadows
of the disciples hard on the bare circle of ground,
to burn the face of Y’shua out of the darkness beyond the flame.

The rest bunched up behind the priest,
peering around his shoulders,
exchanging suddenly unsure glances.

Here he was then.

Could this be him? This man?
This troublemaker.
This Y’shua who, it seemed, overnight,
had the hearts, or at least the tongues,
of the people?

“Who are you?”
From some chicken well back in the flock.
The others shifted, turned inward to find the speaker,
and then, by common assent,
shouldered him to the front to stand beside the priest,
while they murmured advice in his ear.
“Ah,” he stammered, now under Y’shua’s eye,
“Are you the messiah? Some say you are the messiah.”

“Huuugh” from the flock, derisive and doubting,
and the snake strike of the Priest’s look,
all but snuffed out what little courage the speaker had.
He shrunk into himself a second,
then visibly gathered wind and dignity,
glared back at the Priest as though to say,
“well someone has to find out,”
and turned to Y’shua again.

“Good Master, some say you are Elijah,
some say another of the prophets come back,
some say a true king out of David’s line.
Who are you?”

Now another shoved forward on the other side of the priest,
dressed in full Pharisaic regalia,
the tassels on his spotless robe six inches long.
“How dare you!?
They say you claim to be God’s son!
How dare you stir up the Romans against us?
How dare you turn the peoples’ hearts from the temple?
How dare you belittle the servants of God
and call our devotion into question?
How dare you bring God into the marketplace
to associate with whores and cripples?
They say you touch lepers, eat with tax collectors,
carouse with drunkards and Galileans.”

Y’shua laughed, quick and high,
caught by surprise by the humor in him,
like a flash of lightning in the night.
“All that? I dare all that?” H
e looked down, laughing at himself a little,
and then up, smiling, challenging,
“But surely you have heard that I am a Galilean myself.”

“Born in Bethlehem…”
Someone, unable to contain himself,
not brave enough to push to the front.
“Son of a carpenter.”

“So they say.” Y’shua nodded cheerfully,
“Born in a stable too, though I don’t remember it myself…
but then who remembers his first birth,
and what man truly knows his father
except by the love he shows him?”

Far back in the gaggle, a man named Nicodemus,
lifted his head like a hound on the scent at this talk of birth.
You could almost see his ears prick forward.

Y’shua raised his steady gaze to the face of the Priest.
“And who do you say I am?”

That “worthy” screwed his own eyes closed
and lifted his nose before he delivered himself
of his answer as though passing gas in public.
“They are saying you are another John.”

“Another John? And who is John?”

“The Baptizer…”
He put his hand over the phylactery where it rested
on his forehead to steady himself, “out by the Jordan.
You know him. They say you were there.
Washing people, he claims, for the coming kingdom.”

Y’shua looked around pointedly:
Cocked his ear as though listening.
“I see no water here. I hear no river.
What shall I baptize you with?”

His eyes touched those of the priest
and then shifted somewhere beyond and behind him,
seeking. “The wind? Shall I baptize you with wind?”

The deputation muttered.
What nonsense was this?
Nicodemus tensed still further,
felt as though a wayward breeze
had touched his own spine.
Wind? Or did he mean spirit?
Was it a pun? Was this Y’shua laughing at them?
He ducked his head to avoid Y’shua’s searching eye
and shivered.

“Did you come to me, as to John,
to be cleansed for the coming kingdom?”

And now the geese exploded, the flock flying into
a half circle of gabble in front of the fire,
the disciples ringed between,
shielding their Master with their bodies,
defending him with quick tongues
until the night rang with heated words.

Nicodemus found himself left alone in the shadows.
He sank down on his heels by a rock.

“Enough!” Y’shua’s shout cracked the night
and silenced the dispute like a bucket of cold water.
He laughed into the sudden silence to take the bite out of it,
but it sounded like steam on hot stones in the fire pit.

“Enough, I say.
This will not be settled with words, but with works.
You come seeking me to ask who I am.
Have you not seen what I do?
Have you not heard what I say?
I do nothing in secret.
What I do has been done on the steps of the temple,
in the synagogues, as you yourselves say, in the market place.
Ask the lepers I have touched.
Ask the cripples who walk.
Ask the blind who see and the deaf who hear.
Ask the tax collectors. Ask the whores.
They know who I am.
How is it that you, the leaders of Israel,
do not?”

