Yeshua sat under a lone acacia tree high upon the Arbel overlooking Migdol and watched the sun rise. A haze obscured the water and the hills toward Decapolis. He was overwhelmed by his loneliness, yet felt a strange comfort in it. As if he were always meant to be alone. He knew he had lost contact with Yahweh, and yet, here, he still felt the presence of The Power. But something had definitely changed. There was no way that he could return to Kefar Nahum until he had sorted out in his own mind what had happened between him and Yahweh.
With a last glance down at Migdol, he stood up and walked down the eastern slope of Arbel ranging further south than usual to avoid passing through or even near Migdol. He was afraid of running into Miri or anyone he knew. Goats bleated in the distance and a shepherd boy waved at him and he waved back. Thorns cut his ankles and the scratches began to itch, and by the time he climbed down onto the road from Migdol to Tiberias, he was hot, sweaty and thirsty. He knew he could not face Miri again, as much as he wanted to, so he though he might travel south to the Hajalah Crossing on the Jordan and visit his cousin Yahja and his brothers, Yahn and Yakov. As he looked both ways, debating which way to go, a donkey cart carrying a rather obese man stopped beside him.
"How far to Tiberias?" the man asked Yeshua in accented Aramaic, Yeshua's native tongue.
"A morning's walk," replied Yeshua. "You have business there?"
"Yes, I am a scribe, and have been commissioned to write correspondences for Pilatus in the palace of Herod Antipas in Jerusalem."
Yeshua spat on the ground. "I have no love for Antipas or Pilatus, but I will walk with you."
The fat man smiled and held out his hand. "Marcus Auretus of the City of Tyre."
"Yeshua of Galilee." replied Yeshua, grasping Marcus' hand. "Not many Greeks speak Aramaic as well as you."
"I can speak and write Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and am conversant in many oriental dialects. As they say: When in Rome, speak Latin, or you'll end up on the auctioneer's block!"
Marcus pulled Yeshua onto the cart behind him. Yeshua sat, his back to Marcus and his legs dangled from the back of the cart.
"I am headed for the Jordan River south of Lake Kinnereth. My cousin and brothers are there."
"They are fishermen?" asked Marcus.
"Of sorts. They are Fishers of Men."
"Fishers of Men? How is that?"
"Have you heard of Yahja the Baptist?"
The fat man shrugged, "Never!"
"He has denounced the religion of the Temple as apostasy."
"And this is bad," said Marcus.
"It is the religion of the Herodians and the Judeans who stole the throne of the Maccabees."
"Stole the throne? Were they not appointed by the Emperor in Rome? If your Yahja denounces the tetrarch, then is he not guilty of treason?"
"It is the priesthood and the tetrarch who are guilty of treason!" declared Yeshua vehemently.
"Well, I think," said Marcus slowly, "That perhaps we should keep the subject of politics and religion stored in little jars until we part. I would be very, ah, difficult for a man of my position to be seen talking to, ah, ah, a man of your views-"
"Shall I leave?" asked Yeshua, sliding to the edge of the cart.
"No, no!" said Marcus quickly, "You are an honest man. And without guile. What better man to have at my back?"
They travelled on in silence, but Marcus was a gregarious man, and could not keep silent long. "So, you are a Jew?"
"I am." replied Yeshua.
"You believe there is only one god?" asked Marcus.
"Then how does he look after the entire world? How can he watch over everything?"
"He is God," answered Yeshua.
Marcus frowned. "Your oriental mysteries are well named. Are you a mystic, Yeshua?"
"God is not a mystery. How can you see the sunrise, and doubt there is a God?"
"Some say that the Sun is the god Adonis. The forests are guarded by Diana, the hearth by Hera, the ocean by Poseidon, Hades by Haephestos. The list goes on! And the Egyptians have thousands upon thousands of deities. I hear they even have God who wipes off the butts of defecating vermin. Even you Jews speak of the Watchers, angels of God who take care of the small matters. Are these not, in reality, the gods of the Greeks, the same as the gods of the Romans, or the daemonic hordes of the Celts who see sprites in every rock and tree?"
"I cannot comment on what occurs in the minds of others," replied Yeshua, "Many of these questions are unknowable in the sense that you ask them."
"Then, what should I ask?"
"You cannot know God in the way you know the ground beneath your feet. Some claim that the Realm of The Father is in the sky, but then the birds of the sky would be there before us. If he were in the sea, the fishes of the sea would be there before us. The Seat of the Power is within you, yet without you. When you know yourself, then you will be known to the Father. Then, you shall know that you are a son of the Everlasting Father. But, if you do not know yourself you shall live in poverty, which you create within yourself!"
