The warm spring sun was shining into the workshop; specks of dust floated in the rays which streamed through the wide open shutters and illumined the dark head and powerful shoulders of a boy who was working at the bench. He was stripped to the waist and, as he ran the plane along a plank of cedar, the muscles rippled in his arms. The work was mechanical and he was well accustomed to it; every now and then he ran his finger along the wood to test the smoothness of its surface; he was making a good job of a very ordinary task. But as he planed, he had leisure to think of other things; and his thoughts were away in the South, in the city of Jerusalem, the city of which he had heard so much, but which he had never seen, the city of the great Temple of his people.
Every Spring his Mother and Father travelled south along the great main road to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, which was now drawing near. In a few days’ time he and his younger brother would be sent to their aunt’s house, from which, year after year he had watched the streams of pilgrims all journeying the same way to the Holy City. Rich gentlemen riding on milk-white donkeys, ladies carried in litters, humbler folk trudging steadily through the heat and dust, all with the same purpose, to eat the Passover Feast in the capital, “the city of God set upon His holy hill.”
When he was quite a little boy, this annual visit to his aunt had been a great treat; it had been just an excitement to sit on the doorstep of her house and watch the pilgrims pass by. But for the last two years there had been another feeling too, an intense longing to join that throng himself. What would the toil and dust and sweat matter, if at the end of the journey he could see the rays of the setting sun gilding the great pile of white marble which was the shrine of the Living God?
A smile flitted over the eager young face; he laid aside the plank and picked up another. But though he set to work in a businesslike way on the rough timber, it was not of this that he was thinking. He had remembered all at once that his Mother had told him how she had taken him to the Temple when he was a week old—he, as the first baby son of the family had been presented in the great Temple—“given to God,” that’s what his Mother had said. “So I was wrong just now,” he thought, “when I told myself I had never seen the Temple. I have actually been there; but what’s the use of seeing something when you’re eight days old? It’s like showing a house to a kitten before its eyes are open.”
He laid down his plane and walked across to the outer door which stood ajar; the main road from north to south ran past the doorstep. He stood gazing southwards, as if his eyes could pierce the heat haze which hung upon the distant hills.
A voice sounded behind him and he turned; the carpenter had come into the workshop from the living-room beyond.
“My job’s finished,” he said, “Gehasi’s barn will be weatherproof for a good many winters to come. You’re having an easy, I see; those six planks done?”
“There they are—on the floor near the bench.”
“Right, eh? Not bad for a youngster. Let’s have a look at them.”
He picked them up one by one; with practised eye and finger he examined each plank carefully.
“This is first class work; and you’ve done it more quickly than I expected.” That was all, but it meant much from this practical man of few words.
“I’ll get this one finished before dinner,” said the boy. “You caught me slacking.”
The man’s eyes twinkled. “Watching the road, weren’t you? Too early yet far Passover pilgrims.” The boy returned to his work; up and down, up and down, swung the plane. The carpenter watched in silence. The reddish-brown shavings fell softly one after the other to the sanded floor. The rhythm of the plane seemed to form itself into words in their inner consciousness. To the man it said: “you’re growing old, you’re growing old, you’re growing old.” To the boy the plane sang: “my Father’s house; my Father’s house; my Father’s house.” Where had those words come from? They seemed to mean nothing to him: “my Father’s house;” What had he been thinking of before? The Passover Feast, the Holy City, the Temple. “My Father’s house; my Father’s house.” Was that what the words meant. Was this humble working man’s cottage, with the familiar scent of shavings and glue, not really his father’s house? Was this kindly thoughtful man not really his father? Was the great Temple in distant Jerusalem more truly his Father’s House than this little home he loved so much? Was his job in life to be something different from his manual labour of planing and sawing and hammering, which he enjoyed learning from the patient, elderly man who now stood watching him.
“Jesus;” the Carpenter spoke quietly—gravely. The boy paused in this work and looked up. Their eyes met; for a moment there was silence. The man was trying to say something, but seemed to find it difficult to begin.
“I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about the future,” he said at last. “Your mother and I have been talking things over in the last few weeks. I’m getting on in years; I’m five-and-twenty years older than your mother, as you know. And there is no knowing how long I shall be able to carry on the business. That’s why I’ve taken so much trouble to teach you all I know; and you’re a very promising pupil, I’ll say that for you. If I have to give up work in five or six years’ time, you will be well able to support your mother and the other children. I may be good for another ten or fifteen years, but I doubt it. It would be a great weight off my mind if I knew you were willing to keep the home together.”
He stopped; the boy said nothing. He stood for a moment fingering the plane, then idly running his finger along the half-smoothed timber. Was this his job in life? A jumble of half-formed thoughts and ambitions came surging into his brain. What was it the plane had just been singing to him? “My Father’s house—My Father’s house.” He had felt instinctively that the words had come to him from God. Was this the answer to the riddle? That he was to keep up the family business? The conversation coming right on top of what he knew to be a divine message seemed to prove that this was its meaning. Yet at the bottom of his heart he knew that there was other work in store for him. He walked to the open shutter and stood there in the light of the full midday sun. Jesus loved the sunlight; it seemed to him to be a reflection of the divine light which streams upon the world from the Presence of God. Perhaps in the bright light some solution of the problem would come, which he could not see in the cool shadows of the workshop. He tried to think things out; he understood so well the older man’s anxiety, and he knew he could not leave his mother and the younger children to be in want if the father were unable to provide for them. And yet—was it right to tie his own hands and promise to be a village carpenter all his life?
The man, with rough and ready sympathy, saw that a struggle was going on in the boy’s mind. He spoke again. “Never mind about it now; perhaps it is hardly fair to talk about this when you are only twelve years old. We find it difficult, your mother and I, to remember that you are so young. You are a big, strong boy and so helpful about the house and in the shop, that we have almost come to think of you as three years older than you really are. And that reminds me, your mother and I will be starting off at the beginning of next week for Jerusalem.”