“Huugh!” like the hiss of geese as,
in a single breath, the deputation expressed their outrage at that.

“I do the work of the one who sent me:
the work my father is doing, has been doing,
since the founding of the ages—
gathering his children for the kingdom,
putting right what years of sin and neglect
has put wrong. Nothing more,
nothing less.”

“You hear him!” “His father, God!”
“Whores!” “Tax collectors!” “This man is no prophet.”
“This man is dangerous.” “This man will kill us all,
deliver us to the Romans, overturn the law,
destroy the temple.”

“Oh, go!” Y’shua, out of patience, stood all in one fluid movement,
from the ankles upward, in the light of the fire,
the blanket falling at his feet.

“You come asking who I am when you have already decided.
You claim to know me?
You know me no more than you know my Father,
and that is, by your actions, not at all!
If you were blind, there would be some excuse for you,
but you claim to see and so see nothing;
if you were deaf I would heal you,
but claiming to hear you hear nothing.
Go! Stumble back to your temple and
warm yourselves in your own regard.”

And a sudden gust of wind, one of those swirling,
self-willed winds men call devils,
came, cracking trees and screaming leaves,
to sweep across the clearing and snuff out every torch,
to beat the fire flat in a shower of ash and sparks
so that darkness came down on deputation and disciples like a lid.

“Huuuugh!” a shiver and a curse.

When, moments later, the fire recovered itself
and light leaked out again, the deputation was gone.
You could hear them breaking their way
through the brush all around in their haste,
and then that too faded into silence.

The fire was loud.

The disciples turned back to Y’shua to see
tears running down his cheeks, wetting his beard.

At the clearing’s edge huddled the torch boy,
still clutching his stub of wood.
Y’shua went to him, reached down, pulled him up.
Gently, wordlessly, he took the torch, lit it in the fire,
turned, put his free hand on John’s shoulder,
gave it a gentle reassuring squeeze,
and raised the torch high.

In the light, just at the edge of its reach,
Nicodemus still crouched by the rock,
wondering if this fear, this holy awe,
this tremble that infected his knees
and hands and heart (yet left him glad)
was what it felt like to be baptized with wind.

Y’shua laughed.
“Here is one whose questions are not yet answered.
Not yet asked! Come friend. You have nothing to fear here.”

And Nicodemus stood, and,
God help him, answered the call with his questions.

 

New Wine

As Jesus went from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NIV)

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He woke with the funk of sour wine on his tongue
and all but gagged on his own first breath
as he rolled up to the bed side, spat,
and ran his hands through what was left of his hair.
He pulled his face all out of shape, trying,
without much success, to find his eyes,
to free them from the heavy flesh of waking,
to scrub off the film of self-loathing that settled,
like filthy dew, out of dreams he would just as soon forget.

His feet hooked sandals out from under the bed.

In the courtyard he could hear his slave
hauling water from the well and, yes,
there were already buckets heated
in the shadow of the door curtain.
Not that hot water could do what his hands had not.
Still.
The slave and the hot water,
the fresh bread and fruit, figs and pears,
on the shelf across the room,
the new wine in its jug,
this house with its cedar beams and wide windows,
the robes of fine cotton and linen from Egypt,
were compensation, of a sort—
all he had, in fact, to show for the bitter stares,
the hard words, the turned eyes and faces of
his neighbors who could not see him
as anything, anymore,
more than the tax collector for Rome:
a jackal slinking behind the mangy imperial wolf.
Oh he knew he was being too generous,
with them and with himself.
They saw him, when they would look at him at all,
as a rat feeding off the remains of the jackal’s dinner,
as a carrion crow, half tame, collared, wings clipped,
snatching what he could from the corpse of Israel,
while the indifferent Eagle, the great scavenger himself,
stood guard.

Not for the first time he wondered how it had come to this.

How had all his training, his mother’s hopes,
his father’s pride, produced this travesty?

When had he made the choice to sell himself to Rome?
He could not remember the day or hour.
He could not remember ever being asked to choose.
It had just happened. A scribe needed: someone who can count.
To make sure we are not cheated, at least, one of our own.
And when he had stopped being “one of our own”?

