“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)
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 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?”
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
“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,
“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,
“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.
“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.