“And you want me to mind the shop while you are away,” said Jesus, eager to make up in some little way for the disappointment he knew he must have caused the other by his inability to give a promise about the future.
“I shall shut up the shop while we are away; business is pretty slack, and we shall of course close for the Passover holiday. We wondered if you would like to come with us.”
A light came into the boy’s eyes; he had not expected this. So thrilling was his joy that for a moment he could not speak.
“Of course, if you think you couldn’t manage the walk,” continued the carpenter, not perceiving the reason for the boy’s hesitation.
“You don’t understand, Dad,” blurted out the boy; “I was so taken aback I couldn’t say a word. It’s the one thing I’ve been longing to do, to go to Jerusalem, with my own eyes to see the Temple. You’re very good to me.”
The carpenter seemed almost embarrassed by the boy’s enthusiasm.
“That’s all right then,” was all he said. But he noticed the gleam in his eyes, the glow of excitement on his cheeks. This was a strange lad, this eldest son of the family; he had always been very fond of him, but he had never understood him. The person who seemed able to see some way into this boy’s mind was his mother: and she was often puzzled by him.
“Joseph! Jesus! Dinner’s ready,” called a woman’s voice from the inner room.
The man turned as if almost relieved at the interruption and walked stolidly into the kitchen, where the family meal was laid. The boy picked up his rough working jacket. “My Father’s house,” he said to himself as he slipped the coat over his bare shoulder. Then with a sudden movement, he vaulted over the bench and was through the inner door.
A faint pink glow was beginning to show on the Eastern horizon; elsewhere the world was wrapped in the pearly grey half-light which precedes the dawn. Trees and buildings loomed up like ghostly shadows at the side of the road. It was still a good half hour before the sun would top the hills.
Our pilgrims had been travelling since a very early hour to make the most of the cool morning air on the road. At two o’clock that morning, Jesus had slipped across the back yard to saddle old Enoch, the shabby grey donkey, for his mother. Then under the brilliant starlit sky the three had set out, joining the train of pilgrims who were starting together from Nazareth. It was safer to travel the lonely stretches of the road in a large company; there were brigands who lay in wait for travellers.
Enoch ambled along steadily with Mary on his back; Jesus walked by her side. Joseph was by now a little way ahead, chatting with a neighbour. Mary looked down at her son.
“This reminds me of the last time we three travelled together,” she said, “when we came back from Egypt. You were only two then; Enoch had to carry us both.”
“He’d find it a job to do that now, Mother,” laughed the boy. “How old is he?”
“I don’t rightly know,” she replied. “He was a young donkey when we bought him in Egypt. He’s quite one of the family now.”
Enoch was one of the things that Jesus had always taken for granted. He and the old donkey were firm friends; almost since he could remember, it had been one of his daily jobs to feed Enoch and clean out the shed in which he lived. It had never occurred to him before that Enoch had seen more of the world than the narrow streets of Nazareth and the gentle countryside round the little town. Now he began to picture him in his youth; running beside his dam in the ancient land of Egypt, under the shadow of the mighty pyramids, those vast and venerable tombs of bygone Kings. And this trivial conversation made him realise how much he had always taken for granted. Questions began to form themselves in his mind.
“Mother, why did you and Dad go to live in Egypt when I was a baby?”
Mary paused a moment. She always dreaded questions like this. How was she to tell him of the shepherds who had been sent by angels to the stable where he was born? How could she explain the visit of the three astrologers who had made their way to Bethlehem from the far East, following on their camels the guidance of an unknown star? Most difficult question of all, was she ever to speak to him of the messenger who had come to her, a simple country girl, to tell her that she was to be the Mother of a child who was to be called the Son of God?
She knew well enough that her son was no ordinary child; and the knowledge filled her with a mixture of pride and fear. But Mary was a sensible and simple soul; she didn’t want to put ideas into her boy’s head. If God had marked out her son for some great work, in His own time he would make it plain to him. It was not for her to fill him with thoughts of his own importance.
She was conscious that he was looking up at her in some surprise; he repeated his question. “Mother, why did you go to Egypt?”
“We were afraid you were in danger,” she replied; “Dad had a dream about it. An angel of God stood by him and said, ‘Take the baby and his mother to Egypt.’ And you know what Dad is; he felt it was a message from God, so he obeyed it. And he was right,” she added with a shudder. “A few days later King Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem; they killed every boy child in the town under two years old. If Dad hadn’t listened to the warning of God, you would have been among them.” She stopped abruptly.
Jesus strode along in silence by Enoch’s flank; he was puzzled.
“Mother,” he said at last. Mary looked straight ahead of her: it was coming, the inevitable question; she braced herself to face it.
“Why did King Herod want to murder the babies?” But Joseph and his friend had halted. “This is a good spot for our breakfast,” he said. “There’s a spring by the wayside. Come on down, my dear.”
Gently, almost reverently, he helped his young wife to dismount. He patted Enoch’s head and then turned to the boy. “Well, how are you lasting out? Getting footsore?”
“No, I’m going strong. But I’m jolly hungry.”
The panniers were taken off Enoch’s back. Jesus loosened the girth and led him to the spring, where there was tender young grass for him to crop. A minute later the three were munching their simple meal by the roadside. Herod and the babies were forgotten.
At midday, as if by common consent, the long trail of pilgrims stopped to feed and rest; they made for any little patch of shade to shield them from the scorching heat of the noontide sun; and after their meal they lay and slept for several hours. Then on again till well after nightfall, when they took their blankets from Enoch’s back and slept by the roadside under the wide vault of God’s good heaven. And so, alternately travelling and resting, they had by the third night finished more than seventy miles of their hundred mile journey. With good going they might reach Jerusalem on the evening of the fourth day.