"You are a mystic," stated Marcus. "I, however am a pragmatist. If it cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be smelled, tasted, touched, nor proven to exist, then it does not exist. I have yet to see a god who is nothing more than a large lump of granite or obsidian, a piece of wood, bone, gold or clay. Numbers, my friend, numbers are the test of reality. That which cannot measured, is not an acceptable argument!"
"Can you measure the world? Can you weigh a mountain?" asked Yeshua.
Marcus tapped his temple with his index finger. "Logic, my friend! Logic! With numbers we can calculate that the world is round, not flat. Democritus has proved with undeniable logic that objects around us are made of a million million tiny atoms vibrating to form solids and liquids and the air we breathe! The Universe consists of all that can be contained within the head of a man! There is no God! Mark my words! One day, the religion of the Pythagoreans will rule the civilized world. Men conversant in deciphering numbers will decide the fate of people using only numbers. They will add, subtract, multiply and divide, and the world will change because of the magic wrought by trained numerologists! The day is coming soon!"
Yeshua shivered. The prophesy of Marcus touched him with fear. "I can imagine a world without God." he countered, "A world without zeal and passion! A world without a Soul!"
"We do not need God to have a Soul!" retorted Marcus.
Yeshua fell silent. He was troubled by the words of Marcus. Not just because he had fallen into a crisis of his own faith, but because there was the ring of truth to the Greek's words.
The excitement in the crowd was infectious. Yeshua left Marcus on the road to continue his journey to Yericho, and pushed through toward the riverbank. Standing in the shallows of the Jordan, was his cousin, Yahja the Baptist. The large man was dressed in a rough camel hair tunic bound by a large leather girdle and his hair and beard seemed to explode from his head. Fire and passion blazed in his eyes. Yeshua spied his brothers, Yakov and Yahn, dedicated disciples of the prophet, lead the faithful to be baptized, sorting and directing the people by some criterion which escaped Yeshua. Yahja pushed a young woman under the water proclaiming "I baptize thee in the name of our Father "
He pulled the woman up by her shoulders and kissed her on the forehead. "Go and sin no more!"
Blissful, the woman was guided away from Yahja, and a man was brought forward.
"I baptize thee in the name of our Father-" Yahja began, and his eyes met Yeshua's and for a moment their gaze locked. The silence swayed the crowd, and all turned to look at Yeshua.
"Go and sin no more!" finished Yahja.
Yahn cried out when he saw Yeshua and called his name. Yakov looked up and beamed broadly. "Brother!" he called out. The two disciples hugged Yeshua, and the crowd became confused and curious at this newcomer who had disturbed the sanctity of the baptismal gathering.
Yeshua stood in the water, no more than an arm's length from Yahja. Yahja held up his hands.
"No more!" the prophet bellowed, "I cannot continue, I must speak with this man!" The crowd grumbled, but oblivious to their disgruntled murmurings, Yahja hugged Yeshua. "Cousin! Dear Cousin! What brings you to the banks of the Jordan?"
Yeshua's face clouded. "I am lost, Yahja. I have no more Faith!"
Yahja's brow knitted in concern. "You of all people, Yeshua, I cannot believe it! You are closer to the Power than any I have known."
"I have met a woman-" Yeshua began.
"Enough!" Yahja interrupted, and then shouted, "Yakov! Yahn! I must leave with Yeshua. I will return soon!"
The two disciples, Yakov and Yahn ministered to the crowd to allow Yahja and Yeshua space to leave. Yahja put his arm around Yeshua and guided him through the edge of the crowd and along the riverbank. The open area gradually changed to a grove of willows and, amongst the papyrus, they were hidden from the view of the great crowd.
"So tell me about this woman who has waylaid you on the Path."
Yeshua shrugged. "She has shaken me to the core, cousin. I have taken a vow of celibacy, and now, I am consumed by lust for her."
Yahja chuckled. He put his huge arm around Yeshua in an encouraging hug. "And now you must give up your vows! So, is it the end of the world?"
"I am destined for more than the straight and narrow, Yahj. I know that! I cannot settle down and begin a family!"
"And why not? What is wrong with doing the Lord's bidding, if it is to hold the straight and narrow? You're too good for that? What are you, the Chosen One? Are you going to anoint yourself Messiah?"
"You're teasing me," Yeshua commented.