He knew himself as a good scribe, a good servant,
one who took care of his master’s business,
but in this business,
how could he not take care of himself as well?

They expected him to steal:
both his Roman masters and his own people.
There was no provision for an honest tax collector:
No pay beyond what he could take,
no hope of promotion, no respect on either side.
If he had known
he would have told them to find another scribe.
There were people who could enjoy this life.
Maybe. Maybe people hard enough not to care
how the salve and the house were paid for,
how his neighbors, his own family, saw him,
or that they didn’t see him any more at all,
that he was a non-person to both his employers
and those whose money and goats, sheep
and grain, he claimed in the name of Rome.

He stood, wrestled feet into the sandals,
and flopped, long laces tangled and threatening to trip,
to the shelf for his first jar of wine to great the new day…
and not the new wine either.

Hours later he sat in the shade of a porch,
his money box before him,
counting the coins pinched in farmers and fishers’ fingers,
when something like a breeze, like a strong wind off the sea,
entered and swept the courtyard

He put a hand, reflexively,
on the stack of papers in front of him,
but there was, in fact, no wind. All was still.
Every face was turned to the door where a man stood,
outlined in sun.
He could see nothing against that light,
except long hair, long robes,
and a hint of a crowd behind.
But he knew the man.
Even before he spoke, he knew the man.

This was the seven day wonder,
the great miracle man, the healer,
the one they were butting all this messiah talk about,
that Galilean.
Matthew was a Galilean himself, when he remembered.
And that was not much better, come right down to it,
than being a tax collector.

Still, he was somewhat shy of this man this close…
it seemed he did, somehow, move in stink of holiness,
that rumor was not the only thing to precede him,
that all that light was not, perhaps, the sun.

And then they all spilled through.
Y’shua, in crossing the courtyard,
stopped before the table.
He ran his regard down the line
of waiting farmers and fishers.
He turned and looked Matthew in the eye.

“What are you doing here, son of Levi? 
Come. Follow me…”

Matthew laughed.
He sat back from the table,
and braced his arms,
looking up at the standing Y’shua.
“What?”

Y’shua smiled. “Come. Follow me…”

Matthew laughed again, shorter this time,
uncertain where the joke was,
if it was on him or on Y’shua.
“Follow you…” he asked?

“Follow me…”

Matthew looked at the line in front of the table,
the dead stares, the bent heads,
the barely suppressed anger and open hate.
He looked at the crowd around and behind Y’shua,
happy, laughing, expectant
(not to mention, dirty, unwashed, infected, unlettered and ignorant),
and thought, “I wanted a choice.”

Something in him, something wild and untamed,
something still alive despite all his attempts
to drown it in wine, rose up at the sound of Y’shua’s voice,
at his presence, at the mere possibility of being,
by his choice, by both their choices, someone else…
and he closed the box, set it on the stack of bills,
came round from behind the table and stood next to Y’shua.

Y’shua reached out and grasped his shoulder.
“Come.” was all he said, and Matthew followed,
not looking behind even once to see what the incredulous fishers
and farmers left standing there in line made of it all.

Honestly, something had happened in that touch.
Honestly, he was not quite sure who he was anymore.
Something had fallen away,
been stripped away in the absolute honesty,
in the complete acceptance, of Y’shua’s eye,
in the fact of being chosen despite it all,
of being asked, of being called,
and by the time he left the square he was indeed a different man,
turned inside out, all the hidden hopes,
the abandoned dreams, exposed,
and he was somehow ready to believe in himself again.

It was a gift he never expected.
A gift he didn’t deserve and it made him just a little wild,
just a little reckless, so that before he knew he what he was doing,
he had invited everyone he knew to his house,
every familiar face,
every passing and past acquaintance in a long afternoon.
“Y’shua will there. I am with Y’shua now.”
he had said, a hundred times, a thousand maybe,
but he was past caring. Let them all come.
He was with Y’shua now. Y’shua was with him.
He had no idea what it meant—
just that it did mean something wonderful,
something liberating, something wild and unexpected,
something to be grasped with both hands,
something to be given away wholesale,
and so he had invited everyone.