Another early start was made. The sun was rising over the distant hills on the other side of the Jordan valley; the mountain tops stood silhouetted rugged and black against the lemon and gold of the eastern sky.
“That’s the Transjordan wilderness,” said Joseph, pointing eastwards with his stout ash stick.
Jesus gazed towards the bleak-looking outline; and suddenly he knew that those distant hills would be the scene of some great crisis in his life. Perhaps that would be where he was to prepare himself before embarking on the great venture which he felt was God’s purpose for him in the future. What that purpose was or how that barren waste was to be connected with it, he had as yet no idea. But more than ever he felt certain that his life was not to be bounded by the narrow walls of a Carpenter’s shop.
They had arrived at a point where the road dipped down towards the Jordan valley, and were looking over the ancient city of Jericho. Jesus could not help thinking of that great story in the Scriptures which tells of the capture of Jericho by his forefathers when the walls of the city fell down flat at the blast of the rams-horn trumpets. The leader of the Israelites had been his namesake Joshua—“The Saviour”—that great warrior chief who had won the promised land for God’s chosen people.
They ate their breakfast in Jericho, and then set out on the last stage of the journey. Here they were advised to travel in large companies as a protection against the gangs of highwaymen who always infested this bleak and lonely road. By this time Jesus had struck up an acquaintance with many of their fellow-travellers from other towns, and he had taken great delight in hearing of their homes and exchanging ideas with them. Young and old seemed to enjoy his company; his mind was so alert, his nature so frank and open.
His latest acquaintance was a young Jewish priest who had joined the company at Jericho, and was returning on his well-groomed ass to Jerusalem for the Passover Services in the Temple. He was evidently a person of some wealth and consequence and took a pride in the smartness of his appearance. As he rode out of Jericho he noticed the boy just ahead of him and called to him. “Here, my lad; tighten up my ass’s girth, will you. That fool at the Inn didn’t know his job.”
Jesus tightened the girth willingly enough and walked along beside the smart young priest. He shyly asked him a few questions about the Temple services, and his companion answered pleasantly, but shortly.
When they had gone about three miles, a solitary traveller approached them journeying in the opposite direction from the main stream of the traffic. He was leading a strong-looking donkey on whose back was another man, half fainting with exhaustion and with blood still oozing from a nasty gash in his forehead. A rough donkey cloth was flung round his naked limbs.
The man leading the donkey was a cheerful, ugly fellow, obviously a peasant; but he kept a careful eye on the animal and its sorry load. Seeing the gentleman on the other side of the road, he carefully stopped his own beast and walked across to him.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said politely, “have you a drop of wine I could give this poor fellow? I’ve rubbed all mine into his wounds to stop them bleeding. I found him by the roadside, more dead than alive; without a rag on his back. The brigands are out again.”
The young priest said not a word; he did not even glance at the wounded man. He just spat into the road.
Jesus knew there was a wine gourd strapped on the ass’s saddle; why the priest would not give the fellow any he could not understand. He still had a little rough wine in the leather bottle on his own back; he offered it to the peasant.
“Steady, boy,” said the priest in an icy voice; “this rogue is one of the accursed Samaritans. A good Jew has no dealings with a Samaritan.” He rode on, on the further side of the road, without another word or look.
“All right, governor,” the fellow shouted after the priest with perfect good humour, “If I’m not a Jew, the poor blighter on my donkey is. If you wouldn’t speak to me, you might have given him a drink. And next time you spit at a Samaritan, try to make a better shot; you missed me by half a yard.”
He shouted these words at the top of his voice; the fellow’s good-tempered impertinence was irresistible. All the pilgrims near by burst out laughing. The young priest dug his heels angrily into the flanks of his ass and hurried forward.
The Samaritan turned round with all his teeth showing in a delighted grin.
“Took some of the stuffing out of my Lord Spit-in-yer-face,” he chuckled. “Now laddy, where’s the refreshments?”
The boy handed him the wine; he hurried over to the wounded Jew, and supporting him gently with one hand, he poured the liquor a few drops at a time down his throat. He handed back the bottle.
“Now he’ll be able to keep going till we get to Jericho. I’ve got a pal there who keeps an inn; he’ll look after him. Goodbye, sonny; I’m afraid you’ll have to go dry to Jerusalem.”
The man’s bubbling good humour was infectious; in spite of his disgust at the priest’s behaviour and his sympathy with the wounded man, Jesus had been burbling with laughter in the middle of the little group which had collected. The Samaritan walked back to his donkey, lifted the injured Jew into a more comfortable position, then beckoned mysteriously to Jesus. He went across to him.
“Steady, boy;” said the other, “the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans—unless they are lying wounded and naked by the road like this poor blighter—and then they can’t help themselves.” He roared with laughter at his own joke. “Come on, Peter old boy; you and I want our dinner;”—this to the donkey, who obediently trudged on with his tragic load. As they descended the hill, the man turned and waved his hand to Jesus. Jesus waved back.
He watched until they disappeared round a rocky bend in the road. Gradually the laughter died out of his face and a strained, set look took its place. The Jewish priest’s behaviour had been like a blow in his face; that was one of the men whose duty it was to serve the most High God in his Holy Temple—“my Father’s house”—yet his actions had made a village boy ashamed to be his fellow countryman. What could the good God think of it? Hadn’t he said in the book of the Second Law: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God? And thy neighbour as thyself?” Didn’t that mean that to show your love for God you must be kind and considerate to other people? Wasn’t that just what that good Samaritan had done and the Jewish priest failed to do?
The whole incident had taken only a few minutes; but it had made an everlasting impression on the boy’s mind. He turned sharply on his heel and broke into a run to catch up his Mother and Joseph. He couldn’t talk about what had happened; but all day as he jogged along the hilly road, he kept quoting to himself: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God; thou shalt love thy Neighbour as thyself.”