"Me, Yahja the Baptist, teasing you? You should be so lucky!"
Yeshua stood up. "Please, Yahj, this is serious!"
Yahja stood up. "I know, Yeshua. Would you like my advice?"
Yeshua turned to look at his cousin. "Why else would I be here?"
"This is my advice. Marry the girl. Raise a family. Grow old and die with grace."
"You sound like Mother," complained Yeshua.
"This is the not the easy way." Yahja spread his arms wide. "Yeshua, if you love this woman, you must be as true to her as you are to the Power. But to embrace one is to exclude the other. You cannot have both. It is impossible to please both the Lord and a Woman at the same time. One will always pull you away from the other. This I know.'
"Is that in the Writings?' asked Yeshua skeptically.
"Would I lie to you? It is written in the sky. It is written in the desert, and a voice shouts the words from the very rocks at your feet. You of all people know, Yeshua, that the words of the Power are engraved in your heart. Only you can read his message to you."
"I shall fast." declared Yeshua.
"Fasting is good," replied Yahja
"I shall go into the desert, and think on these things," said Yeshua sincerely.
"So, are you fasting right away?" asked Yahja. "Or would you like to come and eat first with your brothers?"
Yeshua smiled at his cousin. "Let us eat," he said with a smile "There is always a time to pray!"
The two men returned arm in arm to the waiting Yakov and Yahn, smiling and laughing.
"Things are not well with us," Yakov said in a low voice, "There is talk that Herod Antipas has issued a warrant for Yahja's arrest."
"No!" cried Yeshua, "They would not dare arrest him! His followers are as thick in these hills as the cedars in the forests of Lebanon!"
"Of course they will not arrest him- in daylight! Herod's men lurk like jackals in the shadows, on the edges of the crowd, waiting for the chance to take him when he is on his own. We stay always by his side, ensuring he is always surrounded to those faithful to the Way."
"I call a digging stick, a digging stick!" boomed Yahja, "Yakov is far too timid! We must all denounce Evil when we see it! It is our duty as Sons of Zadok! Antipas is an adulterer, a murderer, and uses his position to work the ways of Evil!"
"Yahj, you must see the end of this!" protested Yahn.
"The End is of no consequence to me! It is the Way which consumes me! We can only concern ourselves with the Path we have chosen. It is for the Power to decide where it shall end! I don't like this skulking from place to place as though we were criminals! We are the Righteous, and we follow the Teacher of Righteousness with our heads held high!"
"What good is it if we become martyrs?" asked Yahn, "Who will acknowledge our sacrifice?"
"The Power will acknowledge it! There will be a place for us all in The End of Times! Tell your brothers, Yeshua!"
"My brothers have hearts of their own to read, Yahj," replied Yeshua. "It is not for me to tell them right from wrong!"
"Pah!" spat Yahja, "You sit on the fence too often, Yeshua. You must either enter the fold, or be lost forever in the wilderness! There is a time to meditate and a time to act! Mark my words, Yeshua, the time for talking will come to an end, and you will have to commit yourself to the Way!
And you, Yeshua, are the Way!
As the Lord is my witness, this I declare before your brothers! When I am gone, it is you who will take up my staff! Yakov! Yahn! You will dedicate yourselves to Yeshua, will you not?"
Yahn smiled in disbelief. "Follow Yeshua? You think he is the Messiah?"
Yahja raised an eyebrow. "You have someone else in mind?"
Yahn stroked his beard. "Yakov is the elder brother. It is he-"
Yahja held his hand up for silence. "Yeshua, bring me the scroll on the shelf there." Yeshua retrieved the scroll. Yahja dipped his hands in a washing bowl, and dried them on a piece of linen, wiped his bushy beard, and stood up. He took the scroll from Yeshua, and unwound it, impatiently scanning the scroll for the passage he wanted. Triumphantly, he passed the scroll to Yeshua and poked at the parchment.
"Read!" he commanded his younger cousin.
Yeshua looked at Yahja hesitantly, then at his brothers, then cleared his throat. He knew the verse by heart, but he read as he recited,
"The Lord says:
'The Suffering Just One shall succeed in his task; he will be highly honoured. Many people shall be taken aback when they see him- so changed he shall be that he no longer appeareth human. Many nations shall marvel at him, and kings shall be rendered speechless with amazement. They shall see and understand Truth they have never known.
'Who amongst us would believe what we have witnessed? Who amongst us could see the Lord's hand in this? Was it the will of the Lord that his servant should grow like a plant despite taking root in dry ground? He had not the appearance nor manner that we should take notice of him.