“Come, we feast tonight at my house.
Come and join us. Y’shua will be there.
Come. Come.” and not even the obvious hesitation,
the sometimes evident distress,
of those closest to Y’shua could dampen his enthusiasm,
as long as Y’shua was with him, and Y’shua never said no,
never said he wouldn’t come, and so they found themselves by evening,
staining the good will of the slave and the servants,
sitting down to such a feast as the house had never known.

In a lucid moment, he realized that he didn’t know half the people there,
that there were many who would not, yesterday,
have been seen eating in a tax-collector’s house,
and many more who looked like they hadn’t had
a decent meal in a generation or so.
Among his friends, those who had come
for his sake and not Y’shua’s, there was not one
who he would willingly have been seen in the street with,
women of questionable morals,
men who had long ago traded trust for ease,
spent their good names on immediate gratifications,
but, and here was the miracle, he was still with Y’shua
and Y’shua was still with him,
and that made the whole house holy,
made the whole house ring with joy and throb with well-being.

He couldn’t imagine anyone there not feeling it,
not knowing it all flowed from Y’shua beside him,
not knowing they had been chosen and had
chosen to come, and how good a thing that was.

Still he couldn’t completely ignore the discomfort of Y’shua’s followers.
Some barely touched the food.
Across the room one, the one called Simon,
was huddled with a nest of Pharisees,
looking more than a little unhappy.
Suddenly he seemed to reach decision
and scuttled through the reclining guests to his master’s side.
Though he tried to keep his voice for Y’shua’s ear,
the general din made it difficult,
and Matthew could not help but overhear.

“Those Pharisees want to know why we are eating in this sinner’s house?
“Don’t you know this man?” they say,
“He is a tax collector, a thief,
the right arm of the greed of Rome.
And look about you. Look at these people.
How can your master, a holy man,
eat in this house, with these whores and idlers,
with these who scoff and mock both law and decency?”

Y’shua turned to this Simon.
“Since when have fisherman been so particular
about their company? Does it bother you Simon?”

Simon pulled back sharply.
“Well it is a good question, that’s all.
An obvious question. One people are asking.
You have a reputation to think of.”

Y’shua turned to Matthew and held his eye a moment,
then turned to the Pharisees in their corner.
He timed his words to a lull in the conversation and music
so that everyone in the room could hear:

“Who do you call a doctor for, the healthy or sick?
Who needs healing?
I have not come to call the upright,
but to pick up the fallen, and offer them a chance at a changed life.
These folks know they are down. They hear me when I invite them to stand,
to walk, to run, to dance,
far better than any who already think they are on their feet.”

One of the Pharisees stood at that.
There was open challenge in his voice:
“John’s disciples fast when they pray,
and so do ours, but yours are always eating and drinking,
and in the houses of those who know no better.”

Suddenly it was absolutely still in the room,
every ear tuned to what the seven day wonder would say:

“So,” and Y’shua swung his arm to take in the room,
the house, the guests, “is this not like a wedding feast?
The groom is still in the house.
If we make free with the wine and bread,
who will blame us?
Certainly not the friends of the groom
for they are celebrating with him.
Later, when he is gone, and they realize his absence,
when it is time to clean up and straighten up without him,
then they will fast as needed. But not now.
Now we enjoy each other’s company as we were made to do.”

He turned to the room at large, and caught,
it seemed, every eye and ear.
“Who would cut up a brand new cloak to patch an old one?
Why, you would have two spoiled cloaks, the new with a hole in it,
and the old looking more shoddy still for its mismatched patch.”

They were all listening, and from the nods around the room,
some, at least, were hearing.

“You don’t take new wine and poor it into old skins.
The wine sours, the skins break, and all is lost.
No, you put new wine in new skins, so they age together.
Yet there will always be those who only have a taste for the old wine,
who think it is better, because it is old, and who can not stomach the new.
They are used to the old; you can not convince them the new is any good.
I am here with new wine for new skins.
Are you ready for that?”

Simon slunk back to his place, and looked hard at his cup.
The Pharisee party packed themselves into their robes
and left in a huff, and Matthew,
whose own cup had gone unnoticed and untouched
since his first sip hours ago,
picked it up and poured the old wine out on the floor,
then tossed the cup over his shoulder to break against the wall.

“New cups,” he called to the slave and servants,
“and bring out the new wine.”

Y’shua laughed, and so did half the room.