No words can properly describe the feelings of the boy Jesus, as the travellers mounted a hill in the late afternoon and had their first view of the city of Jerusalem.
A cloud had been cast over the last stage of the journey by the discourtesy of the scornful young priest. “Is that the kind of man,” he thought, “who stands before God to serve Him in His holy Temple?” The incident had depressed him; he wondered if he would be as disappointed in the Temple itself as he had been in one of its ministers. He remembered that the Temple had been built by the very Herod who had sent his soldiers to butcher the babies of Bethlehem; could a house built by such a King be fit for the great and invisible God? He was feeling hot and tired and thirsty and dirty and dispirited.
As they topped the rise, all his depression vanished into thin air. He stood spellbound. Then in company with many of the other pilgrims he dropped to his knees and lifted up his voice with theirs in the glorious words of the psalmist:
“I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem.”
But while his lips sang the words of praise, his eyes never left the miracle of shining marble which rose in majesty on the brink of a cliff. His whole soul poured out its thanks to God as he knelt in the dust of the road. Then humbly, as if awed by the symbol of God’s power and goodness, the travellers rose to their feet and pushed on in silence.
The sun had set when they reached the city gates. Roman Sentries challenged and sulkily admitted them. They made their way in the gathering gloom to a small lodging house in a mean and squalid street. This was the best that poor folk could afford; but Joseph and Mary had stayed there year after year and were sure of a hospitable welcome. Jesus led Enoch to a neighbouring barn where other donkeys were established for the night, and then returned to the house and knocked.
The door was opened by a stout woman with untidy hair but a pleasant smile.
“So this is the young man,” she said to Mary who stood a little way back in the room. “You’ve grown since I saw you last,” she chuckled; “but that’s not to be wondered at considering you were only eight days old then. You’ve stayed with me before, you know—when you were presented in the Temple. Our house isn’t much to boast of but your poor mother found it more comfortable than the stable where you were born. Come in, my dear, and wash your feet; you’ll be needing it after four days on the road.”
And the kindly talkative woman led him into the room and pointed to a cheap basin which stood on the floor.
And thus the Messiah was welcomed in His capital.
There is no need to dwell in detail on the next few days; Joseph and Mary took him up the many flights of steps to the Temple Courts. He marvelled at the buildings, stood a long while gazing up at the pinnacle which soared above the main structure, joined in the services at the hours of sacrifice and wondered how the priests could believe that the killing of a harmless animal could please the holy God or take away the sins of the worshippers. So great was the crowd that he had to keep very close to his parents to avoid being lost in it. They visited the Temple market, and he felt indignant at the high prices and the dishonesty of the traders. He asked Joseph about this, but the good man explained that it was not altogether their fault; all the trade was regulated by the priests of the Temple. The priests again! Were these priests worthy to be the servants of God in the glorious building in which they ministered?
On the next day they ate the Passover, sharing the sacred meal with old Susanna at the lodging house, and her family. The cross had been made on the doorway with the blood of the lamb which they were to eat; in the evening they all ate the roast lamb and bitter for herbs and unleavened bread, standing and dressed as if for a journey, with sticks in their hands as was commanded in the sacred writings. In itself there was nothing impressive about it; a group of very ordinary looking people, standing huddled together at a meal in a stuffy little room, but as they ate, Jesus realised that in every Jewish household in the city, in the country and throughout the world, the same meal was being taken with its ancient ritual and customs, dating back more than twelve hundred years to the days of Moses the Lawgiver. At that very moment about a million people were partaking of the time-honoured feast in Jerusalem itself; only in the Roman barracks which glowered down on the city, in the palace of the Roman governor and in the few houses of foreign residents was there no Passover feast.
They were remaining in Jerusalem over the Sabbath, as the Law forbade travelling on that day. Arrangements had been made with other Galilean pilgrims to set off for home at dawn on the first day of the week. Jesus slipped out of the lodging half an hour before daybreak, saddled Enoch, and brought him to the door for his mother. Then they went down to the Jericho gate where they were to meet the rest of the company. Joseph and Mary were soon deep in conversation with friends from Nazareth, with whom they had arranged to travel. Jesus was sitting on a doorstep a little distance away, munching a slab of unleavened bread which Susanna had given him to stave off his hunger till breakfast time. By this time crowds of pilgrims were collecting, and his parents had moved forward several hundred yards beyond the gateway.
The step where Jesus sat was immediately opposite the mouth of a narrow alley. He idly watched the approach of a heavily laden donkey, led by a little boy of six or seven. Suddenly the donkey slipped and fell, pinning the child’s leg under its forequarters. Jesus sprang up and raced down the alley. With all his strength he succeeded in extricating the little boy, and dragging the donkey to its feet. The child was lying on the ground, screaming, but whether with pain or fright, was not at once clear. Jesus knelt by his side and felt down his shin bone; it was broken. Quietly but firmly he told the boy to stop screaming; he grew quieter, but continued to sob. Jesus asked where he lived, but could get no answer; what was his name? More sobs. By this time a little crowd had collected but though they all talked at once, none of them knew the child or his donkey. After a time they lost interest and drifted off on their own business, leaving the older boy in charge of the younger. He felt bewildered; he couldn’t leave the little chap where he was, but didn’t know where to take him.
“O God,” he prayed in his perplexity, “show me what to do.”
As he whispered the words, the donkey bent down his head and nuzzled the hurt child, as if he knew he was the cause of all the trouble and felt ashamed of himself. The small boy stopped crying, put out his hand and stroked the wet, soft nose of his old friend. A sudden idea came into Jesus’ head; this was the answer to his prayer. The child had been collecting firewood and was bringing it home; the donkey would know the way. Quickly he removed the load, lifted the child in his strong young arms and climbed on the animal’s back. All he said was: “Home!” The donkey started.