There was no sign that would draw us towards him. We despised and rejected him and he endured suffering and pain on our account. No one looked at him- we ignored him as if he were nothing.'"
"Nothing!" roared Yahja, "The Suffering Just One is nothing? You have ears to hear what your brother has read? You, my cousins and disciples think I am as nothing?"
"That is not-" began Yakov testily, then changed his mind. "You are the Messiah, Yahj! I am convinced of it! Yeshua! Yeshua is nothing! He has no spine! No backbone! He would not stand against the Kittim and denounce Herod! He cannot be the Messiah!"
"And so the Scripture is fulfilled by his own brother!" countered Yahja. "You yourself have declared him nothing!"
"Yakov is right, Yahj," said Yeshua, "I do have neither the heart nor the courage to be the Messiah. I have no wish to fight."
"Fight? Where do you read the word fight in The Book of Isaiah, Yeshua? Look!" Yahja's finger poked at the scroll. "Read me the next passage!"
Yeshua opened his mouth to protest.
"Read!" commanded Yahja.
"He endured the suffering that should be ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought his suffering was punishment sent by God! But it was because of our sins that he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like lost sheep, each of us going our own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.
He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb to be slaughtered, like a sheep to be sheared, he never said a word. He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die, and no one cared about his fate. He was put to Death for the sins of our people. He was placed in a grave with evil men, he was buried with the rich, even though he had committed no crime or ever told a lie."
"Humble!" cried Yahja, "Am I humble? Do I beg your pardon? Shall I suffer quietly? Me, a sacrificial lamb?" Yahja scoffed at his disciple, "No, I am the Lion of Judea! I shall tear out the eyes of the Sons of Darkness! I shall fill their ears with my thunder! The Unholy will tremble as I walk!"
Yakov looked about nervously. He was afraid that Yahja's raving would attract attention to the room they occupied. Attention that would spread through the village until it reached the ears of Herod's secret police.
"Yeshua is The Man!" shouted Yahja, "Only he could endure without crying out! I know this!"
Yahn shook his head. "I do not think that Isaiah had Yeshua in mind when he wrote those words."
"So I am mistaken?" asked Yahja. "You, my disciple, say your Rabbi is mistaken?"
Yahn had no answer but a shrug.
"Though," said Yahja, his mood changing suddenly, "Perhaps your brother is thinking of abandoning the Way and getting married."
Yeshua, Yakov and Yahn stared at each other in shock. Yahja smiled at the silence he had created.
"I, I am not sure," Yeshua tried to explain, "I have doubts as to whether I can remain celibate at this time-"
"At this time?" asked Yakov incredulously. "You mean this month, this week, today? What?"
"I-" Yeshua began.
"Who is this woman?" demanded Yahn, "Who is she that I, your brother know nothing of her?"
"Her name is Miri-"
"Miriam of the Watchtower!" blurted out Yahn. "I knew it when I saw you two together-"
"Her father is Yusef of Arimithea," Yeshua informed Yahn, who then turned to Yakov, "And Yeshua and this Miriam are betrothed?"
"I should have told you!" admitted Yakov.
"You are betrothred?" Yahn asked Yeshua.
"Well-" Yeshua wished he could disappear. "Yes."
"And no!" he added quickly.
"Yes and no?" asked Yakov incredulously, "What is this Yes and No? Yes and No is Maybe!"
"She has refused to go along-" said Yeshua
"Refused!" cried Yakov indignantly. "Yusef and I have made a pact, and this woman refuses? What kind of a woman refuses?"
"Listen," asked Yeshua plaintively, "This is all out of proportion here. She threw me out of her house-"
"You're marrying a woman who throws you out of her house?" Yakov's face was beet red. "Yeshua, I forbid such a thing! I knew it was a mistake when Becky told me! This woman is a she-devil, I'm sure! Throwing you out of her house!" Yakov's manner changed instantly to suspicion. "And what did you do to deserve throwing out of the house?"
"I-" Yeshua was too embarrassed to answer.
He pleaded silently to Yakov to save him, but he knew Yahn's interest had peaked at what monstrosity Yeshua was capable of which would cause a woman like Miri to throw him out of her house.
"Well?" demanded Yakov indignantly. "What have you brought down on us here?"
"I-I refused her!" blurted Yeshua.
"Oh Lord!" cried Yakov and Yahn snickered.
Suddenly all four men burst out laughing.