“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (John 5:41-44 NIV)
Rabbi Benyoseph came back to himself,
sitting on the edge of his bed-shelf
with his outer robe bunched in his hands,
though he had fully intended,
he thought, to put it on.
He shook his head side to side to clear it,
lifted his eyes to the low ceiling,
blinked, and sighed from the root of him.
“So old. How did I get to be so old?”
His arms like withered mustard stalks;
his hands like neglected leather;
his feet like a chicken’s,
cold skin stretched over hollow bone;
legs about as trustworthy as a one legged-stool.
His mind, caught in the snares of the particular,
ran backwards, it seemed, these days,
so that this thing with Y’shua grew tendrils
that borrowed back
insatiable through the soil of his past,
back to his earliest days,
back beyond his first call from God,
back to himself as a boy,
running through every decision he had ever made,
good or bad, right or wrong, until it wound him
up so tightly in memory he could not move,
could hardly breathe,
much less speak.
He’d been sitting there for what looked,
by the carbon on the lamp,
like more than an hour, lost in his past,
and he was no closer to knowing what to say to the man.
“Say something,” the elders said,
“It is your place. Someone has to speak to him.
He can’t go on like this.
“It’s disruptive. It’s disrespectful.
Surely he offends the Most High.
Surely God can not approve.”
“Speak to him Benyoseph,
you have been teacher here among us
his whole life, surely he will listen to you,
Cowards. Every one of them.
Putting off on an old man
what none of them would dare to do.
And what, after all, was the man’s offense?
Too much time studying the scriptures?
Too ready a tongue telling over
the wonders of God’s work with his people?
“Too literal a mind,” they said,
“He takes it all too seriously,
as though God really meant
what he said when he called us his children,
when he called us to holiness.
As though the sacrifices are not enough,
as though our trips, twice a year,
three times even, to the temple,
all that good grain, the spotless
doves and the lambs without blemish,
mean nothing; as though God really wants
our blood, our lives, our days, our hearts;
as though he would want to come out of the ark,
out of his splendid tent of stone and cedar on his hill,
out from behind the tablets of the law,
and dwell again among us…
I ask you…in this day and age?”
“Who does he think he is?”
Benyoseph bent clumsily to fish a sandal out
from under the hem of his second
best robe where it hung on the wall.
“You know how he sits in the doorway
of the synagogue with that stack of the old rolls
of the law and prophets every evening.
You’ve seen the crowd that gathers there
to hear him read and turn the scripture
into stories as he does,
tickling the ears of every passing sinner…
and the way the idle women gather
at the back edge lapping it up,
hanging on his every word…
why every unlettered shepherd’s boy
for leagues around thinks he’s going to
become a scholar,
spouting scripture with the best of them.
Even Simon the leper is there most evenings,
in his rags,
listening until the light fails and Y’shua goes home.
Do you know he carried a scroll right out
to the well last night and read it by moonlight
to the caravanners who crawled
in from their camp at the edge of the town.
He has no sense of what is proper.
No sense of what is holy.
You must forbid him, Benyoseph.
Take those scrolls back and put
them in the chest where they belong.
Tell him he’s no son of Aaron to have
his hands always upon them,
to have the word of God always in his mouth,
to make it his own the way he does.”
Benyoseph shook his head to free it
of the buzz of complaint in his inner ear.
He did not dare to bring up David with them,
though Y’shua could claim, through Joseph,
to be David’s son, son of that scripture spouting,
law loving, shepherd king.
Ha! And he called them cowards.
Benyoseph struggled at last into his robe,
sandaled his feet and struggled
across the street to the synagogue,
to fall on his knees before the altar of the Lord.
“Y’shua,” I will say, firmly but gently,
“come on the Sabbath,
take your turn with the rest of the men,
reading the word of your God,
get yourself a wife, get children,
mind your father’s shop in his age,
support your mother…
But don’t let the prophet’s mantle settle on you.
This is the wrong time, the wrong place.”
And hearing himself say it,
even in his own mind, his spirit cried out…
“When, oh Lord, and where?
Will I live to see the day of your deliverance?”
he would never know just how close he came.