As he passed the Jericho gate, he noticed that the train of pilgrims had started. The Nazarene band must be already a mile along the road, but a steady stream of travellers was still pouring out of the gate. When he had taken the child home he could attach himself to one of the companies, and catch up his parents.
The donkey evidently knew his way; but he was in no hurry; he ambled along incredibly slowly. At last after almost an hour, he stopped in front of an old tumble-down house on the furthest outskirts of the city. A woman called from round the corner, “Is that you, Thaddy? What an age you’ve been.” Getting no immediate answer, she looked round the corner. She stopped abruptly.
“Is this your boy?” asked Jesus.
“What’s happened?” said the woman.
“He’s hurt himself. I’m afraid his leg’s broken.”
“How did it happen?” asked the woman suspiciously.
Jesus handed the child to his mother and slid from the donkey’s back. In a few words he explained how the accident had occurred—a piece of orange peel—a slip—the boy’s leg had been crushed.
The mother carried the child into the house, laid him down on some sacking on the floor, and examined his leg.
“It’s broken all right,” was all she said. “Can I fetch a doctor?” asked Jesus.
“I can’t afford a doctor,” said the woman; “and if I could, no doctor would come to the likes of us. I must set this myself.”
She bustled around the untidy room, took up two pieces of wood, tore some old rag into strips and laid everything on the floor beside the child. Thaddy’s eyes followed her about the room, but he said nothing; from the moment when Jesus had taken him into his arms and mounted the donkey he had been strangely peaceful and quiet.
“My man’s out at work,” said the woman, “outside the city at Bethany. It’s a shame to keep you here but I must have someone to hold the boy.”
“Tell me what to do,” said Jesus.
“Just hold on to him under the armpits: that’s right. I’ve got to pull this limb straight. Now, Thaddy, I’m going to hurt you; be a brave boy.” The little chap nodded. With a deft movement of her strong hands, the mother tugged his foot, then straightened it. Thaddy bit his lip, but not a sound escaped him.
“That’s right: good boy,” said the woman, “Now you hold this leg while I bandage it.”
Jesus moved to the other side of Thaddy and held the leg as he was directed. The woman bound the strips of wood on each side of it.
All the time that he was holding the child’s leg, Jesus experienced a sensation which had never come to him before. It seemed as if some unknown power was pouring into his own heart and running straight down his arms into the little boy’s broken limb.
When the mother had finished, she stood up and mopped her face. She kissed Thaddy, then turned and went to the window; Jesus saw she was crying. He waited till she dried her eyes, never taking his hands from the boy’s leg. The curious feeling had stopped now and he got up.
“I ought to be going now, I’m afraid. I hope Thaddy will be all right soon.”
“You’re a good chap,” said the woman, as the tears came into her eyes again. “Forgive me being so silly—I couldn’t bear hurting the kid. You’re from the north, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I’ve got to hurry to catch up my people. They started at dawn. Goodbye, Thaddy.”
The little boy spoke for the first time.
“Don’t go,” he said.
“There, he’s taken a fancy to you, and no wonder,” said the mother. “The kind boy’s got to go, Thaddy.”
Thaddy began to cry as if his heart would break; his mother became anxious lest he should injure the broken leg. Jesus could not go, if he was needed; he stayed and played with Thaddy. The woman gave him a meal; in the late afternoon the child fell into a deep and comfortable sleep. Jesus got up from the floor, bade farewell to the mother and hurried to the Jericho gate.
A Roman sentry was lounging under the archway; it was nearly five o’clock and there were no pilgrims leaving the city at such a late hour. Seeing the boy looking rather undecided, the soldier accosted him.
“Hello, sonny, what’s the trouble? Left behind?”
“Yes,” replied Jesus. “My people went on this morning. They’re going to sleep tonight in Jericho. I meant to follow them; but they told me to keep with other people on the roads.”
“That’s good advice,” said the soldier. “You’d never reach Jericho alive if you travelled alone along that road at night. The brigands aren’t particular. Better stop in the city and start in the morning.”
“I’m afraid my people will be worried,” said the boy uncertainly.
“They’d be more worried if they thought you were starting alone at this hour.” At this moment who should ride in through the gate but the young priest of the Jericho road. The Roman sentry came to attention and saluted; the priest distantly acknowledged the salute, glanced coldly at Jesus and rode on. The soldier grinned, winked and remarked, “pleased with himself, that young gent.”
Jesus said goodnight to the man and hurried to Susanna’s house. He knocked. No answer. He knocked again. Then he remembered that Susanna had told his mother she was taking the family to stay with some relations in the country.
A feeling of utter loneliness came over the boy; he was tired and hungry and alone in a strange city. Almost without thinking he climbed dejectedly up the steep flights of steps leading to the Temple. As he went up, darkness fell.
In the porch of the outer gate he lay down; into his mind floated the song of the plane; “my ather’s House: ly Father’s House.” The thought cheered him; “my Father’s House; I can feel at home here.”
He sank into a deep and peaceful sleep.
After a long, deep sleep, Jesus awoke refreshed; it was an hour before daylight. He was a little cold and very hungry; he ran once or twice up and down the top flight of steps to warm himself, then sat down to think things out.
Surely his Mother and Joseph would have missed him on the way and come back to find him; probably they were in Jerusalem now and would continue the search this morning; as Susanna’s house was shut up, where would they hunt for him? The one obvious place for anyone to go to in Jerusalem was the Temple; the best thing he could do was to stay here and wait for them. It was no good starting off for Jericho when they were probably back in Jerusalem. He remembered his loneliness the night before and the strange comfort it had been to think that he was in “his Father’s House.” And suddenly it seemed to him that this was what he had been groping for all his life; he had always thought of God as infinitely good, infinitely powerful, infinitely wise; but he had seemed very remote—a very long way off. Now he suddenly understood that God was not only good and great and wise; he was very near; he loved everyone of his people, just as a Father loves his children. God, his Father, had been with him last night, had quieted his fear, had given him sleep and strength. No one had ever told him that God was a Father. Perhaps no one else knew. Perhaps it was his job in life to tell other people his wonderful discovery. But could he do that, if he had to stay in the workshop all his life? Then the answer to this question came too; there were his younger brothers. One of them would almost certainly like to carry on the family business. He would teach them, as Joseph had taught him, and when they were able to work on their own, then he would be free to spread his good news: “God is Our Father.”
It was beginning to grow light; Jesus could just make out the shape of a rounded hill outside the city opposite the porch where he was sitting; standing stark against the sky on its top were three tall posts with cross beams a foot from the top. He wondered what they were for. A little man with a basket of vegetables on his head was coming up the steps, whistling as he came. Jesus spoke to him. “What are those things on the round hill?”
The man glanced casually over his shoulder: “Those why, crosses, of course. That’s Skull Hill, you know.”
“But what are they for?” asked the boy.
“Not for me, I hope—nor for you, if you behave yourself,” said the man with a grin. Then seeing that the lad looked puzzled, he explained. “That’s the Roman execution place; three poor devils were nailed up there yesterday morning; you’ll see them still hanging on the crosses when it gets a bit lighter—all that the vultures have left of them.”
“What had they done?” asked the boy with a shudder.
“How should I know! Stealing, I expect. Might have been anything. There’s two things needed to be safe in this town—keep on the right side of the priests and keep out of the way of the Romans. Bye-bye. There’ll be trouble with the High Priest’s cook, if I don’t get there soon with the vegetables.” And whistling cheerfully, the little man passed on into the Temple Courts.
Jesus stared with horror down on to Skull Hill. When the sun rose, his life-giving rays would strike on those three mangled bodies. He did not want to see them. He ran down the steps and made his way to Thaddy’s home. The mother welcomed him cheerfully; but what was his surprise when Thaddy poked his mischievous little head round the door and ran to greet him!
“Must have been a false alarm, that broken bone,” the woman explained. “When I woke up this morning, the little villain was climbing on to the table. He had pulled the wood off his leg.”
“But his leg was broken,” said Jesus in bewilderment.
“I thought so too,” said the woman. “We must have been wrong that’s all. And a good job too. Have you had any breakfast?”
While he ate the coarse, wholesome food, Jesus remembered the power which had streamed through him into the child’s leg. He spoke very little; but when he had said goodbye to Thaddy and his mother, and was walking slowly up the Temple steps, he poured out his thanks to his Father for having used him to heal another of his children.
When he arrived again at his perch, he glanced down again at Skull Hill. Roman soldiers were at work there, taking down something from the crosses. The sun glinted on their helmets. He shivered; that round hill drew his eyes like a magnet. It seemed to have some message for him.
Meanwhile, two very anxious people and a tired donkey were starting back for Jericho. They had not been very worried the day before, thinking that Jesus had met some Nazareth friends and was coming along behind them. When he did not appear during the midday rest, Mary had felt a little uneasy, but Joseph had reassured her.
“He’s certain to come along; you know how sociable he always is.”
But when they arrived at Jericho, Mary had waited by the gate while Joseph took Enoch to the inn. When he returned after booking a room, he found his wife in a fever of anxiety.
“We must go back and look for him,” she said.
“It’s almost nightfall,” he replied. “It would be madness to start back now. We must wait till the morning.”
They had stood together at the gateway in silence until the last pilgrims were admitted, and the gate closed. After a sleepless night, they started back to Jerusalem to find the lost son.
Jesus was gazing anxiously down the steps. No one in the least resembling his parents was in sight; he was not afraid for himself; but he could not help knowing how worried his mother must be, if she thought he was lost. As the morning wore on his face became more and more strained.
Two well-dressed young men were approaching; they had rolls of parchment under their arms; Jesus thought absent-mindedly that they must be lawyers. One of the two noticed the worried look on the boy’s face; he stopped.
“Is anything the matter?” he said kindly.
The relief of talking to someone was so great that he poured out the whole story; when he spoke of his mother, he could hardly keep back the tears; he bit his lip.
“It’s mother I’m thinking of,” he finished rather shakily; “I don’t mind for myself; I’m safe enough. God will look after me; you see, I’ve found out that he’s my Father.”
The young man glanced at his companion and raised his eyebrows.
“What’s your name, my boy?” he asked.
“Jesus—from Nazareth: Jesus Bar-Joseph.”
“Another Joseph, eh! My friend here is Dr. Joseph; he lives at Arimathaea. My name’s Nicodemus. We are studying the law and the Scriptures at the Temple lecture-hall. We are going there now; would you like to come in? It’s open to the public.”
“I’m afraid I might miss my people,” said Jesus.
“I’ll arrange that; I’ll leave a message with this fellow. Joseph of Nazareth and his wife, you said? If they come, he shall direct them to the lecture-hall.” He turned and spoke a few words to the Temple guard; he saluted, and the three walked on.
There were men of every age in the lecture-hall; grave elderly gentlemen, shrewd middle aged men, a considerable number of younger doctors like Jesus’ companions, and a fair sprinkling of quite young students, boys of eighteen to twenty. Dr. Joseph explained to Jesus in an undertone that the lecturer this week was the celebrated Dr. Gamaliel and the attendance was therefore larger than usual. At the other side of the room Jesus noticed the young priest of the Jericho road; the priest was staring at him scornfully.
At this moment the lecturer entered the room, mounted a low platform and sat down. He was a kindly looking, middle aged man with humorous lines round his lips and eyes. He glanced round the room and unrolled a parchment; everyone sat down except the young priest. Dr. Gamaliel noticed this and addressed him:
“Have you anything to say, Dr. Alexander, before I begin?”
“Yes, sir,” said the other; “I wish to suggest that the boy over there be asked to leave the hall.”
Every eye was turned on Jesus, who felt acutely uncomfortable. Dr. Nicodemus rose to his feet.
“I am responsible for bringing in the boy, sir. I am prepared to answer for his good behaviour.”
Dr. Gamaliel looked steadily at Jesus—then turned to the priest.
“May we have your reasons, Dr. Alexander, for wishing to exclude this young student?”
“Certainly, sir,” replied the priest with an unpleasant smile. “I saw him yesterday gossiping with a common Roman soldier; the enemy of our chosen race; worse than that he was earlier talking with a Samaritan! A fellow, too, who had grossly insulted me.”
“As he is so clearly in your opinion, in need of reform,” said the lecturer with a twinkle in his eye, “it seems a pity to turn him out of a place where he might learn something of his moral and spiritual duties, if not from my discourse, at least from the criticism which you doubtless mean to make afterwards, Dr. Alexander.”
There was a general titter among the younger students. Dr. Alexander retorted hotly: “either that boy leaves the hall or I do.”
Jesus got up; he was anxious to escape from this unpleasant scene. Dr. Gamaliel looked at him kindly and said: “please sit down, my friend; I wish you to remain.”
The young priest stalked out, followed by the grins of the students.
Then the lecturer began, he took as his subject the fifty third chapter of the prophet Isaiah. “He was despised and rejected of men.” He told his hearers that the prophet was referring to the expected Messiah, that to complete his work the Messiah must suffer, perhaps even die, before his kingdom could be finally established, he quoted other passages to prove his theory. His eloquence was amazing: he spoke as a man inspired. Jesus sat enthralled; he hardly listened when the other doctors afterwards asked questions. He felt the utter truth of the lecturer’s words. “The Messiah must suffer to succeed.”
He went out silently with the two doctors. They walked without speaking to the porch. The guard had not seen his parents.
“You can’t wait here for them,” said Dr. Nicodemus, “without food or shelter. Come down to my house; I will tell the sentry to direct your people there if they arrive.”
He gave rapid instructions to the soldier and the three descended the steps.
Dr. Joseph was also Nicodemus’ guest. Both men treated him as an equal and he felt at home in the rich man’s house. His shyness soon wore off; they encouraged him to talk, asked what he meant by “God being his Father.” He found he could talk to these two young men as he had never talked in his own home; and they were astonished at his understanding and his answers.
There was no message from the guard that evening or the next morning. After an early dinner they walked again to the lecture-hall; Dr. Gamaliel was lecturing in the afternoon.
A different man was on duty at the porch; but he had his instructions from his comrade; and the guards at all the other gates had been told to look out for Joseph of Nazareth and his wife.
The passage which Dr. Gamaliel had chosen for this day was the twenty third psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He showed that God supplies all the wants of mankind, as a shepherd leads his sheep to pasture and water. His whole talk was about God’s goodness to the human race.
When the lecture was over, learned questions were asked and answered. Jesus whispered to Dr. Joseph: “should I be allowed to ask a question?” Dr. Joseph nodded. Jesus found himself on his feet.
“Please may I ask you something, sir?”
“You said that God is good to the human race.”
“But doesn’t He love each one of us? Separately, I mean.”
“The favour of God has certainly been shown to many individuals, yes. Abraham, for instance, and Moses and David and Daniel.”
“But doesn’t he love everybody like that? Rich and poor, good and bad? Like a Father, I mean.”
“That is an interesting point,” said Dr. Gamaliel encouragingly. “Can God, who is perfectly good, love what is bad?”
“A Father loves his children, even when they do wrong, doesn’t he, sir?” answered the boy respectfully. “He may have to punish them, but he loves them all the same. Don’t you think God’s like that, sir?”
The eyes of everyone in the hall were fixed in astonishment on this boy, who was propounding a new theory about the nature of God. So intent were they on the questions and answers that they did not notice a working man and his wife standing spellbound in the doorway. So great was Mary’s relief at seeing her boy that she could not repress a sob. Jesus turned, saw her and forgot everything else. He ran to her and kissed her.
“My boy,” she sobbed, “why have you treated us like this. Dad and I have been so anxious about you.”
“We’ve been searching the streets near Susanna’s house, all the morning,” added the carpenter.
“Oh, but why did you look for me there?” said Jesus, half troubled and half amused, “Didn’t you know I should be in my Father’s House?”
Nicodemus would not hear of their starting off that day. Mary was worn out with fatigue and anxiety. He and Dr. Joseph took them both back to the house for the night. That evening after Mary and Jesus had both gone to bed, Nicodemus asked the carpenter what plans he had for the boy.
“Well, sir,” said Joseph, “I hope he’ll come into my business; I’m a carpenter and builder. And I’m getting on, as you see.”
“That boy is extremely gifted,” said Nicodemus. “I should say he has ambition too. He would make a wonderful teacher; it is not only that he is intelligent, he has remarkable spiritual insight.”
“I’ll remember what you say, sir. Thank you,” said the carpenter.
The next morning the two young doctors walked with their guests to the Jericho gate. Here they bade them goodbye. But both stood watching the retreating figure of the well built boy who had given them a new outlook on life.
“Joseph,” said Nicodemus at last, “that boy has a soul which could revolutionise the world.”
“Yes,” replied his friend, “he makes you feel as if you wanted to give up everything to serve him. I wish there were something I could do for him. Perhaps I shall be able to—some day.” There was an awkward pause as if each man felt shy of having laid bare his soul to the other. Nicodemus changed the subject.
“I hear you’ve bought a little property outside the walls.”
“Yes;” answered the other; “of course I’m keeping my estates at Arimathaea. But I’m so often in Jerusalem that I wanted to have a quiet garden close by. You must come and see it. It’s a beautiful spot, with old olive-trees and flowers. I’m thinking of having my tomb made there; it’ll be wanted some day,” he added half joking.
The returning pilgrims were three miles out on the Jericho road. Enoch was plodding on a little way ahead. The man turned suddenly to the boy.
“I want you to forget what I said the other day,” he said; “I mean about carrying on the business.”
“I’ll stick to it till one of the other boys can take it on,” answered Jesus.
“Good boy,” said the carpenter. “I didn’t want to hold you to it, but it’s a weight off my mind.”
The spring sun was shining into the workshop, as it had shone eighteen years before; specks of dust wove the same old patterns in the rays which streamed through the wide open shutters. A small heap of broken children’s toys, waiting for the father to repair them, was no longer there. Otherwise the workshop was unaltered.
But the sole occupant of the shop had changed; instead of the eager, bright-eyed boy, here was a man in the prime of life with purpose written large upon his face. He had kept his promise; for eighteen years after that memorable Passover Feast he had continued to labour at his humble trade. Joseph had died when Jesus was nineteen; a sudden heart attack when he was working at the top of a ladder—a fall—and that simple, patient soul had found rest.
His body had been brought in on a shutter and laid on the bench which had been his means of livelihood.
Since then Jesus had supported the family; his brother James had no interest in the work and was studying to become a scribe; but the three younger brothers, Joses, Simon and John, were all keen and apt pupils. It had been a difficult time after Joseph’s death; some of the old customers had dropped off, thinking that the boy of nineteen was not experienced enough to be employed. But by steady effort Jesus had worked up the connection again, and now, with four keen workmen in the firm, the business was more prosperous than it had ever been. The time had come when the eldest brother could safely hand over the management to the capable hands of Joses.
Ever since he had made that amazing discovery that God is like a Father to every living soul; he had set it before himself as the great purpose of his life to share this good news with others. He had attempted sometime to explain this idea to his family. Mary had tried to understand, but his brothers thought of it as one of his cranks. They admired Jesus as a man and respected him as a fine craftsman, but the beliefs of their fathers, as explained by the rabbis and scribes were good enough for them; they didn’t want any new-fangled nonsense from their elder brother. Jesus sometimes used to say laughingly to them, “no prophet has ever been believed by his own family,” and there the matter was allowed to rest.
A carpenter’s work takes him to all kinds of houses; rich and poor need repairs in their homes; so his trade hod brought Jesus into contact with people of all classes and widely different characters. Even in a little town like Nazareth he had seen good homes and bad ones side by side. “A town is like a field with wheat and tares growing side by side,” he thought. “And the world itself is only like a huge town.” He longed to preach the good news of the Fatherhood of God to good and bad alike; he knew that it was the down-and-outs who most needed his message; and it was with such men and women that he meant to begin his new work.
His mother came into the workshop from the little room beyond. His brothers were out on a job and would not be in till evening; here was his chance to break to her the news of his intention to leave home. He had dreaded this moment; he knew how much she depended on him. But it had to be; the call of his Father had come; he must answer it.
“Mother,” he said, “I have kept my promise to Dad. Joses is now as good a carpenter as I am; he will enjoy the responsibility of running the shop. I have—other work to do.”
Mary sat down on a rough stool near the bench; Jesus laid down the saw with which he had been working.
“You mean to leave home,” his mother said, more as a statement than a question.
“Yes, mother. Here in Nazareth I am Jesus the carpenter. If I tried to begin a life of teaching here, no one would listen to me. I shall go to Jordan to talk things over with my cousin John—the Baptiser they call him in Judaea, you know. He’s making quite a reputation there and doing a great work. Then I must think things over all alone; I shall go off by myself somewhere in the wilderness. But I shall begin my real work in the large cities on the sea of Galilee. There is so much vice in the big towns. It is there that they most need to hear about the love of the Father.”
Mary took the news very quietly.
“When do you mean to go?” she asked.
“I shall have to fix things up with Joses,” he replied. “That won’t take long. I shall start in about a week’s time.”
For a while neither spoke. An early bee flew through the open shutter; its heavy drone sounded sad, but peaceful. Then Mary spoke: “I’ve known all along this day would come. Before you were born I knew you were marked out for a great and noble work.”
Jesus turned to her in surprise.
“Before I was—born?” he said.
“Yes, my dear—why do you think I named you Jesus—the Saviour? I was told to—by God. There are things I have never spoken to you about, because I knew that when the time came, God would make His will known to you. That time has come; you can hear the story.”
And in her simple, uneducated words she told her son of the Angel who visited her to announce his coming—of the heavenly host which glorified God at his birth—of the coming of the Shepherds to the inn stable. “And there was something else,” she added. “Come to my room.”
Lost in wonder Jesus followed her up the familiar creaking stairs to the clean but bare little bedroom. Under the window was a rough wooden box, the first thing he had made for her as a boy. Mary opened it and reverently took out three caskets of rich and beautiful workmanship.
“Many weeks before you were born,” she said, “a new star of wonderful size and brilliance was seen in the heavens. To those who were wise enough to understand, it told the world of the coming of someone greater than all the Kings and conquerors who have ever lived. Three wise men from a far eastern country followed that star; it led them to the house where a poor girl was staying was staying with her baby boy. These were the presents they brought with them; they told me they were sacred gifts of mystic meaning. I didn’t understand; but I knew my little son was to be one of the great ones of the Earth.”
One by one she opened the caskets; the pungent scent of spices filled the little room; the dull gleam of unpolished gold held the young carpenter’s gaze.
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts